The United States of America is one of the favorite destinations of travelers, tourists and vacationists around the world; thanks to her diversity, beautiful cities, state-of-the-art parks, historical museum and many more.
Traveling to the US requires that you follow strict procedures, particularly during visa application, airport security screening, and other critical processes.
For the international travelers who are willing to visit the United States, there are some things you should know before you embark on your journey to the continental country. The notable one being that you may not need a visa before you are granted entry to the US especially if you are from a country with the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
However, not every traveler is familiar with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization – ESTA. As such, we have provided a short post that will explain what ESTA is all about, and the processes involved to submit ESTA.
What Do You Need to Know First?
ESTA is an online program initiated by the United States to grant travelers with VWP authorization entry to the US without having a valid Visa.
Although the procedures you will undergo before you successfully submit ESTA can be a bit demanding, however, if you apply our tips, you should get it done in no time.
Contrary to the belief that ESTA is a substitute for Visa, this is not entirely true because there are restrictions with its use. The most significant one is the fact that it is only applicable when you plan to go on vacation or a business trip that doesn’t exceed 90 days.
Also, there is a limitation to the number of countries that can apply for ESTA. Notable mentions include the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, and several European nations. Some of the significant absentees include India, Brazil, Russia, and all African countries.
In addition, you are exempted if you are a national of VWP countries, but you have been or currently in countries such as Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iran and Syria on or after 1st March 2011. There are few exceptions to the military and diplomats who fall into this category.
If you own dual citizenship with Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan, you don’t qualify for VWP as well.
Another limitation of ESTA is that you can’t use it for multiple entries to the U.S like the standard Visa.
What Are the Benefits?
There are several benefits to using ESTA. They include:
- Cheaper than Visa
The cost of applying for Visa to the U.S is more expensive compared to while using ESTA, you will only pay $18 per your ESTA application.
- Complete Online Application
ESTA is 100% completed online. You will be required to input your data, provide a valid passport, and input your preferred payment method after which you will submit ESTA application, and wait for a couple of days to get feedback.
- Easier to Obtain
Your application can either be approved or declined based on what the authority decides, but usually, it should not take more than five days before they let you know their decision. If your details are valid, there is a higher chance that your application will be granted.
You must have got approval 72 hours before the time of your flight. If later than that, you will not be allowed to go onboard. Also, note that your ESTA is valid for two years after application, but you can’t exceed 90 days while holding ESTA rather than a valid Visa.
If you don’t qualify for VWP, obtaining a standard travel Visa is mandatory before you are granted access to the U.S.
Documents Required for U.S Visa Application
The application process for obtaining Visa into the United States can be very stressful. Unless you have been a regular visitor to the country, you may have to experience unsuccessful attempts especially if you have no genuine reason to visit the U.S.
As a rule of thumb, for an average traveler to the US, your passport must be valid for a minimum of 6 months before your application. However, if you are from certain countries, your passport only needs to correspond with your duration of stay. You may need to check the specific requirement for your country to know which category you belong to.
Other general information you should take cognizance include the following:
- Get Familiar with your transit rule
US Customs clearance is compulsory for travellers coming through Canada or South America countries with an international flight transit through the US. In a real sense, there is no “transit” as such in the US because all travelers must disembark and undergo intense scrutiny by the immigration officers and the customs. Note that you must satisfy the visa requirement for the U.S irrespective of the numbers of hours you plan to stay.
Also, your luggage has to be checked as long as you are on international flights in transit through the United States to your final destination.
Always endeavor to book your flights with a single airline so that they will know ahead that you will be transiting, and a minimum of 2 -3 hours should be allowed in layover between flights while transiting internationally.
- Book your airport transfer
Generally, there is a limitation on the public transport system in the U.S Although there are buses, trains, taxis as a means of public transportation.
However, because roads are always busy, coupled with US being car-reliant (95% household owns at least a car in the US). It will make sense for you to get the service of transfer from the airport to your destination rather than rely on public transport system which you may not be familiar with their mode of operation as a visitor.
- Know the Difference in Time Zone
There are six different time zones in the United States alone depending on your state. Be sure to take note of your time zone while on the flight and during airport transfer.
- Make Use of Free Wi-Fi
Unless you have more than enough unlimited free mobile data plan, it will be smart for you to take advantage of free Wi-Fi available across several public places in the US. The rate of mobile data can be a lot exorbitant for travelers even while roaming. Rather than add to your expenses with data usage, you should try to cut some cost by switching off your data and powering on your device’s Wi-Fi.
However, you have to be careful to have some security measures in place while using public Wi-Fi.
- Expect to Give Tips
If you are taking a taxi or eating at the restaurant, you should prepare to handover some tips. In the U.S, tipping low-income earners is considered a norm, and although there won’t be any charges against you if you don’t, however, you will endear yourself to the locals when you part with a dollar or two after enjoying quality services.
Not handing a tip is interpreted as you not enjoy the service. You may need to double check to confirm if the restaurant you are visiting have already automatically billed you for the tip because some restaurants include a gratuity to your bills.
In conclusion, the United States has a strict rule when it comes to granting entry, but following these guidelines will save you a lot of stress and valuable time.
And remember, the U.S is a lovely place to be for travellers as long as you are ready to follow the rules. Bon voyage!