Anyone who is not required to get a visa for entry into the United States is required to apply for the ESTA program. This program gives you a two-year approval of entry into the United States, as long as you are accepted into it.
How does the ESTA application work, and what do you have to do to apply?
The time period — Applying for the ESTA should be done just a few days before your planned trip to the U.S. This is because, once you are accepted, the ESTA will be valid for you for two years from the date of acceptance. As you do not want to waste some of those days by applying too early, make sure you apply as close to your departure date as possible.
How long does the ESTA application take? — The application itself is done online and only takes a few minutes to complete. To make it go even faster, you can make sure you have all the information you will need with you before you start completing the application form.
This includes your employer’s address and contact number, addresses of any hotels you are staying at while in the U.S., or the names and addresses of any friends you may stay with. Make sure your credit card is close at hand as well, as you will have to pay an application fee online before your ESTA can be processed.
How much does it cost? — The U.S. government is currently charging $14 for the ESTA application. Just be aware, the application fee is non-refundable, even if you are denied acceptance.
How long before approval is sent? — In most cases, you will get approval of your application in less than 24 hours. In some cases, you may receive notice that you have been approved within a few hours of sending the application. If your application is incomplete, however, it will be returned to you and another application fee charged, so do be sure to check it carefully before submitting it.
Checking your ESTA validity — If you already have an ESTA approval, you will be able to go to the U.S. as many times as you want over a two-year period, as long as you do not stay longer than 90 days.
If you applied for an ESTA approval in the past, and still think it may be valid, be sure to go to the ESTA website to check. There is a section there where you can immediately find out if you still have a valid ESTA for your upcoming trip, or if you will need to apply for another one.
What if you are only in transit through the United States? — If you are one of the millions of people that go through an American airport on your way to Canada, Mexico or other areas of North or South America, you may be surprised to learn you still need to apply for an ESTA. Even if you are only in transit.