Formalities to travel to the USA

What is ESTA authorization?

ESTA authorization is issued by the United States Department of Homeland Security. It allows foreign nationals who are citizens of a Visa Waiver Program member country to enter the US without a visa. This electronic travel authorization can only be obtained online.

For a stay in the United States of America of less than 90 days: It is not necessary to apply for a visa. Simply obtain an ESTA electronic travel authorization by clicking on the online form.

Important principles for ESTA applications

The ESTA application is made online, and the reply is available within 72 hours. Any new application will cancel the previous one. This administrative certificate is necessary to board a plane or a boat to the American territory. ESTA is for foreigners; US citizens with a valid passport are not required to have ESTA authorization. If the ESTA application is denied, you will need to apply for a traditional visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.

Having an ESTA authorization does not guarantee access to the USA. The ESTA only allows you to go through customs.

An ESTA authorization can exempt its holder from a visa. The trip must be for tourism or business for less than 90 days. The authorization is valid for 2 years from the date of issue and becomes invalid in case of cancellation by the US authorities, but also in case of expiry of a passport. Indeed, if a passport expires, the ESTA authorization also becomes invalid, as it is linked to the specific passport number.

Each person wishing to enter the United States must have their own ESTA authorization. An ESTA for minors must be requested for each child traveling to the USA. A travel agent is also entitled to apply for it on behalf of his clients.

Who can apply for an ESTA?

ESTA is available to nationals of countries that are members of the Visa Waiver Program. A prospective traveler must verify his or her eligibility for ESTA before beginning the process. The foreign traveler applying for ESTA must meet certain criteria:

The ESTA authorization is valid for two years. However, if there is a change in your health status, identity, criminal record or passport, you must update your ESTA. There are many requirements to obtain an ESTA.

ESTA strengthens homeland security

ESTA was introduced in 2009 to tighten security after the 2001 terrorist attacks on American soil. This electronic travel authorization is obtained online prior to boarding, enabling an initial assessment of travelers to the USA.

Many countries have drawn inspiration from this security system to strengthen their border controls and make tourist arrivals more fluid:

What are the requirements to enter the USA?

An ESTA has a limited use. It does not guarantee automatic access to U.S. territory; the border crossing is the only one authorized to grant physical access to U.S. soil. The ESTA aims to simplify and secure the conditions of access to the United States.

The ESTA authorization must meet certain criteria such as: business or leisure travel of less than 90 days. If you are coming to work, to be an au pair, as a student or as a diplomat, you will need a US visa. The conditions of access to the territory are strict in order to limit the risks related to national security.

The ESTA visa is the fastest and easiest document to obtain for travel to the USA. Travelers wishing to visit the United States must have a visa or ESTA, or hold a Green Card.

How long does it take to get an ESTA?

ESTA authorization must be obtained prior to boarding. If you have not obtained your ESTA at the time of boarding, your boarding pass will be blocked and cannot be issued by the airline. The response time for the ESTA announced by the American administration is 72 hours maximum.

The ESTA authorization allows you to be exempted from the visa requirement. The VWP simplifies access to U.S. soil while maintaining high national security standards. This application is simple, the two-year validity period allows you to greatly anticipate this application and will help you in your administrative steps to travel to the United States of America.

The Visa Waiver Program facilitates access for nationals of certain countries, notably in Europe, but also for Brunei, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand and Israel (since October 2023). The agreements between these nations to facilitate migration flows allow for optimal conditions for travel and movement, especially for business.

In summary, obtaining an ESTA authorization will facilitate the conditions for boarding a flight or travel to the United States of America. The ESTA authorization is a simple and economical application to be made as soon as the project of travel to the United States begins.

How to apply for ESTA?

To ensure that you receive your authorization, you must have a valid passport at the time of the ESTA application. The passport must also be valid for the duration of your stay. Your passport must be electronic or biometric. You can check this, if a logo consisting of a circle and a line appears at the bottom of the cover. If you are under medical treatment and need to take prescribed medication, remember to take all the proof you need to avoid having it confiscated at customs.

Then you need to communicate the reasons for your trip. The ESTA is only issued to people traveling to the United States for tourism or business (contract negotiation, seminar… but not paid). You do not have to have a specific plan to apply for an ESTA.

You will also be asked for the duration of your stay, which cannot exceed 90 days. Then, the more classic information such as your name, first name, date and place of birth, passport number, etc. You will also be asked to provide less usual information such as your health status, your legal history, your behavior.

How much does an ESTA application cost?

There is no way to obtain a free ESTA. There is always a fee to obtain it, regardless of the organization you choose.

The minimum fee for an ESTA is $21. This mandatory fee is charged by the US government. You may have to pay more depending on the associated services offered by private operators. The price for an ESTA is still lower than the average price of a visa, which is $185 on average, depending on the type of visa requested. Payments are made directly online.

The American authorities are very vigilant regarding the travelers authorized to enter their territory, the slightest mistake made when filling out the ESTA application form can lead to a refusal and therefore delay your stay.

The authorization, if granted, is issued within 72 hours. If you are denied, you may reapply in ten days or apply for a visa. If you already have a valid visa that still corresponds to your reason for travel, it is not necessary to apply for ESTA authorization.

