For various reasons including changes in political landscape, economic factors and security related issues, the norms for traveling to foreign countries and immigration can change. In the last decade, the visa and immigration rules for foreign nationals traveling to the USA have changed quite a lot. Based on factors like nationality, income level, job type and purpose of travel- you need to apply for different types of Visas to travel to the USA. In certain situations, you may actually enter US territory without having a Visa. While this provision has certain limitations, the ESTA has come across as an alternative for citizens of specific countries to travel to the USA without having Visa for a specified period.
Intended to replace the I-94W green form, the ESTA was introduced by the Department of Homeland Security in the USA after the 9/11 attacks. Its objective is filtering entry of foreign nationals who can pose security threat to the USA.
ESTA is the abbreviation of Electronic System for Travel Authorization. This is a digital and automated framework used for assessing eligibility of applicants under VWP category countries for getting entry into the USA for a temporary period. 2009 onwards, the citizens of countries covered by the much touted Visa Waiver Program need ESTA clearance to enter the USA under certain situations. Once the ESTA application gets approved, it stays valid for a 2 year period. It is possible for the applicants to come to USA several times within that duration but they cannot stay for more than 90 days at one stretch. ESTA is required when the VWP country citizens enter the USA through air or water routes. It is not required for those who choose land routes.
The need for ESTA
The VWP country citizens may opt for ESTA under certain situations:
When they need to visit the USA for any business related needs and may have to stay in US states for a month or more.
If they want to enroll in short term courses in any US university.
If they need to do any internship in an institute or college in the USA.
If they want to travel in the USA and want to visit relatives etc.
When any of these requirements crop up on short notice.
If you need to undergo a short term medical treatment in the USA and that requires hospitalization for several weeks.
Learn the advantages of ESTA
There are quite a few benefits of applying for ESTA for the people living in the VWP countries.
ESTA gets approved much faster than any kind of US VISA. In most cases, applicants get Clarence in a few minutes online and application status is cleared in 72 hours maximum. This is much faster than Visa application which may take months.
ESTA approval does not require you going anywhere and it can be done online.
Once ESTA is approved, it is possible to pay several visits to the USA in next 2 years.
There exist doubts and misconceptions about the ESTA even though it was made compulsory for VWP country citizens. These are:
Do not think ESTA is equivalent of a VISA-It would be wrong to think of ESTA as a substitute for a proper US Visa. A Visa enables you to work or study in the USA in legitimate way or apply for citizenship. With ESTA you simply get the chance to visit the USA for a limited period. It lets you stay in the USA for a period not exceeding 90 days at one time.
ESTA does not work without passport- Your passport must be proper to get clearance for ESTA. It is based on the information mentioned in your passport, the approval for ESTA is given. In fact, the two year validity of ESTA is short terminated if the applicant’s passport validity expires within that period. If the information in your passport is changed for any reason and you have ESTA approval, you have to re apply for it.
ESTA application submission can yield any of the 3 responses- when you apply for ESTA online, there can be any of the three responses. You may receive approval soon (Authorization Approved), or you may need to wait to get clearance (Authorization pending) and or face denial (Travel Not Authorized). In the last case, you cannot opt for ESTA to travel to the USA.
ESTA is required by all applicants- The citizens of VWP countries will need to apply for ESTA, it does not matter what the age or gender is. Even the kids are covered though their parents can apply on their behalf.
ESTA does not guarantee entry to US states- While approval for ESTA lets the people of VWP nations travel to the USA, a final screening awaits them. After arriving to the USA by ship or flight, each ESTA cleared foreign national is screened by the S. Customs and Border Protection department. The US customs department has the right to deny entry to people they find unsuitable even if they have ESTA approval at this point.
ESTA denial does not mean ‘no entry’ to the USA- A lot of people feel let down when their ESTA application is turned down. If you receive denial upon applying online for ESTA, it does not mean you are barred from visiting the USA forever! You can still very well apply for an US Visa by visiting the US embassy.
There are a number of things that you should not do when opting for ESTA. These mistakes can reduce your chance of getting approval and may lead to troubles later. These are:
Overlooking the passport issues – It is always necessary that you cross check the passport details both before applying for ESTA and before traveling with ESTA. It may so happen that your passport details got changed after obtaining ESTA approval. In that case, you may be denied entry to USA even with valid ESTA! This can happen when the US customs department spots discrepancy in your ESTA information and that of the passport. The passport has to be digital or machine readable too. It is also necessary that you check the passport expiry date before traveling to the USA with ESTA. You may stay for 90 days with ESTA in the USA but if your passport expires before 90 days you can’t stay after that date. If the visit is for an urgent purpose, you have to be careful on this aspect.
Opting for long term career opportunities- The USA has some of the top educational institutions and universities and they lure millions of students. However, it would be wrong if you use ESTA to visit the USA for study. Only short term courses can be covered by ESTA. For anything more than 90 days, you will need a Visa.
