ESTA meaning

What does ESTA stand for?

For most tourist and business travel to the United States the ESTA will suffice. But what actually is the meaning of ESTA? On this page you will read all about this electronic travel authorisation for travel to the USA, learn what the acronym ESTA stands for, and find out whether to carry the travel permit in print.

What is an ESTA?

ESTA officially stands for “Electronic System for Travel Authorization”, but also refers to the electronic travel authorisation for the United States itself. When a traveller meets all ESTA requirements, they can apply for this travel permission, and, in doing so, travel to the USA without a visa. This way, the ESTA can been seen as a replacement for a US visa for those travellers who are eligible for it. Nearly all travellers departing to America need a visa or ESTA for entry to the country. However, an electronic travel authorisation can be applied for much more easily than a US visa. An ESTA thus, is none other than a simple way to travel to the United States for eligible travellers.

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The US Visa Waiver Program and the ESTA USA

The ESTA is part of the American Visa Waiver Program (VWP), a program intended to allow visa-free entry for travellers who travel to the United States of America for tourism or on business, or who have their transit in the country. Travellers holding the nationality of any of the Visa Waiver Program countries therefore do not need to apply for a visa, provided they meet the ESTA requirements.

To make sure that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection still holds oversight of who enters the country without a visa, the ESTA was introduced. The ESTA travel permission was implemented as a security measure after 9/11 and became mandatory for travellers from all countries covered by the VWP from 2009 onward. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are all VWP countries. Among others, travellers with UK or Irish nationality can apply for this easy alternative to the visa option, for tourist and business travel, as well as for a US transit.

Still in need of a visa?

When you do hold the nationality of a VWP country, but do not meet the ESTA requirements, you still need to apply for one of the US visas. Any such visa application needs to be submitted at the US Embassy or Consulate General in the country where you live. This requires making an appointment first and having a visa interview. After this, it is decided whether you may be granted the visa. You can read more about this, on the USA visa application information page.

Do I need to print the ESTA?

In spite of the ESTA serving as a replacement for a paper visa for the USA, you do not need to print it or place it in your passport as is done for a sticker visa. Because the ESTA is fully applied for online and digitally linked to your passport, there is no such thing as a tangible document referred to as an ESTA. For this reason, there is no need to print a confirmation of approval. For check-in and at U.S. Customs control upon arrival in the United States, your passport is scanned to reveal whether you hold a valid ESTA. For this reason, it is vital that all the passport information you entered in the application form is correct. Although when your ESTA is granted, you can find an online confirmation listing the data you filled out in order to check this, there is no need to print this confirmation.