The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The following travelers should not travel with an ESTA: Those who travel with a valid US visa which fits their purpose of visit, Permanent Residents of the United States, Canadian citizens and U.S. citizens.
The Department of Homeland Security recommends that ESTA applications be submitted as soon as the traveler begins making travel plans or prior to purchasing airline tickets.
ESTA is operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), a part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Since January 12, 2009, having an approved ESTA has been mandatory for all nationals of VWP countries traveling to the U.S under the VWP. Airlines will deny boarding to any VWP traveler without an ESTA. This requirement does not affect U.S. citizens, or people traveling to the U.S. who already have a visa in their passport.
Travelers may wish to avoid buying plane tickets until they have obtained an ESTA (or a valid visa, in case the ESTA is not approved). ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel. The processing of an ESTA can take up to 72 hours. It is also advisable to check the status of an already approved ESTA in advance of traveling to make sure that it is still valid.
All applicants requesting an ESTA will be charged for the processing of the application. The fee is $4.00. If your application is approved and you receive authorization to travel to the U.S. under the VWP, you will be charged an additional $17.00.
An ESTA is valid for two years, unless (1) the traveler is issued a new passport; (2) the traveler changes his or her name; (3) the traveler changes his or her gender; (4) the traveler’s country of citizenship changes; or (5) the circumstances underlying the travelers’ previous responses to any of the ESTA applications “yes/no” questions have changed.