Do I need a Visa if I visit the USA?
Many individuals looking to travel to the United States of America will require a visa for their journey. However, thanks to the Visa Waiver Program, administrated and run by the United States Department of Homeland Security, a visa is now not required for passport holders, citizens and nationals of certain countries.
For people who hold a passport from a country signed up to the program, they will instead have to go through another process, called an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization.) This is an automated process which aims to be quicker and simpler than a visa application, and will make background checks on individuals wishing to travel to the United States of America, to judge whether they represent a risk to the security or safety of the country. The vast majority of individuals will find their applications accepted very quickly, making it a much easier and simpler process.
Do I need a visa to travel to America?
You will not require a visa and will instead go through the ESTA programme if you hold a passport from one of the following countries: Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Other countries may soon also join the system in the future. However, at present, only those listed above are eligible and other countries will need a visa for the US.
Other requirements for a visa
The United States of America no longer operates a system to allow travellers to pass through the U.S.A. en route to another country without possessing a visa. Even if you are only passing through the U.S. on your way to another destination, you will still require a visa if you do not hold a passport from one of the countries listed above. If you do have a passport from the countries listed, you will still need a valid and approved ESTA.
How is the application process for an ESTA easier?
Applications for an ESTA are usually extremely fast and can be made online. A fee will be required for the service, but after making the application you should see it processed very quickly. You will be required to have biographical information, your passport details, and you will also be asked about any previous issues you may have had with visas and about things such as any past criminal records. The application process is usually short from initiation to completion, as most of it is automated.
Is an ESTA a different type of visa?
No. An ESTA allows you to travel in lieu of a visa provided that you have a valid passport from one of the countries participating in the United States of America’s Department of Homeland Security’s Visa Waiver Program. You can find the list of countries above. An ESTA, however, cannot replace a visa in situations where the latter is legally required. If you are not from an eligible country, you will need to make a visa application. If you have your ESTA application rejected, you will need to apply for a United States of America non-immigration visa, which will be the only other option open to you to travel to the United States of America should your ESTA be denied.
What other requirements are there to obtain an ESTA instead of a visa?
To apply for an ESTA, in addition to holding a valid passport from one of the list of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program, you will also need to be travelling to the United States of America for business or pleasure for a period of not more than 90 days. You will need to provide details of your ultimate destination after you arrive in the U.S.A, whether it is in the U.S. or in another country if you are only passing through en route to another destination. If, however, your plans change in between your ESTA application and your travel date, you will not need to amend them or re-apply.
What if I need to travel short-notice? Can I get a fast-track visa?
You will still need to apply for an ESTA, although the process is usually extremely quick. Nonetheless, the Department of Homeland Security advises waiting no sooner than 72 hours before travel to make the application. If you believe you may have cause to travel to the United States of America at extremely short notice, you can make your application in advance – a valid and approved ESTA will be valid for up to two years.