Overlooking ESTA for visiting a different country through the USA- The citizens of VWP nations need to apply for ESTA even if they use US airports for visiting different countries.
Applying for ESTA without much time in hand- It is true that application for ESTA does not take much time and most applicants get clearance. However, you should not apply at the eleventh hour! You have to think of all possibilities to be on safe side. What if the application is rejected for any reason and you have little time to apply for an US Visa? That is why it is prudent that you apply for ESTA at least 2 months before you travel date to the US destination. That leaves you with enough time to apply for standard Visa if ESTA is rejected.
Not keeping documents ready and lack of confidence- Even after you obtain clearance for ESTA, there is a final round that you need to clear to get entry to the US territory. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection department will screen you to determine any security risk after you arrive at any US airport with ESTA. This is a crucial stage and you have to be careful. Certain mistakes may make the customs agents deem you with suspicion and that may mar your prospect of getting final clearance! Lack of confidence and inability to answer their questions with clarity may lead to denial of entry. It is necessary that you answer all queries without showing nervousness or fumbling- to begin with. It is better that you keep documents along with to show as evidence of your answers. This can be necessary when you are planning to visit some relatives or friends in the USA. Documents pertaining to any medical treatment or course also need to be kept ready at this phase. With confidence and preparation, this can be cleared without much hassle.
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Security is becoming very stringent all over the world due to terror threats and this situation has raised the security and safety grades of national and international flights all over the world. In the U. S., the safety of flights is taken more seriously than any other country. Many common items are banned in the U.S. airlines flights. No one wants to miss a flight but it happens quite often, especially for first-time flyers. Flights are missed even after reaching the airport on time and embarrassing situations are created because people are not aware of security rules and they end up carrying things with them that are confiscated at the airport security checkpoint. This causes unnecessary problems other than delayed or missed flights.
If you are flying with any US airlines then you must know that they have beefed up their security checks at the airport and many new rules have been put into place. The safety and security of the flights and the passengers is the first priority of the TSA (Transport and Security Administration). With frequent terror threats, TSA has increased the check-in time and a very strict open check-in process is followed at the security check. If you are caught with any item that is not allowed, you might find yourself in trouble and your item may also be confiscated. Therefore, to avoid any trouble you should acquaint yourself with the list of items that are allowed and those that are banned on flights.
The first thing that all passengers should know is that there are two types of baggage allowed on every flight. The first is check-in baggage that is deposited at the airlines counter when you check-in for your flight. This is the heavy suitcases that go into the cargo area of the airplane. The other type of luggage is what you are allowed to carry with you in the seating area of the aircraft. This is known as cabin baggage. Cabin baggage is smaller in size and lighter in weight and can be easily carried with you.
There are certain items that cannot be kept in the hand baggage but are allowed in check-in bags and there are certain items that are not allowed in both. To resolve your confusion, here is a list of items that can be carried in your luggage and that can’t be carried at all both in checked-in luggage and cabin bag.
So, let’s get started with 10 things that are not allowed in both the checked bag and cabin bags:
Explosives and replicas of explosives: Explosives are considered a threat to aircraft and are not allowed in the flights. You must remember that even the replicas of these items (even if they are toys) are not allowed in the flights. If you carry such items or replica of such items unknowingly, airlines will not accept any excuse and might call the explosive experts or the police and the bomb squad. This situation will lead to emergency and costly evacuations, delays and missed flights. Some of the dangerous items that you cannot carry on the flight with you are fireworks, gunpowder, and flare guns.
Flammable liquids and solids: Flammable liquids or solids are restricted in flights and they cannot be carried in checked-in baggage or cabin bags because they can cause fatal accidents and endanger the safety and security of the passengers and the crew members. Most of these products are banned from carrying but there are exceptional cases where a limited amount of items likes aerosol toiletries, such as hair spray, hair mousse, antiperspirant can be carried on the flights but only in checked-in baggage. Following is a list of flammable liquids and solids that cannot be carried in the flights and are completely banned:
Household items: There are many household items that are considered hazardous or dangerous to be carried on the US flights, and they cannot be carried in either checked-in or cabin baggage. Some of these items are:
Grill lighters, matchbox, lighter fluid- allowed in carrying bags
Any kind of poisons
The rules related to some of the above-mentioned items may vary, therefore, you should check with your airline if you want to take any such item with you.
Check here if your passport is eligible to apply for ESTA travel permit.
Marijuana: Laws related to marijuana vary from state to state. Some states in the US allow the limited use of marijuana after the age of 21 while others don’t. But rules related to marijuana are the same for maximum flights and it is clearly not allowed to bring marijuana on flights. In fact, you can’t carry it past the TSA security check screening point, and you also cannot carry it in either carry bag or checked-in bag. You should also know that you may be prevented from boarding your flight if you are intoxicated because you won’t be able to react properly during an emergency, and you will become a hazard for both crew members and other passengers. It is not allowed even if it is for medical purpose and prescribed by the doctor. The smoking zone also prevents the use of marijuana.
