The United States spares no expense in its fight against terrorism. It was with this in mind that the U.S. government launched the Visa Waiver Program. The aim of this system is to enable the American authorities to precisely monitor the profiles of travelers wishing to travel to the USA, while facilitating entry formalities on American soil. The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) authorization program is part of this program. This travel document now allows certain foreign nationals to travel to the United States of America without having to apply for a visa at the American embassy.

ESTA: an authorization not to be confused with a visa

Did you know that there are more than a hundred different visas for traveling to the USA? With all this, it’s hard to find your way around. If you’re traveling to the USA for the first time, you should know that since 2009, ESTA authorization allows you to travel without a traditional visa.

Pour obtenir un visa USA, vous devez vous rendre dans une ambassade américaine ou au consulat et fournir un dossier complet afin de justifier votre projet de séjour aux États-Unis. En parallèle, pour finaliser la demande de visa, il faut s’acquitter de frais administratifs. À titre d’exemple, les autorités américaines imposent de payer 152 $ pour un visa touristique.

On the other hand, ESTA applications are made entirely online. As this is an authorization, don’t be surprised if you’re subjected to a rigorous check, both on the form and when you appear before customs. There have been cases where travelers have been turned away, even with a valid ESTA authorization.

Moreover, the conditions for using the visa and ESTA are not at all the same.

When should I use ESTA authorization for the United States?

L’autorisation de voyage sans ESTA n’est disponible que pour les ressortissants des 38 pays membres du Programme d’Exemption de Visa. Avant de demander votre autorisation ESTA, vous devez donc vérifier si le pays qui vous a délivré votre passeport participe bien au programme. Si vous êtes ressortissant français, rassurez-vous, vous êtes bien admissible à ce dispositif.

The ESTA document is only issued under very specific conditions. The American administration has defined three situations in which it is possible to request an ESTA:

What’s more, the ESTA is a temporary residence permit, meaning that it is reserved exclusively for stays in the USA of up to 90 days. Beyond this limit, the traveller must apply for a visa from the consular services.

Before you apply online, make sure you have a valid passport (biometric or electronic passport only). If necessary, apply for a passport renewal at your local town hall.

To apply for ESTA, you need to fill in a quick online form. You can find this questionnaire on the official U.S. government website, or on a private platform that will guide you through the process.

The authorization takes effect immediately after it is obtained, and can be used for two years. During this period of validity, the ESTA certificate allows you to come and go as often as you like, within the limit of your legal stay (90 days).

The limits of ESTA USA

Tout d’abord, sachez que la demande d’ESTA USA est payante, à raison de 14 $ pour les frais de traitement et les frais d’accompagnement si vous faites appel à un service privé.

The ESTA is valid for two years from the date of issue. However, if your passport expires before this deadline, the authorization will no longer be valid and you will no longer be able to travel to the USA without a visa. The only solution will be to submit a new application and pay the associated fees again.

Finally, the U.S. government reserves the right to revoke your ESTA authorization at any time, particularly if you have committed major offenses against the law in the country. For example, you can’t train or look for a job if you’ve entered the USA with an ESTA.

Finally, please note that the ESTA USA in no way guarantees your access to Uncle Sam’s country. Only border officials can approve your entry into the country.