Introduced in 2009 as a result of the Visa Waiver Program, the ESTA authorization replaces the visa for certain types of stay in the USA. Let’s take a look at the conditions under which travelers to the USA must apply for an ESTA online.

Purpose of ESTA authorization

To reinforce surveillance on American territory, the authorities have put this new procedure online, so as to know in advance who is likely to endanger the security of the United States. The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) form is part of a secure computerized system. In this way, the American authorities can precisely study the profile of foreign nationals wishing to stay on American soil, and take the appropriate initiatives according to their level of dangerousness. Moreover, ESTA authorization does not guarantee admission to Uncle Sam’s country; it is a first check. An additional check is usually carried out by immigration officers at the border crossing. This measure makes it possible to detect undesirable people on the territory who have not been previously flagged by the computer system.

ESTA authorization: what are the conditions for applying?

Travel time

Unlike the USA visa, ESTA authorization is only required for short stays of up to 90 days in the United States. The U.S. authorities are very strict about this limit, so if your trip exceeds 1 day, you’ll need to apply for a B2 tourist visa.

The length of your stay in the USA is not the only criterion for determining whether or not ESTA authorization is required. The reason for your trip must also be taken into account.

The reason for your stay in the United States

The American authorities require travelers to request the ESTA document for three types of stays:

Traveller’s nationality

41 nationalities are eligible for visa exemption, the latest country to be accepted being Israel in October 2023. To be eligible for ESTA, you must be a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program member country. The list of member states includes mainly Western countries (EU countries, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, etc.).

How to enter the U.S.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection issues the ESTA document for entry by air or sea. If a foreign national plans to travel to the USA by land, via Mexico or Canada, he or she must now also hold an ESTA or a US visa.

If all these conditions are met, the ESTA form will be indispensable for visiting the United States.

Advantages of the ESTA form compared with the classic visa

Although ESTA is “compulsory”, it offers many advantages over the U.S. visa.

On the one hand, it allows you to travel to the United States with much greater flexibility. In fact, it is possible to apply for authorization up to 72 hours before boarding, which is totally inconceivable with a visa, which takes several weeks to obtain.

The ESTA application is also much more convenient: you can obtain it remotely, in just a few clicks. To apply for an ESTA document, simply complete an online questionnaire. To access the ESTA form, all you need to do is visit the official U.S. government website, or any private site specially dedicated to ESTA. Under no circumstances will you be asked to go to the American embassy, as is required for a visa.

In addition to saving time, the temporary residence permit also saves money. For information, the average cost of a tourist or business visa is $185. ESTA costs US$21.

However, before filling in the online form, please make sure you have a valid passport. It can be a biometric or electronic passport. If your passport has already expired, you won’t need to apply for an ESTA online, as the U.S. requires an up-to-date passport for legal travel.