If you are travelling to New York and you are a European citizen, it is essential that you apply for an ESTA to be able to enter the United States. Below, I will explain how to get yours quickly and easily.
What is the ESTA?
The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an authorization granted by the U.S. government that allows you to stay in the country for a maximum of 90 non-extendable days on holiday or business travel. In the event that the reason for the trip is study or journalistic activity (among other reasons) it is necessary to request a specific visa as the ESTA is only a permit to enter the United States as a tourist or on business.
For example, thanks to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), if you are Spanish, French, German, Italian, Danish, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish and English (among other nationalities) you do not need to obtain a tourist or business visa to travel to the United States. All you need is an ESTA, which will save you a lot of paperwork!
Where can I apply for an ESTA visa?
Apply from the official website. The process will only take a few minutes, but please note:
- You can apply up to 72 hours before your entry into the United States.
- You will have to pay the $14 fee by credit or debit card.
- You must have a machine-readable passport.
- You will need to have your personal and contact information and, optionally, your current employment information.
Which ESTA visa should I apply for?
All travellers to the United States must apply for their own ESTA and fill in the form on the website, including children.
However, you can choose to apply for an individual ESTA or a group ESTA if you are going to the United States as a family, with colleagues or with friends. In the case of a group, the electronic system will ask you for a contact person and will allow you to manage and pay for several ESTAs at the same time.
Moreover, even if you get an ESTA for a group, if there is a problem with any of the applications within the group, you can always print out your own application separately.
How to fill in the ESTA?
After choosing the ESTA that suits you best, it is time to fill in the form step by step:
- Go to the official website and select the language of your choice.
- Click on "New Application" and then choose between "Individual Application" or "Group Application". Read the security notification that pops up and click on "Confirm and continue".
- Fill in the "Applicant Information" field. Here you will need to provide your personal information (passport number, personal details and employment information), contact information during your trip to New York (they need to know in advance where you will be staying in the city) and a series of personal questions that you must answer truthfully because if you withhold information from them and the administration finds out, you will not be able to enter the United States.
- Submit the application. In this step you confirm that you do not want to make a claim if you are not allowed to enter the United States at the security checkpoint. Check that all answers are correct, make the necessary corrections and confirm the final submission of the application.
- Please note: The system will generate a number when you submit your application. Make a note or print out the application number, as you will need it later to check the status of the process or in case you need to change your details at some point.
- Make the payment. There is a $14 fee to apply for ESTA to New York, which you will need to pay by debit or credit card, Mastercard or Visa, on the spot via the website.
How far in advance should I apply for an ESTA visa?
The saying goes: "Don't put off until tomorrow what you can do today". My advice and that of the US Department of Homeland Security is to apply for the ESTA as soon as you plan to travel to the country. As soon as you have flights and accommodation, the next step is to apply for ESTA.
However, if you are one of those travellers who like to improvise, keep in mind that you will need to apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before your trip. This is the maximum time the system could take to deny or accept your application.
In addition, you have to consider the possibility that your application may be rejected and you may have to apply for a US visa instead, which is more difficult to obtain and costs more time and work than a simple online form. That's why I recommend you do this as soon as possible.
Isabel's Traveller Tip
Once you have booked your flights and hotel, remember to take out travel insurance. Health care is very expensive in the United States and to avoid unpleasant surprises, insurance is essential.
How do I know whether or not I have been approved for ESTA?
Once the application has been made, the electronic system normally responds instantly with an answer which may be:
- Authorisation approved. Although it is not mandatory and you will not be asked for it, we recommend that you save the authorisation (and the application number) in your mobile phone.
- Authorisation pending. You will receive a response within 72 hours. The next step is to go back to the home page and click on "Check application in process". To check if you have been approved for ESTA you will be asked for your application number, your date of birth and your passport number.
- Denied authorisation. This does not mean that you cannot enter the country but that you cannot travel to the United States with an ESTA permit. In this case you will need to apply for a visa at the nearest embassy or consulate.
How long does the ESTA visa last?
As a general rule, an approved ESTA is valid for two years or until the expiry date of your passport, whichever comes first. However, this does not mean that you can stay for two years in the United States.
The ESTA can be used for visits of up to 90 days non-extendable for a period of 12 months cumulatively. Thus, in the event that a traveller has recently obtained an ESTA and stayed in the country for 90 days and then returned to their home country, before using their ESTA again they must allow 12 months to elapse.
However, the traveller could apply for a visa if they wanted to travel to the country again within 12 months of their previous 90-day stay.
What happens if I extend the ESTA for more than 90 days in the US?
You could get into trouble! Extending the stay granted by an ESTA illegally is likely to result in rejection and removal at the US border. In addition, such a course of action could negatively affect any possible visa application authorisations.
If you plan to stay in New York or in the country for more than 90 days, it is best to apply for a US visa.
Should I apply for a new ESTA if I have an existing one?
