ESTA Visa - 5 doubts to clarify
The USA ESTA application is a quick and easy procedure used by travelers to the United States who have an eligible citizenship to be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. There are currently 39 countries admitted to the program. Citizens of these countries can travel under this visa waiver program for tourism or business purposes, thus avoiding the hassle of applying for a traditional Tourist visa to USA.
In general, one of the main reasons for the existence of the Visa Waiver Program is to facilitate travel to the United States. The simple process and lack of red tape helps promote tourism and trade, and indeed the ESTA and VWP have been very successful in terms of achieving this goal. That said, there are some things that are often misunderstood or mis-explained. Here we will try to address some of these issues by giving clarifications. Let's now summarize the five most common misunderstandings surrounding ESTA and VWP ...
ESTA authorization is not always valid for two years
Once you have completed and submitted your online application, you will receive an email informing you of the status of your clearance, within 24 hours (as with most applications). Your travel authorization receipt will indicate the ESTA validity date along with the details. In most cases, the validity is two years from the date of approval. For example, if the authorization is granted today, April 22, 2021, it will expire on April 22, 2023. During this period, you will be able to travel to the United States as many times as you want, always respecting the conditions of the Visa Waiver Program and the requirements for ESTA.
The essential thing is that ESTA cannot be renewed and will never be valid for more than 2 years. The duration of the permit could be shorter, in fact it is strictly linked to the number of the passport with which the application is submitted. In fact, when you fill out the online form, you must provide your passport details. If your passport expires before the expiration date, the permit will no longer be valid.
Ex. If you apply for the permit on April 22, 2021, with a passport that expires on January 6, 2023, the ESTA validity period will no longer be April 22, 2023, but will expire on the same day that your passport expires, i.e., January 6, 2023.
In summary, if the passport expires within two years of application, the ESTA expiration date will be the same as the expiration date of the passport.
If your passport is renewed, you will need to apply for a new permit. The same is true if the passport is lost or stolen.
Other less common reasons why your permit may expire before the 2-year mark and no longer be valid are:
- The submission of a new application with the same passport. In this case, the new application automatically invalidates the previous one.
- Exceeding the limit of 90 days of consecutive stay for travel to the United States.
- A change in status given to security question responses on the application. For example, if the individual was arrested for a serious crime or traveled to a restricted country after receiving ESTA approval for U.S.
- Trying to enter the United States if you have been barred or deported for any reason.
Authorization must be valid for at least 1 day to enter the U.S.
You will be able to get into the United States, even if your permit expires the next day. This may come as a surprise to the reader, but the reality is that the authorization must be valid only upon arrival in the U.S. territory, it will not be necessary for the return to your country. Of course, conditions under the visa waiver program will still apply. Conditions such as, not being able to work or stay in the US or the 90-day stay limit.
The bottom line is that you will have no problems when you have to leave the US, even if ESTA has technically expired. Of course, you will have to apply for a new authorization the next time you plan to travel to the US again.
Electronic System for Travel Authorization is not a Visa but only an exemption
There is often confusion that ESTA is a type of visa for the US, but it is not. However, the confusion is understandable. Although the process for applying for it is quite different from that of a U.S. visa, the two procedures share some similarities.
The applicant pays for the application in both cases, is examined and reviewed through a complex network of international databases, makes a series of statements, and receives travel authorization for a specified period of time. However, actual U.S. visa applications involve significantly higher costs and wait times, while the ESTA application is simple and done online only.
The 90-day timer does NOT always reset when leaving the U.S.
As part of the conditions of the visa waiver program, travelers can stay in the country, as tourists or for business, for periods of up to 90 days at a time, within the validity period. When you leave the country, the 90-day timer is usually reset.
For example, if you take a business trip to the U.S. in January for 2 weeks and then return to Italy for a month, this "clock" is reset to 90 days once you return to the U.S.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. If part of the trip to the U.S. includes travel to adjacent islands, Mexico or Canada, the time spent in these locations contributes to the 90-day threshold. This is designed to prevent you from going to Mexico or Canada after the three months have passed so that you can "reset the clock" and return to the U.S. after a few days. If for any reason you need to spend more than 90 days in the U.S., you will need to apply for one of the U.S. visas that best suits the purpose of your trip.
DISCLAIMER. If you are traveling to Canada or Mexico, you should consider that these countries have their own travel authorization systems, so you will have to worry about adhering to them as well. Read our article Travel from the US to Canada and Mexico with ESTA.
Authorization alone does not guarantee entry to the United States
US ESTA visa application is the tool you need, to get to the US border. This authorization gives customs officials the ability to pre-screen and report certain information on the traveler's account. However, once you land on U.S. soil, it is up to these border patrol agents to let the traveler enter the country or not. Upon arrival in the U.S., you will be subjected to Border Control, during which the Border Patrol officer may decide to ask additional questions about your travel to assess your admission.
These questions may include why you are traveling to the United States, where you will be staying, what places you will be visiting, etc. You may also be asked about financial resources, what you do for a living. Of course, the questions will vary from person to person, but the point is not to be alarmed if they are asked even if they may seem a bit intimidating.
Importantly, you should try to answer them politely and honestly to make the process as smooth as possible. In fact, if for any reason the officer conducting the screening has a suspicion that the traveler has lied and provided false information while filling out the ESTA application, or that you are attempting to migrate to the U.S. illegally, he or she may decide to refuse entry to the traveler and send him or her back to the country of departure.
Once you become aware of these misunderstandings, all other aspects related to ESTA are essentially clear and easy to understand. They should also help you determine if ESTA is valid for the purposes of travel or if a U.S. visa would be more appropriate. They should also clarify any questions about the two key deadlines associated with it: the 90-day timer and the two-year validity period.
As a general rule, and unless your passport expires soon, it's a good idea to submit your ESTA application online as soon as you plan a trip to the United States. Although the process is incredibly fast and applications are generally approved within 24 hours, there is always the possibility that the application will be denied. In this case, you will need to follow the traditional application process for an ordinary U.S. visa in order to obtain travel authorization (e.g., U.S. Tourist Visa B2 or U.S. Business Visa B1). This process is generally much longer, so prepare well in advance if necessary.