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What Are the Requirements for ESTA?

In the modern era, most developed countries attempt to work together and make it easier for their residents to travel between these countries for commerce, tourism, and other purposes.

That’s why the visa waiver program (VWP) exists, and why the electronic system for travel authorization (ESTA) exists. But what exactly is an ESTA? And what are the requirements to get an ESTA?

The Basics of ESTA

An ESTA is a form of electronic documentation meant to make it easier for people to travel between countries enrolled in the visa waiver program. If you’re going to travel to the United States for tourism, business, or transit for less than 90 days, and you’re a citizen of a participating, eligible country, this can help you streamline the travel authorization process.

Important Passport Requirements

You’ll still need to have a passport in place to travel to the United States. Your passport must also come from a country currently eligible for ESTA and part of the VWP. Currently, these countries include the following:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom.

Additionally, your passport needs to be valid at the time you’re applying for an ESTA as well as the time you’re going to leave for the United States. You will not be able to renew your ESTA application while you’re in the United States, and if it expires, you’ll need to leave the country within 90 days of crossing the U.S. border. If you’re going to stay for more than 90 days, you’ll need to get a visa at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Your passport also needs to have a machine-readable section associated with your biographic page, and you’ll need to have an electronic chip as well.


The Nature of Your Travel

Only certain types of travel qualify for ESTA. If you’re traveling to the United States for less than 90 days, that’s a good start. If you’re traveling for longer than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a full visa.

Additionally, your trip must qualify under one or more of the following intentions:

  • Tourism. Through tourism travel, you’ll be visiting the U.S. on vacation, to see or visit specific destinations, or to visit friends and family members. You may also qualify for tourism travel if you’re seeking medical treatment.
  • Business. You can also get an ESTA if you’re traveling for business. This could include talking to new clients, inspecting an overseas facility, or negotiating an important contract. If it qualifies as a business activity, it can qualify for an ESTA.
  • Professional events. You may also qualify for ESTA if you’re attending a professional convention or conference in the United States, or if you’re attending training. Note that you cannot receive payment for these events other than reimbursement for your expenses; paid training is not allowed.
  • Social events. Certain social events also qualify for ESTA. For example, if you’re participating in amateur events or contests, or if you’re going to an event hosted by a fraternal or social organization, you may qualify; however, you cannot be paid for these events.
  • Entertainment and recreation. You can also travel to the U.S. with an ESTA if you’re pursuing recreational study; however, taking college-level courses that help you earn credits toward a degree are not allowed.

Miscellaneous Additional Requirements

There are some other requirements for ESTA to keep in mind as well, such as:

  • You must apply online. The ESTA is meant to make international travel easier by keeping electronic records, so it’s only natural that you must apply online.
  • You must apply in advance. You must apply for ESTA before you leave for the U.S. Most applicants get a response in minutes, but the process can be delayed by up to 72 hours.
  • You must have a return ticket. If you’re arriving by air or by sea, you must prove that you have a ticket for a return trip (or a ticket to a non-U.S. destination).
  • You may need an I-94W form. If you’re arriving by land, you’ll need a completed I-94W form, which should be provided to you by local authorities at your entry point.
  • Certain individuals are ineligible. You may be denied ESTA if you have a criminal record, if you’re currently afflicted with a communicable disease, if you’ve ever been deported from the U.S., or if you’ve violated other travel laws.

ESTA makes it easier to travel to the United States, but there’s still a lot to learn before you apply. Make sure you understand all the requirements before moving forward.

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