Who Needs an ESTA?

The US Visa Waiver Program allows nationals from certain countries to travel to the US for tourism or business stays for up to 90 days, providing certain requirements are met. Bear in mind that the 90-day requirement includes any time spent in Canada, Mexico and adjoining islands including the Caribbean. Travelers who are eligible for the VWP must apply online for ESTA approval. There is a $14 fee to cover administrative costs.

How to Apply for an ESTA

If you are visiting the US for tourism or business not exceeding 90 days, and are from one of the 38 visa waiver countries within the ESTA program, you can apply for an ESTA online. Approval usually only takes a few minutes but can take up to 72 hours so applications should be made well ahead of any planned travel dates. Proof of ESTA authorization must be presented prior to boarding a plane or ship bound for the USA.

Visa or Visa Waiver?

Visitors from one of the 38 visa waiver countries may need to apply for a visa in certain circumstances. An ESTA application only covers visitors for short business or tourism trips (up to 90 days) and the holder must have an e-passport. A visa is required in the following circumstances, if the visitor:

  • Wants to stay longer than 90 days
  • Intends to change status (e.g. from tourist to student) after arrival in the US
  • Wishes to study or work in the US
  • Intends to immigrate to the US
  • Does not have an e-passport with a machine-readable chip
  • Wishes to travel by private plane or private boat
  • Has previously been refused a visa
  • Has previously been deported from the US
  • Did not comply with previous conditions of a VWP visit
  • Has a criminal record (particularly involving drug sale or use)
  • Suffers a communicable disease or other medical condition that deems them ineligible from obtaining a visa

How Many Times Can I Enter the US on the VWP?

In any 90-day visit, travelers may take a short trip to Mexico, Canada or the adjoining islands and return to the US under the same VWP period. Re-admission to the US in this case does not constitute the start of a new 90-day admission period.

How Many Times Can I Enter the US on an ESTA?

ESTA approval lasts for two years, providing there is no change in personal circumstances, status or expiry of the passport. ESTA approval can be used for multiple visits under the VWP, providing each visit is within the terms of the VWP i.e. less than 90 days, and for business or tourism purposes.

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