If you’re a citizen of one of 38 Visa Waiver Program countries, then you do not require a visa to visit the United States. You do, however, require an ESTA, or an Electronic System for Travel Authorization form.
The United States Department of Homeland Security introduced the ESTA system in 2009. Today, residents of the 38 Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries can apply for an ESTA online prior to arrival in the United States. The application can be completed in minutes and grants your valid entry to the United States for a two year period.
ESTA Eligibility Checker
If you are a citizen of one of 38 countries that have a Visa Waiver Program with the United States, then you may not require a visa to visit the country.
Use our eligibility checker to determine if you are eligible for an ESTA:
If you are a citizen of any of the above countries, then you may be able to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). This authorization allows you to seek entry at a US port of entry. It does not, however, guarantee admission to the country.
The four core requirements for an ESTA include:
- You are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country (one of the 38 countries listed above)
- You are planning to stay in the United States for fewer than 90 days
- You do not have a valid U.S. visitor visa (B-1 or B-2 visa)
- You are traveling to the United States for tourism or business
You May Be Ineligible for an ESTA Even If You’re From a Visa Waiver Program Country
Not all citizens of the 38 countries listed above are eligible for an ESTA. Even if you’re a legal citizen of one of the above countries, you may be ineligible for an ESTA.
The ESTA application will ask two questions to determine your eligibility for an ESTA:
- Have you been in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen since March 1, 2011?
- Do you have dual nationality with Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria?
If you answer yes to either of the above questions, then you may not be eligible for an ESTA even if you’re a legitimate citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country. You can still apply for an ordinary United States B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourist) visa, but you’ll need to go through the visa application process instead of the more simplified ESTA process.
There are some exceptions to these two questions. Diplomats and military personnel may be exempt, for example.
How Does an ESTA Application Work?
An ESTA application can be completed online with minimal effort and documentation required. It requires less work than a visa application.
An ESTA is not a visa: it authorizes you to seek entry into the United States. You submit the form electronically, and that form will be processed by the United States to ensure all of the information is valid. The United States ESTA system will verify your information and check if you have a criminal background, for example.
How to Apply for Your ESTA
You can apply for an ESTA here at the United States Customs and Border Protection website: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
Before you begin the form, you’ll need:
- A passport that is valid for 6 more months after your intended departure from the United States
- A valid payment method (the website accepts most major credit cards and PayPal)
Completing your ESTA requires just three steps:
Step 1) Complete the ESTA form
Step 2) Make your payment
Step 3) Check your status to ensure your ESTA was approved
You’ll be asked straightforward personal information on the form, including:
- First name and last name
- The first and last names of your parents
- Contact information
- Employment information
How Much Does the ESTA Cost?
Your ESTA application comes with a small fee, although the fee is significantly smaller than the visa application fee.
The total ESTA cost is $14 per applicant, including a processing fee of $4 and an authorization fee of $10.
An ordinary U.S. visa costs between $150 and $200, so the ESTA is significantly cheaper.
What Does an ESTA Allow Me To Do?
An ESTA allows you to visit the United States temporarily for business or pleasure. Some of the accepted activities under an ESTA include:
- Visit friends or family
- Travel within the United States for tourism or holiday
- Negotiate contracts and consult with business associates in the U.S.
- Settle estates
- Participate in social events hosted by various organizations
- Seek medical treatment
- Participant in events or contests
- Enroll in short study courses that do not provide credit towards an advanced degree (like a cooking class, for example)
What Am I Not Allowed to Do On an ESTA?
You are forbidden from engaging in certain activities under your ESTA.
- Sign up for part-time or full-time students
- Perform as an artist, athlete, or entertainer and receive payment for it
- Work as a journalist or for any press or media
- Engage in any form of employment
- Enter as a crewmember on an aircraft or ship (crewpersons require a special visa)
- Seek permanent residence in the United States
How Long Does It Take to Process My ESTA?
In most cases, you can complete your ESTA application online in minutes. Assuming you answered truthfully, have no criminal record, and have no other reasons for your application to be denied, your ESTA will be processed within seconds.
Unlike a visa, which can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months, an ESTA can be completed online in minutes. Some travelers even complete the ESTA while waiting in the boarding lounge at the airport – although we don’t recommend it!
How Long Does My ESTA Last?
If your ESTA is approved, then your ESTA will last:
- For two years
- Or until your passport expires
If your passport expires in less than two years, then your ESTA will last until the cancellation date on your passport.
Under your ESTA, you can enter the United States multiple times for a maximum of 90 days per trip. There is no specific number of days you must wait between trips to the United States. However, frequent trips to the United States might raise the attention of border agents.
Does My ESTA Guarantee Entry Into the United States?
There’s a common misconception that your ESTA guarantees entry into the United States. That’s not true: your ESTA is simply an authorization to seek entry into the United States.
Your ESTA may be approved. You might board a flight to the United States, only to be refused entry by a border officer.
Let’s say you receive an ESTA. You have no criminal record and no reason to be denied entry to the United States. However, when you arrive at the port of entry, you inform the agent that you’re traveling to the United States to enroll in part-time studies at an American university. This is not permitted on your ESTA, and you may be sent back to your home country.
When Should I Renew My ESTA?
You should renew your ESTA prior to seeking admission to the United States once again, assuming your old ESTA has expired. Remember, your ESTA expires after two years or after your old passport expires.
Your ESTA could also be revoked at any time. If new information gets added to the database about you, then the United States Department of Homeland Security could revoke your ESTA.
You will also need to renew your ESTA in the following circumstances:
- You get a new passport
- You change your name
- Your change your gender
- You change your country of citizenship
- You have been convicted of a crime, visited the Middle East, or made other changes that could affect your entry status
The ESTA renewal is identical to the ESTA application process. You pay your $14 fee and your ESTA is good for two years.
Do Children Require an ESTA?
All persons of all ages require an ESTA prior to visiting the United States. That means infants, children, adults, and the elderly all require an ESTA.
There are no exceptions. Even children who may not need a passport must have an approved ESTA.
Parents with children are advised to submit a group ESTA application. You can include your children on the application. Just enter relevant details about your children and the application will proceed as a normal ESTA.