ESTA Requirements

ESTA Requirements

Are you planning a trip to the USA and want to avoid the time-consuming process of applying for a visa? Then you should definitely check if you qualify to travel visa-free to the USA with an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program.

ESTA

The official travel authorization for your trip to the USA!

What is ESTA?

ESTA is a travel authorization issued under the US Visa Waiver Program and stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. This online travel authorization was mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on November 7th, 2008 for people traveling from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to the USA. This regulation is directly associated with the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security introduced ESTA to strengthen security in the USA.

Under the Commission Act, the United States implemented a registration system for visa-free travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP = 90 days). An ESTA for the USA can only be applied for online.

Who needs an ESTA?

People traveling to the USA who are citizens of countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) need to apply for an ESTA. Those from eligible VWP countries need an ESTA to travel to the USA for vacation or business trips lasting a maximum of 90 days, for transit flights through the USA or for entering the USA via ship or land.

Citizens of the following countries are eligible to apply for ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program:

COUNTRIES ELIGIBLE FOR ESTA:
Andorra Lichtenstein
Australia           Lithuania
Austria       Luxembourg
Belgium     Malta
Brunei                      Monaco
Chile             Netherlands
Czech Republik New Zealand
Dennmark       Norway
Estonia Portugal
Finland San Marino
France Singapore

Germany

Slovakia
Greece Slovenia
Hungary South Korea
Iceland Spain
Ireland Sweden
Italy Switzerland
Japan Taiwan
Latvia United Kingdom

If your country is not listed, you must apply for a visa.

Furthermore, all ESTA applicants are required to have a biometric passport for the entirety of their stay – even children! Children’s passports are not valid unless they are electronic (ePassport).

Those registered for expediated clearance under the Global Entry Program are also required to have a valid ESTA for traveling to the USA visa-free.

Children are also required to have a valid ESTA for traveling to the USA. Families can apply for all members with the ESTA group application. 

ESTA to enter by land

An ESTA is not necessarily required when entering the USA by land from Mexico or Canada. We would still highly recommend applying for an ESTA before entering the USA.

It is required, however, to have a copy of your I-94 when entering the USA by land. The I-94 can be completed either at the border or accessed online and printed out beforehand. Please be aware that the I-94 is only valid for 7 days!

Can I apply for ESTA?

The following groups of people are excluded from traveling visa-free to the USA with an ESTA:

  • Citizens of VWP countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, since March 2011. Exceptions only for diplomats and military personnel.
  • Citizens of VWP countries who are also dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.
  • People who have already been denied entry (at the border) to the USA or have been deported out of the United States;
  • People who have committed certain offences or have been arrested or previously convicted of a crime (each case should be individually reviewed);
  • People who have already broken USA entry requirements (e.g. overstay);
  • People who suffer from a communicable disease
  • People who are traveling to the USA to take up employment or study.

 If any of the above-mentioned reasons apply to you, then you must apply for a US visa to travel to the USA. Individuals can in certain cases apply for a waiver.

Can I use ESTA for business trips?

Yes, ESTA can be used to travel to the USA for business as long as you do not stay in the USA longer than 90 days and you do not work for a US company. Business trips that are allowed under the Visa Waiver Program include participating in:

  • Conferences
  • Meetings
  • Consultations
  • Job fairs

You may have problems entering the USA again if you stay longer than 90 days or work/take up employment.

With an ESTA, you can take a business trip to the USA for up to 90 days!

Can I apply for an ESTA if my visa was denied?

In general, if your visa has been refused, you are banned from traveling to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program. This means that you must apply for the appropriate US visa for entering the USA.

In the ESTA application, it is of upmost importance to answer the security questions honestly to prevent being permanently banned from entering the USA. A denied visa is saved in the system and if the ESTA application is approved, it will certainly be discovered at the border and you may be denied entry into the USA.

Every individual case is processed separately, so there are no clear rules.

Do I need an ESTA if I have a valid visa?

Whether an ESTA is required for entering the USA depends on what kind of valid visa you have and if it matches the purpose of your stay in the USA. Applying for an ESTA, for example, when you have a valid B2 visa is unnecessary because in both cases, you are traveling to the USA as a tourist. The purpose is therefore the same.

On the other hand, people who have been issued a US work visa like the E1 or E2 and want to travel to the USA as tourists. Despite a valid E1 or E2 visa, the visa holder must apply for an ESTA because the purpose of their stay is different.    

As stated on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website:

Quote

"Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued."

 

Can I apply for an ESTA with previous convictions?

There are many factors that come into play when applying for an ESTA with a previous conviction. That is why having a conviction does not fundamentally lead to your ESTA application being denied. It is of upmost importance, however, to be truthful in your ESTA application and list all previous convictions. If a US border officer finds inconsistencies in your application, they may refuse you entry into the USA.

Whether or not an ESTA application will be denied depends on the type of crime you committed. For example, if it was only a small traffic offense that happened long ago, the chance that your ESTA will be authorized is very high. On the other hand, felons or repeat offenders, e.g. murderers or rapists will be denied entry into the USA.