The USA has a strict immigration policy. This means that travellers headed for the US need to be well aware of the rules surrounding applying for a US visa.
Travellers headed for the USA require a visa, unless they possess a valid US passport. However, in many cases it is no longer possible to visit the US embassy to submit an application there. A number of countries, such as the United Kingdom, fall under the ESTA treaty. This means that travellers from these countries can apply for a digital travel permit (ESTA). On arrival in the USA it is then decided if the traveller can enter the country. The ESTA is therefore a travel permit to travel to the country.
Travel permits USA
ESTA is an abbreviation of Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It is not a visa which says that someone can actually enter the country. An ESTA is a travel permit. This means that the USA will check when applying if it is safe enough to allow a traveller to travel to the USA. The benefit is that this is enough to enter the country. However, the immigration service can decide for themselves on arrival if the traveller is permitted into the country.
After someone applied for an ESTA USA and is allowed in by the immigration service, applying for a US visa is in most cases no longer necessary. This is due to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which has been active for a few years now.
There are 38 countries in the world that are part of this US program. However, not everyone qualifies for an ESTA USA. In some cases, a US visa application still needs to be submitted.
Submitting an ESTA application is in many cases enough to travel to the USA. At the airport, the traveller is checked during boarding whether they possess a digital travel permit. Travellers that cannot provide the document are not allowed on the flight.
Anyone going to the United States for a holiday, business trip or even just for a transfer needs an ESTA. It is important to remember that even minors need their their own ESTA and passport. Only traveller entering the USA by land or who already possess a US visa or passport, do not need to apply for an ESTA.
An ESTA USA is valid for different travel purposes, for example a business or tourist trip or making a transfer. However, it is not permitted to work for an American organisation. In that case, a US visa needs to be applied for. A person can perform paid labour with an ESTA, but only if the employer is located outside of the USA.
There are a number of requirements for applying for an ESTA USA. First of all, travellers need to prove that they will leave the USA. This can be done by showing a return ticket. An ESTA USA application is also necessary for trips to Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam or the American Virgin Islands. The same holds for the Northern Mariana Islands.
An ESTA USA is valid for 90 days. Take note: those who after 10 March 2011 have been to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia do not qualify for an ESTA and need to apply for a visa. When travellers don’t follow the requirements, they can be deported or barred by Homeland Security.
US visa necessary
In some cases it is not possible to apply for an ESTA USA and a US visa needs to be applied for at the US embassy. This applies, for example, to journalists (including photography and other journalistic purposes), investors in US companies and persons that want to follow an education in the USA. You will need a visa for that.
The same applies to travellers that want to stay in the USA for longer than 90 days. There are two types of visas for that: a non-immigrant visa for tourists that want to stay in the USA for longer, and the immigrant visa. This visa is meant for foreign inhabitants that want to live in the United States.
ESTA USA application
An ESTA USA application can be submitted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An application takes about five minutes per traveller and the cost of an application is £29,95 per person. It is also possible to apply for an urgent ESTA USA. Generally the application is then approved within an hour. It is not necessary to print this confirmation. This makes it so applying is possible even at the airport.
We still recommend applying for an ESTA USA well on time. It can occur that an application takes longer than normal.