Understanding the Visa Waiver Program
Twenty two European countries, including the United Kingdom, participate in the Visa Waiver Program that uses the ESTA system (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Citizens from these countries can enter American territory without being required to hold a visa. This was implemented to efficiently filter travellers visiting the United States, facilitate immigration control in the airports and decongest the services of American embassies. Individually granted, the completion of the electronic form, the ESTA, is obligatory for travellers, whatever their age.
It should be noted that citizens from the twenty two countries are not automatically entitled to ESTA authorisation, refusals can happen. In this case the only alternative is to apply for a standard visa from an American Embassy. It is recommended that travellers respect these time periods in order to avoid any travel delays. In effect since 12 January 2009, the ESTA application form is fairly easy to complete but should be done so with careful attention.
The ESTA form is in three parts:
- One concerns the traveller’s identity and passport.
- One relates to antecedents relating to the law.
- And the last concerns the applicant’s travel intentions.
ESTA authorisation is not applicable for visitors who enter American territory via land borders with Mexico or Canada.
The time required for an ESTA application
A margin of 72 hours is more prudent for the information processing, even though the majority of applications are granted just a few minutes after submission. It is important to know that a 10 day delay is required after a first visa refusal to renew the latter, on condition that the application requirements are respected. The time saved by travellers is therefore considerable. Although it is not necessary to print the ESTA authorisation it is recommended to do so due to the important information it contains.
Two copies are recommended:
- The first, the traveller keeps close to them during their travel.
- The second should be kept safely for any future trips to the United States.
A new passport or modifications to the identification details (name and type) require a renewal of the ESTA authorisation.
The information that should be entered on the ESTA application
All the information required should be entered exactly as marked in the passport or on the flight ticket. Having these at hand to consult is strongly recommended to avoid mistakes. An ESTA application form should therefore show the last name and the first name(s) as shown on the passport. Married women need to choose between their maiden name or their married name if both appear on the passport.
The flight ticket should show one or the other but the name chosen should be used to complete the ESTA application form. Under no circumstances should the word ‘spouse’ or an abbreviation be used. The American authorities guarantee the confidentiality of the information supplied; the traveller therefore has nothing to worry about on this issue.
When is it recommended to apply for your ESTA?
As previously stated, the time required to obtain your ESTA authorisation response is only 72 hours maximum after the submission of your file. However, this does not mean that you should leave it until the last few days to organise your visit to the USA.
In fact, different situations can require far more time than these 72 hours and, to ensure that your travel plans continue unimpeded, it is extremely important to take these situations into account. Here are the cases whereby you will need more time:
- Your ESTA has been refused as it was incorrectly completed: If you receive a refusal from the American authorities for your ESTA application who have examined your file and you discover that you have made mistakes or wrongly answered one or several of the questions in the form then you have the opportunity to reapply but on condition that you respect the minimum delay of 10 days between the refusal date and the date of the new application.
- Your ESTA has been refused as you do not fulfil the necessary conditions: In this case it may still be possible for you to continue with your visit to the USA by applying for a traditional visa. This procedure is completed through the Embassy, not online, so it is often longer and can take a few months.
In order to prepare for any possible obstacles along the way and be sure that your visit to the United States can proceed according to plan we highly recommend that you proceed with your ESTA authorisation application a few months before your departure date. In this way you can continue with your plans calmly and benefit fully from your visit.
Is it possible to receive an ESTA by post and if so how long does it take?
Although the ESTA Electronic System of Travel Authorisation enables you to obtain a response to your application by email within 72 hours maximum certain people prefer to have a physical or paper copy of their ESTA. Therefore, and if you do not have a printer at home to print the email response, you will no doubt be wondering if it possible to obtain your ESTA authorisation by post.
This is entirely possible but depends on the service provider you choose to complete your application. Few independent websites in fact offer this option of sending a copy of your ESTA by post. However, our partner does provide a printed ESTA postal delivery service option to your home address. Although this service is of course payable it only costs a few Euros and offers you the guarantee of having a paper copy of the official document authorising you to travel to the United States.
However in the case whereby the ESTA paper document is sent directly by post how long does it take to arrive? Of course, it goes without saying that the time taken to receive this document by post is longer than receiving it by email. In fact, although the time taken by the American authorities to respond by email is still a maximum of 72 hours receiving a copy by post will take longer.
Your ESTA authorisation is actually only sent after approval by the authorities responsible for the examination of your application. The time taken for it to arrive will depend on where you live but is generally only a few days after submitting your application. It is however necessary that you take this slight difference into account when preparing for your travel and ensure that you apply plenty of time in advance.
What to do if you haven’t received your ESTA within the expected time?
Although receiving a response to the ESTA application generally only takes a few hours or a few days for a paper copy to arrive by post, it is rare that the maximum 72 hours is reached or exceeded without a response. This is how to act if this unusual situation should occur.
The first thing to do is of course to verify that your application has been successfully submitted. To do so the easiest way is to check your bank account to verify that the fee payment for your application has been processed. If this is not the case then this means that a problem has occurred when processing the application such as a problem with the payment or something else. In this case you should repeat your application as soon as possible to ensure you receive your authorisation rapidly. Remember to check the accuracy of your card number and ensure that your bank account has sufficient funds to cover the payment.
If the payment for the ESTA costs and fees has been correctly processed through your bank account and the response time period has passed without receiving an email then the problem should be sought elsewhere. In the majority of these cases the fault can be traced to a simple mistake made when entering the email address on the application form. In certain cases it is possible to access your application through the official American authorities ESTA website using information such as your name and passport number. However it may be that you are not able to do so. In this case it is best to repeat the entire procedure and check your email address carefully before submitting the application once again.
It is also important that you remember to check the spam or junk email inbox folder. It is entirely possible that your expected response has been mistakenly and automatically filed in one of these folders.
What is the validity period for an ESTA?
We have just examined in detail the time required to obtain your ESTA authorisation for the United States. But this time period should not be confused with the validity period of your travel authorisation.
In fact, the ESTA system incorporates a two year validity period for all authorisations obtained, this means those that have received a positive response. You therefore have the opportunity to use your authorisation numerous times during this validity period and thereby make several visits or transits through the USA without needing to repeat the application procedure. However, if certain information relating to you has changed such as moving home, a change of name or a new electronic or biometric passport then you will have to inform the authorities of these changes often by completing a new application online.
After this two year period your ESTA will not be renewed automatically but will simply expire. If you wish to visit the USA again after this two year period then you will need to reapply for an ESTA online repeating the same procedure as before, including full payment of the costs and fees.
It is also important to remember that your visit to the United States should not exceed a maximum of 90 days, or three months. For a longer visit you will need to obtain a traditional visa through an online application on a specialised website.
To conclude you now have all the information necessary to prepare for your visit to the United States. Do ensure you leave plenty of time to obtain your travel authorisation as well as for any other preparations necessary for your visit, and allow a margin of free time in case of difficulties or problems and the need to repeat the application procedure. In this way you will ensure preparations for your visit to the USA run smoothly without any major problems.