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Everything to know about ESTA VWP

  • ESTA USA will not let you live in the U.S. permanently.  
  • ESTA USA is not an outright visa. It is simply a permit that briefly lets you visit the United States – whether for tourism or business purposes. 
  • ESTA is not for every country in the world. It is only for citizens of countries that are part of the United States’ Visa Waiver Program. 
  • You don’t need to apply to an embassy to get an ESTA authorization. Everything is done over the internet. 
  • Finally, the ESTA online visa takes just 24 hours to be approved, although it’s advisable to apply at least 72 hours before departure. 

I bet these few lines answer some questions you have regarding the ESTA online visa. In this post, we’re going to answer a couple more. Let’s ride now, shall we? 

What is ESTA? 

Known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, ESTA is an online visa process designed to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Right now, ESTA represents one of the fastest and easiest routes for travelers to come into the U.S.  

To enter the USA with an ESTA application, an applicant must be a citizen of any of the 39 countries under the United States’ Visa Waiver Program. 

Unless the system has a reason to deny your application, you should get a response in less than one day when you apply for ESTA. 

Typically, the ESTA USA has a two-year validity period, during which time you can visit the U.S. as many times as you like. But you should note that you can only spend 90 days in the country per visit. 

Having said all these, let’s now clarify some common confusions people have about the ESTA USA online visa. 

ESTA Online Visa: 5 common confusions explained

  1. ESTA USA is not a visa 

The first and the most common confusion we will like to address is the misconception that ESTA is a visa. No, it isn't. ESTA is the equivalent of what students would call a study permit.  

By permit, it means it’s an immigration ‘exemption’ that affords you some benefits conventional visa schemes wouldn’t. 

For example, while conventional visa routes might require you to wait for months before approval, ESTA authorization is done in a very short period – usually 24 hours max. 

Besides the wait times, the likelihood of getting ESTA approvals is also higher than traditional visa processes. There is a higher guarantee that your application will be approved. 

What’s more? ESTA application process isn’t as tedious or expensive as conventional U.S. visa processes. I.e., you will spend less money and less time applying for ESTA.  


  1. An ESTA online visa isn’t always valid for two years 

I bet we’ve just confused you even more.  

Relax, we’ll clarify everything. 

The general belief is that ESTA USA is valid for a two-year entry period. And that is right. However, there are cases where this isn't so. 

For example, if your passport expires in less than two years, then any ESTA permit on the passport will expire on the same day as the passport's expiration date. 

Let’s take a look at a case study: 

Suppose you apply for ESTA on June 1, 2020, and your passport expires on August 8, 2021; your ESTA validity period will no longer be June 1, 2022, but rather August 8, 2021. That is, your ESTA USA permit now expires on the same day that your passport expires. 

Besides passport expiration, there are other reasons an ESTA validity period may become shorter than two years. These include: 

  • Misplacing your passport: If it happens, you definitely have to get a new passport. Unfortunately, getting a new passport means invalidating any ESTA permit on your previous passport. 

  • Renewing your passport: This is bound to happen if your passport expires. But like we said earlier, an ESTA status remains valid for as long as the passport upon which it's issued stays valid. Renewing a passport invalidates any ESTA permit on it.  

  • A change in applicant’s status. Say you got charged with a crime. Clearly, the United States doesn’t want criminals or lawbreakers near its borders. 

  • Overstaying the 90-day visitation period per trip: Overstaying your stay automatically renders you a threat to the system. And that could force the government to cancel your permit. 


  1. It is not in all cases that your 90-day stay period gets a reset 

A common question ESTA holders ask is whether their 90-day stay period becomes reset when they leave the U.S. And the answer is YES, there’s a reset every time you leave the U.S. 

That is, say you enter the U.S. and spend 55 days touring the country. The minute you leave, the counter stops ticking. As such, the next time you come back, your counter begins from day 01 again. 

However, there’s an exception to this rule. And the exception is that if you leave the U.S. to visit neighboring countries like Mexico or Canada during your 90-day visit, the number of days you spend in this place will be counted as part of your 90-day stay allowance.  

Now, in the event you wish to reapply for ESTA and return to the U.S. almost immediately your 90-day allowance, expect the immigration officer to bombard you with questions that point to suspicion.  

  1. You can still use an ESTA authorization even if it expires the next day 

Shocking, right? Yeah, I know. Many people assume they can no longer use their ESTA Visa Waiver the moment the two-year validity period is closing near. But that’s not true. 

Even if your ESTA USA expires tomorrow, you can still enter the U.S. today. The rule is that your authorization has to be valid upon arrival in the U.S. territory. It doesn’t involve your return to your country.  

For example, say today’s date is December 22, 2021, and your ESTA permit expires by December 23, 2021. You're still eligible to come into the U.S. today, provided you can get in before midnight. 

And before you ask, YES, your stay duration is still 90 days.  

So, technically, ESTA is simply a permit that allows you in the U.S. As long as you have it and it’s valid, you can come into the U.S.  

  1. Getting an ESTA doesn’t mean you’ll be allowed into the U.S.  

Most holders think ESTA is all they need until they actually get to the U.S. border and realize that that isn’t so. Yes, ESTA will get you to the U.S. border, but it won't cut through the border's red tapes. 

At the border, you still have to face the border patrol agents. These are officers in charge of entry. They ensure that travelers are properly screened and vetted before being allowed into the U.S. 

Usually, during the screening process, you might be asked a bundle of questions like: 

  • Where are you visiting in the U.S.?  

  • Why are you visiting? 

  • Where do you intend to stay? 

  • Do you have a hotel booked already? 

  • Do you have a travel insurance policy covering your trip? 

  • What are your financial resources? 

  • What do you do for a living? 

In short, you could be asked a million different questions, depending on how the patrol agent feels about you.  

Provided you answer politely and correctly, you will be allowed into the country. However, if the patrol agents have reasons to doubt your intentions, then they may deny you entry.