What is ESTA?
ESTA is known to many travelers as an alternative to a visa, allowing them to stay in the United States as a tourist, or for business travel, for up to 90 days per trip. The procedure is part of the Visa Waiver Program, which facilitates travel to the United States for citizens of some 38 countries around the world, who can apply for online and receive authorization within 24 hours.
Where is ESTA required?
In addition to tourist and business travel, ESTA is necessary in most situations when travelling to the United States, especially when you are "in transit". In other words, if you stop in the United States on, for example, a trip from Europe to a Latin American country, you will need an ESTA (or an American visa) for your trip.
This will be the case regardless of the length of your stopover in the United States. Even if you only have one hour to spend at the airport before taking your connecting flight, you must be in possession of an ESTA or an American visa. Be sure to take this factor into consideration when booking connecting flights to the United States.
When is ESTA required?
In fact, even before you board a flight to the United States, an ESTA is required. Your airline is required to verify that any valid travel authorization is in your possession before you board the plane. When you receive your ESTA application by email, your unique application number will be included. Since your ESTA is automatically digitally attached to your passport, you theoretically do not need it when you land in the United States, but it may still be useful to note this number. Indeed, when you register a flight, you may be asked to provide it, to prove that you are in possession of a valid ESTA.
How long can I stay?
Remember, ESTA allows you to stay in the United States for up to 90 days each trip, and it is valid for two years. So when you travel in transit, your ESTA always works perfectly, even if you spend more than 90 days in your destination country. For example, if you spend six months in Latin America, with stopovers in the United States on your way and/or return, your time spent in Latin America does not affect your ESTA's 90-day "countdown".
This summer, if you're travelling through the United States to another destination, apply online for an ESTA to make your trip as smooth and enjoyable as possible.