Which comes first, the ESTA or the hotel reservation?
A short introduction to the ESTA Authorization Document
The ESTA Document, also known as Electronic System for Travel Authorization is an online travel permit set up by the U.S. Government as part of the Visa Waiver Program.
ESTA allows citizens of 39 countries to travel without necessitating application for a regular visa.
Eligible countries include almost all the EU states, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, South Korea, and Taiwan. The last state approved for the Visa Waiver Program was Poland, in 2019. The main purpose of the Visa Waiver Program is to simplify entry into the USA as well as to strengthen security at the points of entry.
The ESTA Document application process is completed entirely online – from applying, to validating and finally receiving the approved travel permit. In this way, potential visitors are checked and approved or denied permission to travel to the U.S. without ever visiting an Embassy.
And it takes no longer than 72 hours!
It is important to know though that the ESTA Authorization is not a visa. This document does not guarantee entry to U.S. soil.
What is does is allow a person to board a plane to the USA. Approval to visit the country is granted upon arrival, subject to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBS) agent who gives the green light to enter the USA.
Should the Customs agent require additional information, he will proceed to interrogate the ESTA holder. Should a traveller not be approved to enter the USA, he will be asked to wait at the airport for the next return flight home.
Despite this, the ESTA Authorization is faster and easier to obtain. Each year tens of thousands of tourists visit the USA bearing an ESTA. The document is usually valid for two years, unless the applicant’s passport expires before this time.
The ESTA Document permits multiple visits and is also valid for transit to a third country. One can use the same document for the duration of its validity without editing the data. It is however important thing to remember that the U.S. ESTA Authorization is electronically approved for a valid passport. Should the passport expire or change for whatever reason, the associated ESTA is also rendered invalid.
What we understood so far:
1. ESTA is easy and fast to obtain. All you need is a good internet connection and a valid passport, complete with biometric data;
2. Valid for two years, it allows multiple entry to the USA;
3. Valid for both entry to the country and travelling in transit;
4. Allows a single stay of no more than 90 days;
5. ESTA is not a visa. An approved ESTA Document does not guarantee entry to the USA but only checking on board;
6. ESTA holders may be interrogated by an agent of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection on arrival at the U.S. airport;
7. If not approved to enter the USA, travellers will be sent back home on the next flight.
Which comes first, the Chicken or the Egg?
This is a difficult question to answer. It is simpler to explain the reasons for not requiring either a hotel or a flight reservation before applying for an ESTA.
Remember that an ESTA Document is valid for multiple entries to the United States over a two-year period. As such, it would be almost impossible to predetermine the number of visits to the USA or where exactly you will be accommodated.
For this very reason the ESTA Application does not question flight reservations or specific arrival dates. The application questions whether applicant will be travelling in transit or staying in the USA.
If staying in the USA, additional information will be required regarding the point of contact in the U.S., such as a person’s name or a hotel, as well as the relevant address and phone number. So far, so good.
What should you do if you have no information on where you’ll be staying?
Should you postpone applying for the U.S. ESTA Authorization until you have your accommodation details?
And what if you plan to visit more than one city or more than one state?
First, you need to know that UNKNOWN is a perfectly acceptable answer for these fields, with it given as an option on the U.S. States’ list.
The Point of contact fields on the application form limits you to only one address. You would be advised therefore to either provide an address of which you are certain, or to list all intended cities in order, separated by comas. The state to be visited is selected from a drop-down list and applicants should therefore choose whichever state they would most prefer to visit.
One ESTA for multiple visits
The ESTA Authorization is a fast and easy way to travel to the United States of America.
Approval takes up to 72 hours and allows multiple visits of no longer than 90 consecutive days each.
Photos, invitations, and additional documentation are not needed in addition to the valid electronic passport with which to link the document.
The ESTA Application is simple and easy to complete. It contains questions on:
· Passport number and expiration dates;
· Possible dual citizenship;
· Personal address, phone number and names of parents;
· Present or former employer’s information, such as name and address;
· Point of contact to the USA;
· Name, email and phone number of a relative or a friend to contact in case of emergency;
· 10 eligible questions to answer with YES or NO.
Answers to questions relating to parents’ names, the employer and the emergency contact are not crucial for the approval of the ESTA Authorization. UNKNOWN is an acceptable answer to every question besides the applicants’ names, passport and possible double citizenship information.
Although, the ESTA is approved within 72 hours, we would advise you apply at least one month before your intended trip to America. In this way, you will have time to apply for a visa should traveling under the Visa Waiver Program not be authorized.
When to choose not to apply for an ESTA?
Several cases arise where application for a regular tourist visa instead of the online travel authorization (ESTA) would be advisable.
1. If you have been refused a U.S. travel permit within the past 10 years;
2. If you currently have a criminal charge;
3. If you intend to stay in the U.S. for longer than 90 days;
4. If you intend to look for a job or study in a college/university within the U.S.;
5. If you intend to immigrate to the USA;
6. If you have visited any of the following countries after February 2016: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Soudan, Yemen.
Any traveller having entered one or more of the above countries, whether a photographer, CEO, NGO representative, or politician, will not be eligible for an ESTA. Application for a visa will have to be made through the U.S. consular services.
We trust that this article has proved helpful and provided a better understanding of the process involved in obtaining the ESTA Authorization and its specifics.
For further information on this type of travel permit, do not hesitate to contact us using the contact form on our website!