Visa or ESTA: Apply for the Right Document
A US visa is not the same as an ESTA travel authorisation. In most cases, an ESTA suffices to travel to the US, but in certain cases a visa might be necessary for the desired travel purpose and the time you plan on staying in the USA. Carefully read this page to decide if you need an ESTA or one of the various types of US visa.
US visas are broader and valid in more scenarios than ESTA travel permits. A US visa is required if travellers want to stay in the US for longer than 90 days, if they want to study or live in the USA, or if they want to enter into employment at an American company. Even if an ESTA application resulted in a rejection, it can under certain circumstances still be possible to travel to America by applying for one of the various types of US visa.
Want to apply for a US visa or an ESTA for your trip to the United States? Usually an ESTA suffices, but under certain circumstances, a visa is required to travel to the US.
When to Choose for an ESTA
Because applying for an ESTA is easier, faster and cheaper than applying for a US visa, it is wise to first check if you can make use of an ESTA. An ESTA is a travel authorisation, meant for business travellers and tourists that plan on staying in the United States for less than 90 days. Travel permits, ESTAs or visas are also mandatory for travellers on transit to a destination outside the US. Even travellers on a transit that will not be leaving the plane need to possess an ESTA or the correct US visa. The following list offers an overview of the requirements for an ESTA:
- The traveller has not been in Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, North Korea, Iraq, Iran or Syria since 2011
- The traveller possess a passport from a country under the Visa Waiver Program
- The traveller holds the nationality from a country under the Visa Waiver Program
- The traveller possess a passport that is valid for the entire stay in the US
- The traveller is going to the US for tourism, business or on a transit
- The traveller is staying for a maximum of 90 days in the US (consecutive)
- The traveller will not enter into employment with a company in the United States
- The traveller will not live in the US or file a request to do so
- The traveller is traveling with an airline which is part of the Visa Waiver Program
- The traveller states to have no objections against the rulings of U.S. Customs and Border Protection
When to choose for one of the US visa
If you do not meet the requirements to apply for an ESTA, you might still be able to apply for a visa to travel to the US. A difference between applications for a visa and ESTA travel authorisations is the difference in complexity; where there is only a single ESTA, there are a large number of different US visas. It is very important that you apply for the right US visa. Visas are issued for a single specific travel purpose. If you received a visa for a certain travel purpose, then you cannot use it to travel to the United States for a different travel purpose. Because this is usually only checked on arrival in the US, this can mean that you are denied access to the country and put back on a direct flight home (at your own expenses). To make certain that you are not applying for the wrong visa, it is best to discuss the travel purpose at the embassy at the moment that you are going to pick up your visa (US visa cannot be applied for online). For the following purposes, a specific US visa can be applied for:
- Representatives of governments (such as diplomats)
- Business travellers, for business trips or negotiations lasting longer than 90 days
- Tourists, for tourist trips lasting longer than 90 days
- Visits to family and/or friends lasting longer than 90 days
- Personnel of airlines or sea transport companies
- Students, to study at acknowledged institutions in the US
- Employees coming to the US for highly specialized work
- Employees of companies with holdings in both the US as well as the home country
- Exchange projects with an official registration
- Fiances of US citizens
- Athletes, artists, entertainers, and their teams and personnel
- Religious workers
- Informants, victims, and witnesses working on a police investigation
- Spouses and underage children of inhabitants of the United States
More information about the different US visas can be found on the page about the US visa.