What is the purpose of the ESTA?
Since January 2009, the United States has implemented a travel authorization system called ESTA to facilitate entry procedures on American soil. This computer system allows to reinforce the security of the country by checking the identity of travelers before their arrival.
Criteria for obtaining the ESTA
Implemented as part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), the application for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization is made online no later than 72 hours before departure.
The ESTA is obtained under certain conditions. Before starting an application, travelers should make sure that they:
- Do not stay for more than 90 days;
- Have an electronic or biometric passport valid for the entire duration of the stay and even up to 6 months after the planned return date;
- Be a national of one of the VWP partner countries.
If you are planning to travel with your family or simply with other people, you should know that you can fill out several forms. Each individual requires a personal ESTA as part of a group application.
Note: this requirement is also valid for obtaining a minor ESTA. Minor children must have their own passport and ESTA.
What is the purpose of an ESTA?
An ESTA is an authorization to travel to the United States. It does not guarantee that the traveler will cross the US border. Indeed, when disembarking in the United States, travelers must present themselves to the immigration service. The agents are the only ones authorized to authorize entry into the United States.
U.S. Customs officials usually ask a few routine questions similar to those asked when applying for travel authorization. An ESTA is therefore a pre-authorization to stay while a visa is a residence permit. You can apply for a USA tourist visa online at the American embassy of your place of residence. Finalizing a visa application requires an interview at the U.S. Embassy by appointment.
These two documents are also different from each other because they do not allow the holder to do the same thing once in the United States. Thus, if your trip is for tourism or business, the ESTA document allows you to :
- Travel across the United States, visit your family or loved ones;
- Participate in unpaid social, sports or cultural activities;
- Taking classes without getting a degree;
- Participate in meetings, conferences, conventions;
- Take part in unpaid short-term training;
- Negotiate or sign contracts.
If you are planning to stay longer or the purpose of your trip does not fall within the above criteria, then you should apply for a visa or a Green Card.
Valid for a period of 2 years or until the expiration of the passport, an ESTA allows you to make several visits to the United States, provided that you respect the authorized limit of 90 consecutive days in the territory.