Self-heating meals / ready to eat meals: Due to the self-heating element, such meals are not allowed in most of the U.S. flights. The rules may vary for different airlines. Some airlines may allow them in the cabin baggage and others in checked-in bags and some don’t allow these meals at all. Liquid or gel items more than 3.4 oz are also not allowed. Before taking any such item, you must cross check with the airline authorities and get a clear picture of their policies related to food and self-heating meals.
Sole insoles that contain gel: Gel sole insoles are banned because they are said to have more than 3 ounces of liquid and they can leak if punctured. Along with gel insoles, other gel items that are banned are gel candles and child soothers. All such gel items will be confiscated at the check pint.
Grenade shaped items: Any toy or bottle or even a perfume bottle that looks like a grenade should be left behind at home as they are not allowed in flights. Any such thing can be confiscated and you can put yourself in unnecessary trouble.
Peroxide: No matter how much you love using it in the day to day life but it is a complete no-no in the flights. You can buy peroxide locally once you reach your destination as they are easily available in most of the countries.
Brie cheese: Brie cheese is considered to be a liquid and will be taken away at the airport security checkpoint. Thus, instead of losing your favourite cheese you should make the arrangement of getting it couriered to your destination.
Protein powder: The TSA does not allow protein powder on board and no logic or reason will work with them. In fact, other powdered substances like instant coffee, powdered milk or spices are also not allowed on board.
10 Things Allowed in Checked-in Baggage but Not Allowed in Cabin Bags
You cannot carry pepper spray or mace with you in your pocket or carry bag into the cabin of the plane, but you can have it in your checked-in baggage. However, do remember not to carry more than 4 ounces. It is always better to tell your airlines at the checkpoint if you are carrying pepper spray in your checked-in baggage when you reach the checkpoint. If you walk through security with the pepper spray canister, metal detectors or the screening method will detect them. Secondly, if you look suspicious to the authorities, you will be questioned and your pepper spray canister will get confiscated, and this can also lead to you missing the flight. If you want a pepper spray for your safety while travelling, you should buy a new one after reaching your destination or courier it to your destination before you reach there. Sprays that are not allowed in the flights are:
Electronic cigarettes/ vapour cigarettes: Both E-cigarettes and vapour cigarettes generate an excessive amount of nicotine and they are not allowed in cabin bags by some airlines. However, some airlines do allow them so check with them. Few flights allow you to carry them in your cabin bag but they have a strict no-smoking rule on the flight. In fact, flights will not let you board if you have attempted to smoke or smoked your E-cigarettes in previous fights. Therefore, to keep yourself away from such embarrassing situations, you must not try to smoke these cigarettes inside the premises of the airport.
Household items: Household items that are not allowed in carry-on bags but allowed in checked-in baggage are:
Metal knives of any length
Samsung Galaxy Note 7: US airline passengers are not allowed to use or charge their Samsung Galaxy Note 7 on planes because the batteries of the Note 7 can catch fire and explode. Other than US airlines, Qantas, Jetstar, Virgin Australia, and Indian Airlines have also banned the use and charging of the Note 7. Some airlines have also banned the charging of mobile phones even in switched off mode. You are not allowed to use or charge Samsung Galaxy Note 7 but you can carry them in your checked-in baggage.
English Christmas crackers: These crackers create the sound of bang while splitting apart that can confuse travelers and hence they are not allowed in your cabin baggage, but you can pack them in your check-in baggage.
Snow globes: If your snow globe has less than 100 ml of liquid then you may carry it in your check-in bag but because there is no way to measure the liquid, there is a possibility that you might have to give it up at the airport if you are questioned.
Throwing stars: These stars are considered as weapons and are not allowed in cabin bags. In fact, any kind of martial art weapons are not allowed in flights. Some flights may not allow them in check-in baggage either. Therefore, it will be a good idea to ask your airline about the rules and regulations related to throwing stars or any martial art weapons.
Sports equipment: Except for sports parachutes most equipment related to sports are banned in US flights. Some of these may include:
Crossbows and arrows
Canoes and paddles
Professional equipment: If you are a plumber or mechanic who needs a lot of equipment in the day to day life and you want to carry it in your flight then you must pack this equipment in your check-in baggage, but only after cross-checking with your airline whether these items are allowed or not. Some of the equipment definitely not allowed in the hand luggage are:
Cutting tools bigger than 6 cm
Drill and drill accessories
Blade and screwdrivers
10: Guns: They are weapons and are hence not allowed in the handbag. Only empty licenced guns are permitted in your checked-in baggage, but they should be locked in a hard container. There may be an additional fee for carrying a gun in your luggage. Hence, you must check with your airlines regarding the rules and regulations of carrying guns in flights. It is important to check these regulations because the laws related to guns may vary from one US state to another.
If you are traveling anytime soon within the US or to the US, the information in this article will ensure that you do not get into any trouble due to ignorance.