Before leaving for the United States, you need to know which travel document is needed to enter the United States. The choice will always be on an ESTA or a visa . Both documents have their advantages and disadvantages, but while a visa is (practically) accessible to all, the ESTA authorization is only available for a specific category of people wishing to travel to the USA. The point between the ESTA and a US visa in this article.
ESTA or visa : the travelers concerned
The first major difference between an ESTA and a visa is the category of travelers concerned. While everyone can apply for a visa to go to the US (with the exception of some countries, recently banned by the Trump administration), this is not the case for ESTA. The latter is indeed reserved for nationals of countries members of the visa waiver program, created by the US government in 1986.
The countries concerned by this program are 38 at present. The list of member countries is available on the US Custom and Border Protection website.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows these people to travel to the United States without going to the US Embassy to apply for a tourist visa. Attention, conditions concerning the type of stay and the duration are also to be taken into account.
It is also important to know that the VWP is not an obligation, but a means of streamlining procedures. A VWP eligible person always has the choice between an ESTA and a USA visa .
ESTA or American visa : the conditions of stay in the United States
Knowing what is best between ESTA or US visa asks to study the reasons and conditions of stay in the USA. Since there are a multitude of visas covering almost all situations, but the ESTA application is reserved for a specific type of stay, let’s look only at ESTA conditions.
ESTA travel conditions
To be able to travel to the United States with ESTA, you have to respect three main conditions.
First, you have to go to the USA as part of a tourist trip or a business trip (an ESTA or American visa is also necessary if you only transit via the USA to your final destination).
An ESTA is not a work permit or a green card, so you can not live, study, do an internship or work in the USA during your stay.
The length of stay is also to be taken into account. ESTA allows you to stay in the US for up to 90 days, while with a tourist visa you can stay up to 6 consecutive months.
Finally, an ESTA is necessary only if you enter the American soil by air or sea. If you arrive in the United States by land from Canada or Mexico, ESTA is not the appropriate travel document.
ESTA or visa: passport is enough?
Another difference between an ESTA and a visa is the need for a passport that meets the requirements of the US authorities for security and identification measures.
While a visa may be attached to any valid passport, an ESTA requires that the document be a biometric passport or an ePassport.
As obtaining an ESTA does not require any maintenance with the US consular authorities, the passport must be equipped with electronic systems capable of storing the holder’s fingerprints and retinal scanner.
In any case, the validity period of the passport must be sufficient for the duration of your stay in the United States.
ESTA or visa: how to obtain the document?
A US visa application always requires a visit to the US Embassy. For tourist visas, first fill in the DS-160 online form and then make an appointment at the US embassy or consulate.
For work or study visas, you first need to find a sponsor, that is, an employer or a university program. It is the sponsor who starts the procedure and forwards it to the authorities. If the project is deemed valid, an interview is scheduled in an embassy so that you can defend your project and obtain a visa.
ESTA is much simpler and faster to obtain. No need to move, since everything goes through an online application. Just fill out the ESTA form, which you can find on the government website or through a specialized website.
Once granted, the authorization is linked electronically to your passport for a period of 2 years or until expiry of the passport (if this happens before the two years), and allows multiple entries on the American territory.
An ESTA costs $ 14 on the government site, while a B1 / B2 tourist visa costs around $ 160.
As we have just seen, an ESTA is valid for 2 years whereas a tourist visa is valid for 10 years (for European nationals).
A new application for ESTA must be made if you obtain a new passport, while a visa is still valid if the passport to which it is attached is expired. You must then bring both your passport (the valid one and the one containing the visa) during your trip.
You now have all the information you need to choose between an ESTA or a visa . All you have to do is organize your stay in the United States. Have a nice trip !