5 things not to do with an ESTA
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.
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Nuances of ESTA you need to know
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.
Check here if you are eligible for ESTA.
Important facts on ESTA you must know
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.
See also: What to Do If You Need Medical Care While Visiting the United States
Things you should not do when opting for ESTA
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.