Electronic System for Travel Authorization – Not an Alternative to US Visas


Foreign nationals from countries belonging to the Visa Waiver Program are now required to have an approved travel authorization from the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to traveling to the United States by air or sea. This is given in the form of an electronic permit and determines the eligibility of visitors traveling to the US under this program. In addition to this approved travel authorization they must also have an e-passport which is an enhanced secure passport with an embedded electronic chip.

While an ESTA approval authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the United States, it does not act as a visa nor should it be used in lieu of a visa since it does not meet the legal requirements of a US visa. Travelers who have had a previously issued valid visa should continue to travel on that visa and are not required to apply for an ESTA in addition to the visa. To be noted, an approved ESTA does not guarantee admission to the United States.


  • There is a secure public website under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security and the United States Customs and Border Protection that offers an automated form to apply for a travel authorization;
  • It is recommended that you apply at least 72 hours before the travel date. However, applying earlier, particularly before getting your tickets is most advisable;
  • The traveler enters the required information including biographic and travel details on the secure Web site;
  • There is a processing fee of $4.00 and an authorization charge of $10.00 if the application is approved. If the electronic travel authorization is denied, only the processing fee of the application is charged;
  • Once this information is put in, the application is processed by the system to determine eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program without a visa;
  • An automated response is generated and prior to boarding, a carrier will electronically verify with the United States Customs and Border Protection that the traveler has an approved travel authorization on file.


  • ESTA allows travel to the US for a period of two years, or until the passport expires;
  • It allows multiple trips to the United States;
  • A traveler can stay for up to 90 days at a stretch during each visit;
  • There is no set requirement for how long one must wait between visits;
  • The ESTA system is very prompt in its responses and in most cases, will have a response within a few minutes of submitting an application;
  • The system accepts large group applications;


  • There should be a reasonable amount of time between visits to avoid raising suspicion of defrauding the system;
  • One cannot change or extend your non-immigrant status under this program;
  • Every traveler including non-ticketed infants are required to have an approved travel authorization;
  • There is no scope for appeal if ESTA is rejected. The judgement is usually final.

Find more information on how the Department of Homeland Security tightened the visa waiver program to take into account the newly announced travel bans and who qualifies for the ESTA at www.path2usa.com.