All You Need to Know About the ESTA for the USA


If you are planning to travel to the USA, then you have your visa or ESTA applications to take care of. Let’s begin with what ESTA really is. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The full form is a giveaway to what it means. Simply put – it is a mandatory travel authorization to travel to the USA without a visa. ESTA application can be easily and quickly submitted via an online form.

Once you apply for ESTA, you get one of these three responses within 24 hours regarding your application status:

  • Authorization Approved: This means that your ESTA has been granted and you can use it immediately. Your two year validity period begins. You will receive your official confirmation number with the information of when it begins and expires.
  • Authorisation Pending: This is received when an automatic approval cannot be made on an application. Your application then goes to a secondary stage of vetting, and an answer is given within 72 hours.
  • Travel Not Authorized: This means that you are not eligible for ESTA. You will have to apply for the corresponding visa to visit the country.

ESTA is part of VWP, which is a Visa Waiver Programme. If you are a citizen of the countries eligible for VWP, then you can travel to the USA without the need to apply for a visa. It is a simple process but is not that widely known and understood, so let’s talk about some things associated with it.

Difference Between ESTA and a visa

ESTA visa is different than your regular visa. People often get confused about whether they need both these things. When you apply for an ESTA, the process is much simpler and quicker. You will be notified within 24 hours via email about your application status when you apply for it online. Visa is a travel authorisation that allows you to visit the USA; the application process for a visa is lengthy. A visa can take weeks to be approved. 

How Long is ESTA Valid For and How Many Days Can You Stay at a Time?

ESTA is valid for only two years. The day your application is approved, the validity starts. As mentioned earlier, the ESTA is usually approved the same day you submit your online form. Your ESTA is valid for two years or till your passport expires – whichever happens first.

The ESTA allows you to travel to the USA – at a time – for periods up to 90-days. The 90-day period starts as soon as you enter the country. In any circumstance, do not overstay the 90 days period because that is most likely to create a problem for you. Overstaying your ESTA allowance can jeopardise your chances of coming back to the USA.

Can ESTA Be Renewed?

This is a question that is one of the most frequently asked. You cannot renew your ESTA, but you can reapply for it once it expires. You also cannot extend your ESTA when you are in the USA. If you have traveled to the USA and your ESTA is going to expire, then it is not an issue as long as it is valid on the day you arrived. Try to stay within your 90 days travel allowance period.

If your passport is lost or stolen or expires, you will have to reapply for ESTA because it is tied to the passport you apply with.

Can Family Members Have One ESTA?

Every person needs to have their own ESTA approvals – no matter their age. In case of a minor, you can fill the form on their behalf, but they will still need to have their own ESTA to travel to the USA.

Does the 90-day Period Reset if You Leave the Country?

This is a sensitive thing that you need to be aware of. If you are traveling to a neighboring country, then the 90-day period will not reset, your visit will still be in the 90-day countdown. But, if you travel to other countries that are not neighboring territories, then the 90-day clock on your visit will reset.

The reason for this is to prevent visitors from border-hopping and resetting their 90-day clocks. This is also why you should not keep on returning to the country within short periods of traveling to reset the clock, because if you do that frequently, you will raise a red flag as someone who is staying there or wants to.