ESTA Visa Waiver: All the Benefits of a Visa-Free Travel to the US
Why should you go to the United States? There certainly are many reasons why – from sight-seeing in New York, casino-hopping in Vegas to checking out the landmarks in Washington DC. And now, there’s even an added bonus: a bilateral arrangement that grants one visa-free travel to the country for up to 90 days.
This bilateral arrangement is called the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), an agreement between the US government and the governments of selected countries to allow the latter’s citizens and nationals to enter the US visa-free. Unknown to many though, the VWP has been around since the late 1980s, but now, it has garnered public attention as more and more countries are added to the list and with many other countries seeking their entry into the program. To date, there are around 38 countries from Europe, Asia and Australia that are part of this agreement.
Nationals and passport-holders of member countries only need to secure a travel authorization, or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) in order to visit the US for a period of 90 days or less.
The ESTA is handled by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a way to screen and evaluate the eligibility of those traveling to the US for visa exemption. The application is also a mechanism to check if the person poses security threats or risks while they’re in US territory.
Compared to the visa, the ESTA is much preferred by many travelers largely for the convenience it brings, the reasons also why the US has seen has a steady rise in the number of people from the VWP member countries entering the country.
- The authorization is good for any purpose of travel, whether business or pleasure as long as the stay will not exceed 90 days.
- Occasional and frequent travelers to the US who do not want the hassles of a visa application find the ESTA more convenient because it’s good for two years and for multiple entries.Individuals staying in the US for a few nights/days as part of their flight layover need not apply for a visa.
- Last-minute travelers as well as those traveling under emergency conditions need only present the authorization to be allowed to board their flight.
Application is done online, and applicants only need to prepare the following:
- An electronic passport (usually issued after 2006) with a digital chip that contains the biographic information of the passport-holder
- A credit card for the processing of the application fee
- Accomplished ESTA application form
Reminders for ESTA Application:
Here are a few guidelines and reminders when applying for the ESTA:
- Personally, fill out and file your application to guard against fraudulent acts.
- Take note of the application number given to you after submitting your application. The number can be used to check into the system to track the status of your application. Likewise, this also serves as your authorization’s reference number and is linked to your passport.
- It is best to use Internet Explorer 5.0 or Netscape 6.0 when accessing the ESTA site as these browsers support the required system encryption.
- Results may be issued immediately after application or may be released within the next 72 hours.
- ESTA help is available 24/7 to provide customer service and unlimited support on the ESTA application.
It’s important to remember that not all ESTA applications are approved. If not granted, it is best to proceed to the US embassy or consulate and apply for a travel visa instead. Also, the ESTA does not guarantee automatic entry into US territory. It only allows you to board a flight for the US without a visa, but you still need to pass through the US immigration officer who will decide on your entry to the country.