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Do I Need a Visa for USA? Your Guide to ESTA and the VWP

Are you considering travel to the United States and wondering, “Do I need a visa for USA travel?”. Countries for which the United States waives the need for a travel visa. Learn the answer to the question, “Do I need a visa for USA travel?”

Well, it depends. Many people do not.

For instance, in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security granted 181 million nonimmigrant visitors entry to the U.S. About 90% of those visitors were allowed admission to enter for business and pleasure. Tourists accounted for the lion’s share of that number, accounting for 70%.

Read on to find out how these people qualified to travel to the U.S. without a visa.

Related Read: Top 10 Travel Tips for Planning a Trip to the United States

do i need a visa for usa

Question: Do I Need a Visa for USA Travel?

The answer to the question about whether you need a visa to temporarily travel to the United States is “maybe”. Much of that answer depends on where you live, how long you plan to visit, why you are traveling, and your own individual circumstances.

If you live in one of the countries eligible to enter temporarily under the Visa Waiver Program (see below for more info) and meet the requirements under that program, then it is likely you can get authorization to travel to visit the U.S. without a visa.

What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

The ESTA is not a visa. It is an online application process that determines the eligibility of a person to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.

People who are granted authorization under ESTA can still be inadmissible to the United States if a customs or border patrol officer deems them inadmissible at the time of their arrival.

The purpose behind ESTA is to make it easier for people to travel to the U.S. who do not pose a security risk or law enforcement risk.

Recommended Read: 8 of the Most Underrated Places to Visit in the US

Who Qualifies for ESTA?

To qualify for ESTA, you must be eligible under the Visa Waiver Program. You must also meet these requirements:

  • You cannot be in possession of a visitor’s visa
  • You plan to be in the U.S. for 90 days or less
  • You are traveling for business or pleasure. (“Business” does not mean working for an American company in the U.S. It means doing business for a foreign country while in the U.S.)
  • You are applying for a new authorization for you or a group of applications for two or more people
  • Provide your contact information.
  • Provide your most recent employment information, if applicable

How Much is an ESTA?

The ESTA application fee is $14 USD per application. You can pay using a valid credit card or PayPal.

How Long Does ESTA Take?

The ESTA application process takes about 23 minutes on average. It usually takes up to 72 hours to receive your Application Status.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection reminds people to apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before departing for the U.S. Real-time approvals are not available and if you arrive at the airport without an approved ESTA it is likely you will be denied boarding.

Related Post: 10 Wellness Retreats To Visit in the United States

How to Check ESTA Status

You can check ESTA Application Status here on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s website. After clicking check my ESTA Status, you will need your passport number, date of birth, your application number, country of citizenship, passport issuance date, and passport expiration dates.

After submitting your application, you will either be approved for travel, not approved (travel not authorized) or your application will be under review (authorization pending).

Can I Apply for ESTA renewal?

An ESTA is usually valid for two years. But you will need to reapply if you are issued a new passport, change your name, change your gender, change your country of citizenship, or anything you answered “yes” or “no” to on your original application changes.

If you need to reapply for ESTA renewal, you will need to submit a new application and pay the $14 USD fee.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is available to people from 28 countries to travel to the U.S. without a visa as a tourist or business for 90 days or less.

In order to qualify to travel under the VWP you must meet the following criteria:

  • Have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization
  • Be a citizen or national of a country designated for VWP
  • Have from your home country that is valid for at least six months after your planned departure. If you are traveling as a family, each family member needs their own passport.
  • Have an e-passport which is an advanced secure password with an embedded electronic chip.

Can You Still Visit the U.S. If You Don’t Qualify for ESTA or VWP?

The U.S. has over 20 nonimmigrants visa types that allow people to visit the U.S. on a temporary basis. So if you find that you don’t qualify under the VWP or ESTA or something under those programs doesn’t quite cover your personal situation, check out your other options. There may be one that fits your needs better.

For example, if you don’t plan to stay in the U.S. but are planning to travel through the U.S. on your way to another country, a Transit Visa may work for you.

Make Your Travel Plans Today

Now you should know the answer to your travel question, “Do I need a visa for USA?” So if you are planning to travel to the U.S. within the next year, apply for ESTA today to confirm you are eligible. Since your ESTA status is valid for two years, there is no need to wait.

Knowing you are valid for travel will ease your concerns. Leaving you to concentrate on making your travel plans and giving you security prior to purchasing airline tickets or booking hotels.

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