If you already have an approved and valid ESTA from a previous trip, it is not necessary unless your personal and travel details have changed since your last stay. In other words, if you have renewed your passport and it now has a different number or if you have changed your marital status or address, you must update your ESTA file in order to be able to use it again.
Does having an ESTA guarantee me entry to New York?
Having an ESTA or an authorisation to travel to the United States does not necessarily mean that you will be allowed to enter the country, as the last word is left to the security officer you meet at the airport immigration checkpoint.
Americans take national security very seriously. Therefore, to avoid problems, answer according to what you put on your ESTA form and be polite during the checkpoint.
Another great recommendation I can give you when planning your trip is to also have a good travel health insurance. If your insurance doesn't cover you for international travel, see how to get health insurance for New York here.
Do I need to print an ESTA visa?
The ESTA application is sent electronically to the US authorities so that they can study it and decide whether to approve or reject it. Since it works electronically, it is not necessary to print out the ESTA document to present upon landing in New York.
Although it is not mandatory, it never hurts to carry a printed copy of the confirmation email you receive informing you that your application has been approved, as this email contains a file number that you can use later. Keep it in a safe place after printing it out.
Do I need an ESTA if I am stopping over in New York?
Yes, you do. The ESTA is mandatory for travellers boarding a flight or ship to the United States, whether it is your final destination or not. That is to say, for a stopover where you do not leave the airport as well as for a transit through the country. The reason is that in order to change planes in the United States, you will have to go through immigration, collect your bags and check in again, even if the connecting flight is an international flight.
Can I travel to New York without an ESTA visa?
If your trip starts first in Canada or Mexico and then takes you to New York, you will not need the ESTA whenever you enter the United States through a land border. It is only required when attempting to enter the country by sea or air.
However, you must have a valid passport and complete the I-94W form that is issued at the border crossing. This green-coloured document is attached to your passport and must be provided when you leave the country.
The I-94W form allows stays in the USA of up to 90 days, as does the ESTA, and periods in other countries also count. Therefore, I do not recommend crossing the border as a way to reset the days counter to zero.
Can a travel agency process the ESTA for me or can I do it on another intermediary website? Will it be valid?
There are companies that specialise in applying for ESTA in exchange for money. However, I do not recommend them because they charge travellers very high fees when it is a very simple procedure. However, if you have already paid a website to fill in the ESTA and you want to know if it is valid, the only way to check is to go to the official website with the application number to see if it is approved.
What happens if I make a mistake and can I change the application?
Only two fields can be changed: the address where you will be staying in the United States and your email address. To change the rest of the information (passport number, your name, dates...) you will have to apply for a new ESTA and pay for it again. The valid ESTA will always be the most recent one.
Can I put a compound name on the ESTA application?
In the field "First name" you can enter your first name or both if you have a compound name.
My name has the letter Ñ or accents in it, should I put them?
The ESTA form does not accept these characters. If your name has the letter Ñ, put an N and do not use accents.
Should I write one or both surnames?
If you have two surnames, put both in the "Surname" section.
What do I put on the ESTA if I am unemployed?
The US government wants to avoid illegal immigration with the excuse that you only want to be a tourist in the country. For this reason, having a job is very convenient at the time of your trip to New York because even if you are visiting New York on holiday, it is one of the most important things to look for when you apply for the ESTA.
The ESTA form will require you to provide details of your previous or current employer, so if you are unemployed you will have to indicate the last job you had.
What if I am a housewife or retired?
- Homemaker: If you worked for a previous employer, enter these details. Otherwise answer "no" and if you are asked at the security check, say that you are a homemaker.
- Retired: Enter the details of the last job you held. In the job title you can put "retired" in brackets to indicate that you are retired.
How do I complete the ESTA if I am self-employed?
If you are self-employed, write "Self-employed" in the employer's name field and fill in the other fields with your details.
Can the United States deny me an ESTA if I have been to certain countries?
Yes, it can. The United States can deny ESTA to citizens of countries that do not require a tourist visa but who have been to certain territories on or after 1 March 2011 (inclusive) such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Yemen or Somalia.
The ESTA will not be approved unless you are travelling for government or military reasons, in which case you can travel to New York with the ESTA but you will have to justify the reason for your stay.
If the reason for your travel was for humanitarian or journalistic reasons, the only option you have is to apply for a tourist visa at a US embassy or consulate.
##What happens if my ESTA expires while I am in the United States?
To enter the country your passport must be valid for the duration of your trip because you will not be allowed through if it expires the day before your flight home. However, the ESTA rules allow entry to the United States even if it expires before departure as long as the passport is still valid.
However, I recommend that your ESTA is valid for the duration of your stay to make sure you don't have any problems at customs or even at the departure airport, as many airlines make sure that passengers have everything in order before boarding the plane.
In any case, as I said before, the ESTA does not ensure entry to the United States, as the final decision rests with the security agent who will attend to you upon arrival.