What is ESTA?

If you are traveling to the United States for the first time, you may have been notified of the requirement for an ESTA authorization. In case you are not already acquainted with the program, here is a simple explanation of how the system works.

What exactly is an ESTA?

An ESTA is an electronic travel authorization for visa-free travel. This means that it is not a visa, but just a pre-authorization of the traveler, verifying that they are eligible for entrance into the US.

ESTA is an abbreviation for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. An ESTA authorization is required for almost all those traveling to the US without a visa, as well as those with connections in the US en route to a third country. ESTA is similar to system implemented in countries like Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and the one currently being implemented in the EU.

Getting an ESTA is quick and easy

The procedure for applying for an ESTA is far simpler than the one for getting a visa. One simply applies online by filling out and submitting a form. The applicant then receives a response by email. Since the ESTA system is completely electronic, the authorization is tied to your passport number in the database. This means that you don’t need a printout of your ESTA or any other physical document; you simply need to bring your passport, based on which your airline and border agents can look up your ESTA status.

Getting an ESTA is thus far easier than obtaining a regular visa, which requires multiple physical appointments at the closest American embassy. It is therefore recommended that anyone eligible for an ESTA applies for one instead of getting a visa.

Why do I need an ESTA?

It may seem unintuitive to some that visa-free travelers still need an ESTA. However, the ESTA system is not designed to be as stringent as the visa system. In fact, most applicants are approved within less than an hour of submitting their application. Rather, the ESTA process is designed to bar people with infectious diseases, criminal records, prior visa violations and other risk factors from traveling to the US without a visa. This way, most travelers can enter the US in a more expedient manner, and those travelers who would otherwise risk deportation are now notified in advance that they require a visa in order to enter the US.

Why was the ESTA system introduced?

The ESTA system was introduced in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks by the Dept. of Homeland Security. This system replaces the in-flight form that travelers previously had to fill out. The reason behind the roll-out was to enhance safety aboard flights and to prevent such attacks from ever occurring again.