Are you visiting the US soon? We put together all the info you need to know about the ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization. This is a system created by the US government which is an automated program that gathers details before travelling to the US. With so many things going on at the border in the US, it's wise to be prepared and figure out everything you need in order to cross the border control without any issues. One of the most important things to remember is that an ESTA for children is compulsory irrespective of your kid's age. In a nutshell, the ESTA is required for travellers of all ages. Remember that both children and adults need to have their own visa authorisation. This is a legal requirement which must be met by all travellers whether you visit the US or need to transit through the US.
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What is ESTA?
The ESTA was made available on the January the 12th, 2009. Upon arrival to a US port of entry, all travellers must have a valid ESTA visa waiver. ESTA is an automated way to determine eligibility status from a citizen from countries in the Visa Waiver Program. Basically, this is a system which gathers passport details prior to your trip.
Who is the ESTA for?
Citizens from an ESTA Visa Waiver Country who wish to travel or transit through the United States must apply for an ESTA authorization by completing an online form. The ESTA will be then valid for 2 years from the issue date. Once you have the ESTA, you are allowed to stay in the US for a maximum period of 90 consecutive days.
There are currently 38 visa waiver countries eligible to apply for an ESTA online:
- Czech Republic
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- South Korea
- United Kingdom
This program was introduced to allow the passport holders of the above-mentioned countries, to travel without restrictions around the US on short notice.
How do I obtain ESTA?
You need to fill in an online form and insert passport details. Most ESTA applications will be processed within minutes, however, in some cases, an ESTA application can take up to 72 hours to be approved. So remember to apply in good time.
To successfully obtain your ESTA you will need to meet the following requirements:
- A valid passport
- A debit or credit card
- An email address
Once you get your approval, you will receive an email notification. It's not compulsory to print your approved ESTA as it is linked to your passport. However, it's best to have a printed copy with you just in case.
To apply for an ESTA for your children, you need to follow the same process as above. Remember that each traveller, irrespective of their age, must apply for an ESTA separately. We recommend that you apply for all visas at the same time. Ideally, you will apply for your visas first, then you will fill in the same information again for your children providing your information when asked about "parent's information". This way you will all be registered at the same time and the Border Protection will have access to the entire family application. Easy and more convenient.
We recommend that you apply for the ESTA at least 72 hours prior to your arrival to the US.
Visa waiver program
Travellers can apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and obtain a permit, allowing them to enter the United States for a short period of up to 90 days per single stay.
The ESTA Visa Waiver authorization became obligatory on the 12th of January 2009.
From the 1st of April 2016, the passport requirements regarding the Visa Waiver Program have changed – applicants must have an e-passport in order to travel under the Visa Waiver.
Remember that even if your country is part of the visa waiver program, you still need to apply for an ESTA to transit through the US. However, the “In Transit” does not refer to layover flight where travellers are not allowed to leave the airport.
You must have a passport from one of the countries part of the Visa Waiver Program (see above). You must have a passport that contains a machine-readable section on the biographic page.
Your passport must be valid at the time of applying for ESTA and at the time of your departure to the U.S.
You must have an electronic passport with a chip
Your visit to the U.S. is for less than 90 days and it is for tourism purposes, business meetings, social events or recreation.
You must apply online for your ESTA and you must do so prior to your arrival to the US. You will be denied entry without an ESTA, so we recommend applying for an ESTA the moment you made plans to visit the US. Since the ESTA is valid for 2 years from the issue date, it's better to have it ready as soon as possible, especially when travelling with your family and children.
If you arrive in the US by land or sea you will need to hold a return ticket to your home country or an onward ticket to your next destination. We recommend printing your tickets and your itinerary for your ease. If you wish to enter the US from Canada or Mexico you will need a completed I-94W which is usually provided by CBP authorities at a U.S. port of entry. If you plan to transit through the US, you can re-enter the US on the return journey as long as the total visit including both periods of time spent in transit and in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, does not exceed 90 days. If your travel is over 90 days you will need to do a new application for admission.