Immigrate to the United States: US Visa Applications

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What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an electronic program that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program.

The US Department of Homeland Security introduced this system in 2009 to make travelling more secure and issue authorizations much faster. ESTA is the main requirement of the Visa Waiver Program, and those who do not have an approved or valid ESTA cannot enter the US even if they fulfill all the other requirements of the VWP.

The ESTA allows its holders to stay in the US for a maximum of 90 days. The ESTA is a document only for temporary stays and you do not qualify to stay longer than that. This is the main difference with the US Visitor Visas with which you are allowed to stay for 6 months and then extend your stay in the US.

What are the Requirements of ESTA?

To qualify to get the ESTA, you must fulfill its requirements. You are allowed to apply for this travel authorization documents if you:

  • Have citizenship of one of the 39 countries which are part of the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Are planning to stay in the US for 90 days or less.
  • Do not have a valid US visitor visa (B-1 visa or B-2 visa).
  • Are traveling to the US for tourism or business.

If you do not fulfill even one of these requirements, then you are not eligible to apply for the ESTA and must go through visa applications to be allowed to travel to the US.

Pay the Electronic Visa fees

In order to apply for the ESTA, there is a cost that applicants must pay. The total ESTA cost is $14 per applicant. The fee is broken down in two parts:

  • Processing Fee: is $4 per applicant and is charged to anyone who applies for the ESTA
  • Authorization Fee: is $10 per applicant and is charged to anyone who gets an approval for their ESTA. If your ESTA is denied, then you will only have to pay $4 and the additional $10 is not charged to you.

Payment methods differ, but the system accepts only credit cards and PayPal, so make sure that you have one of these options to pay with.

The ESTA is comparably cheaper than applying for a visa which costs around $160 for the B-1 visa or the B-2 visa. That is why ESTA is much more preferred for short time travelers who are part of the US Visa Waiver Program.

How to Apply for ESTA?

The ESTA application is quite simple and can be summarized in a few steps. You must apply for ESTA through the Customs and Borders Protection website. There you will find the ESTA links and rules. You have the option of applying only for yourself as an individual or for a group of people. The group applications can usually be used for when you travel with family or friends together. To apply for the ESTA, there are three things that you have to do:

  1. Complete the ESTA form.
  2. Submit the necessary documents
  3. Make your payment.
  4. Wait for the application to process.

Completing the ESTA Form

The ESTA form will inquire on your personal information and especially your passport identification numbers. This information is:

  • Your name and last name.
  • Parent information.
  • Citizenship.
  • Contact information.
  • Employment information, etc.

It then cross references that information to various legal databases to determine whether you are a security threat or not.

Submit the necessary documents

Due to this the documents that you need to apply for the ESTA are:

  • A valid e-Passport for 6 more months after your intended departure from the US.
  • Valid payment method (VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, or PayPal).

After you enter your information and complete all the steps, you must wait for the application to be processed.

How Long is ESTA Valid for?

The question of how long does and ESTA last and whether your ESTA is still valid is extremely important in terms of planning your travels. If your ESTA is approved after application, it will either be valid for 2 years or until your passport expires. If your passport will expire before 2 years have passed, then the ESTA will be valid until that date.

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