The Best of the ESTA and the VWP

Travelling to the US is an interesting prospect for many. There is the allure of its busy streets and the color and sparkle of its lights at night. If there is one deterrent however, that is the required travel visa. The visa application process for the US is said to be one of the most demanding visa applications known in the world. It requires more paperwork and applicants are required to appear at a US embassy or consulate for an interview.

In an effort to counter the restraints posed by a travel visa, the United States started to offer a more flexible and convenient alternative around the late 1980s. This program, called the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), is an agreement between the US government and the governments of particular countries to allow their nationals to travel to the US even without a visa.

In place of a visa, visitors only need to secure the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The ESTA is administered by the US Department of Homeland Security as a way to screen the eligibility of applications for visa exemption eligibility. It is also a mechanism for the US to promote safe and legal travel of foreigners to the US and safeguard against security and terrorist threats.

The major selling point of the ESTA under the VWP is the ease and convenience it allows visitors to board a flight bound for the US. The ESTA is the best alternative for visitors who are staying in the US for up to 90 days or approximately 3 months.

  • Businessmen, professionals and students who travel to the US for meetings, conferences, or study and internship programs can secure the ESTA instead of a visa.
  • Those with families in the US who need to visit them under emergency conditions as well as those travelling last minute can easily board a US-bound carrier with just the ESTA.
  • Tourists who wish to visit the country for a couple of weeks and who do not wish to be bothered with the requirements and process of visa application can opt for the ESTA instead.
  • The ESTA is online and requirements are fewer than those needed for a visa so those who do not have the time to do the paperwork can apply for the ESTA.

Applicants only need to prepare an electronic passport, a credit card for processing of the ESTA application, and the application form that is available on the ESTA website. The form contains basic personal and security questions, as well as questions about the travel to the US. However, compared to applying for a visa, one need not yet present a final travel itinerary or hotel reservations yet when applying for the ESTA. Other details can be inputted anytime even when the authorization has already been granted. This can save visitors from unnecessary costs should they need to make changes in their travel details.


The basics of an ESTA update

Upon submission of the application, one is given an application number that doubles as a reference number of the authorization. This number can also be used to check into the system to get update on the results of the application.

The ESTA information is linked to the information contained in one's passport, so a new ESTA must be secured should there be any changes in one's passport or if a new one is issued. Otherwise, the ESTA is good for two years and for multiple visits.
Upon expiration, one needs to apply for a new authorization if travelling to the US again.

However, while the ESTA grants visa exemption, it does not give one automatic entry to the US. The immigration officer at the port of entry decides on this.

For concerns regarding application, ESTA customer help is available 24/7 to answer questions and provide unlimited ESTA support.

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