Ten Fast Facts About the Visa Waiver Program and the ESTA
For more than two decades now, the United States has seen a steady increase in the number of people entering and visiting their country. Many of these are short-time visitors: businessmen tending to their business ventures and interests; professionals attending conferences and workshops; students on internship programs; individuals visiting their friends and families for a few short weeks, and people touring the busy cities and attractions that the US has to offer.
This influx of visitors has largely been due to the relaxed travel guidelines that the US government has afforded to citizens and passport-holders of certain countries as part of the terms of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP is part of the tri-fold goals of the US to boost its tourism, promote legal and safe travel to the US, and strengthen ties with governments of other countries.
To date, there are now 37 privileged countries whose nationals enjoy the benefits of the VWP, foremost of which is a travel visa exemption for short term visits to the US. Among countries included in the VWP are the United Kingdom, Netherlands, Denmark and Switzerland in Europe; Taiwan, Japan and South Korea in Asia; and Australia and New Zealand in the Pacific.
Getting to know the ESTA
Instead of a visa, visitors only need to have a travel authorization or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. Here are the first five facts you need to know about the ESTA:
- The authorization is good only for those visiting for a period of 90 days or less. Visits lasting longer than this period will already require one to get a non-immigrant travel visa.
- Travellers can easily board a flight bound for the US by just presenting a valid travel authorization.
- The ESTA is good for those who do not have the time to prepare the paperwork required for a visa or those who are travelling last minute such as businessmen and individuals who need to see someone in the US under emergency circumstances.
- It is also a more efficient and practical option for those who will be stopping over in the US for a couple of days as part of their flight lay-over.
- The ESTA is good for two years and for multiple entries so this is good for occasional visitors to the US who do not need to stay for longer than 90 days.
Take note of these tips and guidelines in applying for the ESTA:
Applying for the ESTA, compared to securing a travel visa, is way simpler and less time-consuming for a variety of reasons:
- One only needs to prepare his/her electronic passport, a credit card for the payment, and the ESTA application form.
- Application is submitted online so there is no need to visit the US embassy or consulate to personally hand in the application or to appear for an interview.
- The application can be filed at least 72 hours before departure and the results are also released immediately or at most 72 hours after application.
- The ESTA application number doubles as a reference number and can be used to check into the system to track the status of one's application.
- The ESTA application only requires the most basic travel information. Other information including address or hotel accommodations in the US, contact information, and travel itinerary can be inputted or changed any time before the flight and even when the authorization has been issued.
First-time applicants especially will find that there are a number of resources online for information about the ESTA. ESTA help is also available round the clock, all days of the week to offer customer service and unlimited ESTA support.
It is important to note, however, than one still needs to go through the immigration officer at the airport or seaport who gives the final say as to whether one should be allowed entry into US territory or not.