Travel Advice: What You Need to Know About ESTA

Travel Advice: What You Need to Know About ESTA

If you are travelling to the United States as a citizen of one of the Visa Waiver participating countries, you need to add ESTA to your check list of essentials, before embarking on your journey. How do you know that you are eligible for ESTA, and what are the requirements that you need to meet? This guide explains what you need to know about this process.

What is ESTA?

ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is an automated system that helps in determining those who can travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program- without posing any law enforcements or security risks. This can be for general holiday or business travel to the US.

It was introduced by the US Department of Homeland Security, in order to check the flow of people coming into the United States, to help filter out those who are considered as posing security risks to the US.

Who is Eligible for ESTA

To be eligible for ESTA, you need to be a citizen of one of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program or VWP. Under this program, citizens of 38 countries, of which Ireland is one,are allowed to travel to the US for 90 days without a visa. This has to be for tourism or business purposes. In return, these countries accept US nationals for the same period of time, without visas.

You can only be admitted into the United States under the VWP if:

  • You have an electronic passport with an embedded chip also known as an e-passport.
  • If you have not been present in Iraq, Iran, Sudan or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with the exception of those who were there for military or diplomatic purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • If, as a national of a VWP country, you are not also a citizen of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria.

How Do You Apply for ESTA

Applying for ESTA is easy. It is an online process which can be completed with the needed passport details and within a short period of time.

There are one of three responses to be expected when you apply. The authorization may be approved, in which case you are cleared to make your trip; your application may not be authorized, in which case you may have to apply for a paper travel visa at the US Embassy or consulate; or your authorization may require a little more time to be considered.

Preferably, you should apply for your ESTA as soon as possible. It is also advisable to send your application before you pay for your trip.  This is in the event that your authorization is denied, and you need to get an appointment at the US Embassy for a visa. However, if you are travelling at very short notices, then you may apply at least, 72 hours before departure.

The ESTA is valid for a period of 2 years. As such, it is a good idea to apply for it way before time, if you have future travel plans. However, if your passport expires less than 2years from the date that your ESTA application is approved, then the approved ESTA is valid until the passport expires.

When Do You Need a New ESTA Authorization?

You need a new ESTA authorization when:

  • You have been issued a new passport.
  • You have undergone a name change.
  • You change your gender.
  • Your country of citizenship changes.
  • Your circumstances change.

Some Important Information About ESTA

  • The ESTA does not replace a visa. This means that, travelers with valid U.S visas do not need to apply for this travel authorization. Also, just in the same way that a valid visa does not guarantee entry into the United States, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admission into the US.
  • Also, with an ESTA approval, you may not stay for a period exceeding 90days at a time. You are however, allowed into the United States for multiple entries of up to 90 days each- for as long as the ESTA is valid. In addition, although there is no definite time that you must wait between visits, it is a good idea to leave a reasonable amount of time so that it is not assumed that you are trying to live in the US.
  • As a citizen of a VWP country, you may not be allowed to clear immigration, or you may be sent home if you do not have ESTA approval. You may even be denied boarding.
  • If your ESTA expires while in the US, it will not affect your departure.