To be allowed to enter the United States, you must have either an ESTA or a US visa. But which one to choose? It all depends on your situation! If you are a national of a European country, member or not of the European Union, know that your valid passport is not enough to enter the American soil. To pass through the immigration in New York or in any US airport, you must be in possession of either an electronic system travel authorization (ESTA) or a visa. How do you know if you need one or the other?

USA ESTA is not US Visa

The first thing to know is that ESTA is not a visa. This electronic system for travel authorization is a very different procedure which is much simpler and less expensive. The ESTA can actually be delivered to your home in minutes via the Internet, while the visa will require you to go to the nearest US Embassy or Consulate. The delays are also different because the ESTA can be requested only 72 hours maximum before your departure while the visa application must be done at least 2 months before the trip. In a nutshell, the ESTA consists of a very simple online tourism and transit visa authorisation application.

The Conditions for Obtaining an ESTA

To get your ESTA, you must meet the following conditions:

  • Being a national of one of the countries which benefit from the Visa Waiver Program. It includes inter alia France, Belgium, Luxembourg and generally all countries of the European Union. You will find the full list on the official website of the US government.
  • Having a passport issued by one of the Visa Waiver Program beneficiary countries, it must be valid for 6 months after you come back home.
  • Coming to the United States to do tourism or for a business trip. If you plan to study, work or settle definitively in the USA, visa is mandatory.
  • The duration of your stay in the United States must not exceed 90 days.
  • Being in possession of a return ticket or a ticket that proves you will leave the US territory after 90 days maximum.
  • Since January 2016, you must not have dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen and you must not have stayed in any of these countries since March 1, 2011.

If even just one of these 6 conditions is not met, applying for a visa is the only possible alternative.