ESTA authorization to be paid by credit card

The ESTA authorization is subject to a fee and must be paid directly through the Internet when applying online. The mandatory American taxes are used to finance the application fees and participate in the promotion of tourism in the USA.

Check the validity of the ESTA

The ESTA authorization is a document that allows you to stay in the United States for tourism or business reasons. Faster and easier to obtain than a visa or Green Card, an ESTA is valid for two years from the date of issue.

It is therefore possible during these two years to make multiple visits to the USA.

However, you must limit each of your trips to the United States to a maximum of 90 days and you must have a round trip ticket operated by an airline recognized by the American authorities.

Another prerequisite is that the information entered on the ESTA form must be perfectly up-to-date. Therefore, if your passport number or marital status changes, you must submit a new ESTA application and pay the processing fee.

ESTA and US Customs

Obtaining an ESTA is not synonymous with guaranteed entry into the United States. This document authorizes only one person to travel and present himself at the country’s borders. The authorization to set foot on American soil depends on the US Custom and Border Protection. The formalities are the same for a land entry in the USA.

The ESTA form is the first step in the review of U.S. customs services to screen people wishing to travel to the U.S. In addition, be particularly careful about what you bring in or take out, as American regulations are extremely strict on this point.

The last step comes after your arrival. An agent will verify that an ESTA authorization has been granted. Then you will be asked simple ESTA questions (which you may have already answered on the form). Note that it is possible that a more extensive interview and even a body search may be requested by the officer. Finally, a photo and your fingerprints will be recorded in a database.

How to obtain an official ESTA?

An official ESTA is a procedure that aims to replace visa applications (under certain conditions) in order to travel more easily to the United States. It is presented in the form of an online form to fill out. An answer is sent within 72 hours and if the answer is negative, it will be necessary to apply for a US visa, which is longer and more expensive.

To obtain an official ESTA, you must be a citizen of one of the countries participating in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and have a valid biometric or electronic passport. The validity period of the passport must cover the entire duration of the planned trip. Also, a valid credit card is required to pay the processing fees. You will then have to fill out a contact form and provide information about your last job, among other things.

Department of Homeland Security ESTA website

You can also apply individually or prepare a file for a group when several people are concerned by the entry into the territory. A global payment will then be possible.

ESTA renewal: how to renew the authorization?

Renewing your ESTA authorization is very simple. In reality, there is no real renewal. If your document expires, it is mandatory to reapply and proceed in the same manner as when you made the first application. There are other reasons why you may need to renew your authorization, such as a change in passport or a change in personal information. You will need to specify the purpose of your trip and the duration of your trip so that the authorities in charge of verifying the ESTA can grant you authorization. Also, re-enter your last name, first name, address, date and place of birth, etc., as well as your passport information (especially if you have changed it in the meantime). A minimum application fee of $21 will also be required. But it is not necessary to do a complete renewal when you need to change some details that are less important, such as the address of residence during your stay or a change of route.

Why is ESTA authorization required?

Faced with the rise of terrorism, the U.S. authorities have tightened their security controls. An ESTA authorization is a pre-authorization for a stay in the United States. The request for authorization is made only by Internet. There is currently no other means of delivery. Obtaining an ESTA is mandatory to enter the USA. You must complete a questionnaire consisting of multiple questions related to your identity, your judicial profile, your health status and your stay.

Depending on the answers given, the U.S. Customs Service will accept or reject your entry. Refusals are very rare and often related to errors made when filling out the ESTA form.

ESTA application form

To make your request, you must fill out the ESTA form which is divided into 3 parts:

We recommend that you pay careful attention when filling out the first and second parts of the form. Indeed, errors can easily slip into the answers, such as a wrong passport number for example. This may jeopardize the acceptance of your application.

ESTA application refused, what to do?

If your ESTA application is denied, the first thing to do is to verify all the information you entered on the form:

The American authorities take the security of their territory very seriously, which is why the slightest error in the answers to your form can lead to the refusal of your ESTA application. If this is your case, you must wait 10 days before you can renew your application. You will be required to pay the administrative fees associated with the ESTA application.

If, after verification, you still find that there are no errors on your form, and that any criminal record you may have is not in conflict with the country’s internal security, this means that the American authorities have refused your ESTA application for other reasons that they are not legally obliged to disclose to you. In this case, we advise you to go to the American consulate or embassy in order to apply for an American visa.

Print the ESTA before leaving for the airport

Since the ESTA procedure is fully automated electronically, you are not required to have printed your ESTA to present it upon arrival. However, in order to travel with more peace of mind, we recommend that all travelers take their paper certificate with them on their outbound flight. In case of computer bugs or other problems, a receipt will allow you to prove your authorization to stay. If you have lost your ESTA you must log on to the DHS website to check your ESTA status.

New ESTA application after refusal

If, after applying for ESTA authorization, you receive an unfavorable response from the U.S. authorities, you should first carefully check all the answers you provided on your questionnaire (marital status, passport number, return tickets for a stay of less than 90 days in the U.S.). The slightest mistake can lead to a rejection of your application by U.S. Customs.

When your application status is ESTA Pending, it does not mean that your travel authorization is denied. It is just waiting to be processed, you will have a final status accepted or refused in less than 72 hours.

Once you’ve made a new ESTA application, if your questionnaire contains no errors and is still rejected, you’ll have no choice but to turn to another form of authorization, such as a B2 tourist visa or a Green Card.