ESTA stands for the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. To cut a long story short, the ESTA is basically an electronic resource that allows you to travel to the United States without a visa.
“What’s the catch?”, again, I hear you!
First of all, the number one criteria that must be fulfilled – being from one of these 38 countries that take part in the Visa Waiver Programme! Only citizens of the countries listed can apply for an ESTA. If you want to travel to the US, but you’re not from one of those countries; you will require a visa in order to travel and you will not be able to apply for ESTA.
There is one more catch
In order to apply for an ESTA, you must have an electronic passport with a full biographical page with your biometric data inside. Failure to possess an electronic passport, or have the correct biographic data, again, ensures that you will have to apply for a visa.
What’s the difference between ESTA and visa?
There are quite a few differences.
First and foremost, the application process is a lot quicker for ESTA. The application process only takes around 30 minutes from start to finish. Applicants are required to fill in one online application. Results of that application can take as little as seconds to come through after completion.
Compare that to a visa – applicants will be expected to travel to the embassy or consulate, amongst completing several online applications. Not to mention, some visa applications take up to three months to processed.
Time winner: ESTA
On a side note, if you’re planning a trip to the US, it is important to apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours before you depart. Applications can be processed within seconds, however, seldom they can take up to 72 hours. Better to be safe than sorry!
This one is simple. You may be thinking “How much does an ESTA cost?”. The ESTA costs $14. That’s $4 for processing of the applications. $10 authorisation charge. If you’re denied entry, you’ll only be charged $4.
A visa on the other hand usually costs over $100. Visas are rarely refunded if the applicant is denied entry. Clearly, there is only one winner of this section.
Cost winner: ESTA
The winner of this topic is subjective. Why? Because both have different uses.
ESTA can be used by tourists, those with business to attend to and those that have a connecting flight that lands in the US.
Visas are traditionally used for those that want to work or study in the US. That is not something you can do with an ESTA.
If you want to work or study, you will have to obtain a visa. But, if you want to visit the US, travel around or have business to attend to, then obviously the ESTA is the choice for you.
Functionality winner: Draw
Additional ESTA information
Apart from the comparison between the visa and ESTA, there are also some additional snippets of information that are considered to be valuable for travellers travelling with ESTA.
How long does an ESTA last?
- From the moment the ESTA is issued, it will be valid for two years, unless the ESTA holders passport expires within that time frame.
How do I check my ESTA status?
- Once you have completed your ESTA application, you can log onto the official site and check if your ESTA has been granted by entering your application number, your name and date of birth.
Do I need to renew my ESTA?
- In short, no. You cannot just renew your ESTA. You have to reapply for your ESTA each time it expires.
Where can I apply for the ESTA?
Applications for ESTA can only be completed online, therefore, an internet connection is required.
Furthermore, you can only pay for your ESTA application with certain types of cards via MasterCard, Visa, Discover (JCB, Diners Club) and American Express. If your ESTA is rejected, you will only be charged $4.
Check this really informative infographic.