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The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a requirement from the United States government (mandated by the U.S. Congress' Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, also known as the "9/11 Act") for participating travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to complete online the I-94W form (formerly paper-based and filled on arrival by participating VWP citizens) in advance of travel to the United States. The multi-language site maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is esta.cbp.dhs.gov. Passengers not having a ESTA may be denied to check in, although it might be possible (but not guaranteed) to get one while at the airport.

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History

Passengers have been able to sign up since August 2008, and the travel authorization has become mandatory since January 12, 2009.[1] Once pre-screened, passengers may reuse the ESTA approval for two years, although they may still need to complete the I-94W paper form ("Non-immigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Form")[2] on board an aircraft or ship, since the information is also used by the Census Bureau and the Department of Commerce, but the DHS online system is only designed to check participating VWP passengers against terrorist and/or no-fly lists and databases.

At the behest of the Spanish government, the name of the requirement was changed from ETA (Electronic Travel Authorization) to ESTA because of concerns about the Basque separatist group which also goes by the initials "ETA". Australia operates a similar and older system, which is still called Electronic Travel Authority (ETA) system.[3]

An ESTA approval is not a visa, since its screening threshold does not rise to the level of a visa issued by the Department of State. While no visa is required, ESTA adds a requirement for pre-authorization to the existing Visa Waiver Program.

Applying for ESTA

Participating VWP passengers should be able to get ESTA for free from https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov or some other governments' official websites. The U.S. Government recommends that travellers go online to submit an authorization request three days (72 hours) before travelling to the United States.[4] This is not a requirement, and the majority of applications are approved immediately (in less than one minute).[5] However, if a traveller is not eligible for visa-free travel, he or she will need to apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, which is a substantially lengthier process that may require an interview with a U.S. Consular officer. That is why the U.S. Government recommends participating VWP travellers not wait until the last moment to sign up for an ESTA approval. This recommendation has been widely mischaracterized in the press as a requirement. As a result, opponents claim the new rules will delay last-minute business travel.[6] Once a traveller obtains an authorization, it is valid for two years or until the traveller's passport expires (whichever comes first).[4]

Third party websites

Many private websites offer to complete ESTA applications for a fee. These websites are little more than scams. They can also be misleading, with layout, wording and official looking icons and graphics, leading people into believing they are on the official government website. Applying through the official U.S. Government website incurs no fees whatsoever and is available to any passengers/visitors to the U.S. who qualify under the ESTA program. If the website requests payment for completing the ESTA online, then it is not the official site. Even if one of the Third party websites is used passengers themselves still have to fill the same form. The form is simple to fill in and any passenger with their passport number, personal information and flight details will have all the necessary information required. Essentially, Third party web sites are charging a fee for merely redirecting applicants to the official U.S. Government website. For more information, see the official U.S. Department of Homeland Security ESTA Advisory Statement (http://www.cbp.gov/linkhandler/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/esta_advisory.ctt/esta_advisory.pdf) and a BBC TV Documentary about unofficial ESTA websites (http://news.bbc.co.uk/player/nol/newsid_8290000/newsid_8293700/8293707.stm?bw=nb&mp=wm&news=1&ms3=6&ms_javascript=true&nol_storyid=8293707&bbcws=2).

See also

External links

References

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