The ESTA Visa System: What You Need To Know

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ESTA (short for “Electronic System for Travel Authorization“) is a fully automated system designed by the United States Department of Homeland Security that is used to determine whether or not somebody is permitted to travel into the United States under the terms and conditions of the VWP, or Visa Waiver Program. The VWP, in turn, allows citizens of 38 different countries the ability to travel into the country for up to three full months WITHOUT obtaining a visa first, provided that they’re here for either business or tourism.

This program could be a potentially huge time saver for travelers who know that they’re eligible for the VWP but who also wish to avoid information processing delays that could cause issues with their trip.

It is important to note that approval under the ESTA does not grant a person automatic admission into the country – it only determines whether or not they’re permitted to travel there. As always, admission is determined by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers when the person arrives.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) In Detail

The current ESTA application involves two distinct parts. First, the traveler will submit any and all requested biographic information to help determine as much as possible about who they are and where they’re coming from. Secondly, they will also have to answer a series of questions to help make sure they’re eligible for the VWP in the first place.

A traveler can submit an application to the ESTA at any time prior to their travel. For the best results and to avoid potential delays, however, it is always recommended that the application process begins as soon as travel plans are made or airline tickets are purchased.

Important Considerations About the ESTA

As of April 1, 2016, all travelers who wish to make use of the ESTA program will need to have an electronic or “e-Passport” to do so. Each e-Passport is embedded with an electronic chip (similar to the chip found in modern day debit and credit cards) to help store information and enhance security.

Additionally, it is important to understand that the ESTA is currently undergoing a change that will determine the exact shape it takes in the future. As of August 31, 2016, Customs and Border Protection has submitted a proposal to continue using the ESTA program that will also see additional questions added to the application form in the near future. These new questions will specifically target the social media use of the applicant. While this information does not currently need to be provided, there is a chance that it could go into effect at any point after September 30, 2016 when the comment period on the CBP’s request ends.

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