Travelling to the United States? Remember to take an ESTA

You are probably asking; “What is ESTA?”

Firstly, ESTA is not a visa per se, it is an authorisation prior to travel.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is a pre-requisite for citizens of Visa Waiver participating countries who wish to travel to the United Stated for a period of 90 days (or less) under the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).

Ireland is a Visa Waiver participating country.

What is ESTA & the Visa Waiver Application Process?

  • Apply in just 3 easy steps
  • ESTA processing within 24 hours
  • UK customer helpline and email assistance


Besides their passport, money and the ‘3 Ts’ (ticket, toothbrush and travel insurance), Irish citizens travelling to the U.S must go online and obtain an ESTA form before they leave.

Traveller’s Checklist

  • Is your passport valid for the dates you are travelling?
  • Is your period of stay 90 days or less?
  • Do you have a return or onward ticket?

If you answered yes to ALL the questions above, you are ready to apply for your ESTA

The Origin: What is ESTA really about?

Explaining the origin of the VISA Waiver Programme and ESTA can enable you understand the approval process and why it is so crucial for the United States.

In 1986, prior to the introduction of the Visa Waiver Program, getting an authorization to travel to the U.S for tourism or short-term business needed a “B” non-immigrant visa. In a bid to foster international trade and tourism visits, the United States Congress passed a law for the Visa Waiver Program that skirted the long process to gain a non-immigrant visa for nationals of certain authorised countries.

The reason behind this was to acknowledge low-risk travellers from particular countries and give them authorisation to travel with a faster process and less effort (for both the traveller and the US). The scheme kicked off in 1988 with the UK as the first registered country.

However, at the time, there was no electronic system in place so the Visa Waiver Program ran as a documented system utilising the I-94W form.

In 2006, the United States launched an electronic system to put an end to the use of paper forms, hence, simplifying the process. This is what is known today as the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA). Today, the program has a total of 38 registered countries with more awaiting authorisation.

What ESTA is not, is a sure-fire approval for entry into the United States. The final decision to authorise, lies with the Customs and Border Protection officers at the airport.

Is ESTA Compulsory?

Yes. Every citizen of the participating countries in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), must obtain one before travelling to the United States.

The program allows nationals of these countries to visit the United States for a maximum of 90 days without a visa. Being a member country, citizens of Ireland must complete and receive the approved online ESTA form before they can travel to the U.S.

What is the ESTA Statistic?

Presently, the United States receives about 50 million people annually from participating countries. The purpose of ESTA is not to limit commerce or tourism, but to sieve out individuals considered by US homeland as high risk to the country.

What is the Application Process for ESTA?

You can only apply online. Visit the site to fill out the application form. With your passport details close, the process is straightforward and shouldn’t exceed four or five minutes.

What do the ESTA Responses Mean?

Your application will produce any of the following responses:

  1. Authorisation Approved: You are okay to travel to the United States
  2. Travel Not Authorised: You are not approved to travel to the US and should proceed to the United States Embassy or Consulate to apply for a paper visa.
  3. Authorisation Pending: Your application requires more time for a decision to be made.

What is the Duration for an ESTA Approval?

Immediately you submit an ESTA form, the application is sent to the databases of the US law enforcement. This takes just a few seconds, with the majority of all applications approved in 4 seconds. According to the US embassy in London, 99.59% of ESTA applications are approved within this time.

How long is my visa waiver valid for?

An ESTA is valid for 2 years (unless your passport expires within 2 years). And you can enter the U.S multiple times of up to 90 days during the period. If you renew your passport during the two-year period, you would have to reapply for another ESTA approval.

When is the Best time to apply for ESTA?

Even though the approval takes seconds, it is advisable to complete your application at least 72 hours before your departure.

In fact, you should probably apply the moment you confirm your travel dates, just in case the application is denied. This is because getting an appointment at the US embassy for a visa can take up to 6 months.

You may also want to apply for an ESTA before paying for your ticket, just in case your authorisation is refuted.

In some situations, it can help to apply for an ESTA long before you make any specific travel plans. For instance, your job may require you to make sudden trips to the United States; an ESTA has a two-year validity, so either way, you are covered.

Although the online forms may request for your airline, flight number and accommodation in the US, the information is non-compulsory and won’t prevent your application from being processed.

What if I need to travel urgently?

ESTA does not restrict business or tourism- it is designed accommodate last minute and emergency trips.

So What if I Arrive in the United States without an ESTA?

Travellers without a registered ESTA approval won’t clear at the immigration point, and risk being detained and/or sent back home.

You may even be denied boarding upon departure. However, you can find an internet point to make a quick application and hope it is approved. But is this a risk you are willing to take?

So with this you know enough about ESTA not to travel without it. If you are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Country, let your colleagues know never to travel to the United States without getting one.

Let us Vet your ESTA Application

One of our experts can go through your ESTA form before you submit, to increase your chances of an approval. Do Contact us.

Happy Travels!