What is ESTA and how long does it last?


Official ESTA logo: esta.cbp.dhs.gov

What is ESTA?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is a web-based system utilized in determining the rights of visitors to travel to the United States. This has nothing to do with entering the US, as the final entry authorization is at the discretion of the US Customs and Border Protection authorities.

As of January 2009, visitors from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must fill out the ESTA online form in time to be completed and approved before you travel to the United States. While travel and tourism from these countries is welcome, this is simply a means of filtering those people that may harbor malicious intentions.

Applying is easy, and with the appropriate documentation like your passport on-hand, can be completed in just a few minutes.

How long should you allow for ESTA processing?

Applications are queried against US Law Enforcement databases, while this might seem like a long or tedious process, it actually can be completed in a matter of seconds. 99.6% of all submitted applications pass this phase of verification within 4 seconds according the US Embassy in London. However, please allow at least 72 hours for processing prior to your anticipated departure date. Bearing in mind that if there are any complications you will not be able to begin your trip as anticipated, so applying as soon as you know your travel dates can assist in avoiding this issue.

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Last minute and emergency travelers are expected to be accommodated, so even if you forget about this process and face a boarding denial, you can quickly use your smartphone or internet ready device to complete the application and potentially make your flight after all.

You will then receive 1 of 3 responses:

  • Authorisation Approved – You are cleared to travel to the United States
  • Travel Not Authorised – You are not cleared to travel to the US and should apply for a paper Visa at the US Embassy or Consulate
  • Authorisation Pending – You application requires more time of further review before a decision can be provided.

What is the cost of application and how long does an ESTA last?

ESTA application fees total £9 or $14 USD to obtain. ESTA authorisations are valid for two years, unless your passport expires before your ESTA. In the event that you must renew your passport, you will also be required to reapply for a new ESTA authorization.

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