When I travel, I will always have a checklist to research and check on specific official documents that I need in order to enter the country.
One such important document is Visa.
For the first timers: So what exactly is a Visa?
Visa is explained by Google as “an endorsement on a passport indicating that the holder is allowed to enter, leave of stay for a specified period of time in a country.”
To travel to USA in the past, it was expensive to obtain a USA Visa application. Ever since Singapore has become a visa waiver country to USA, America was much more accessible to Singaporeans for travel.
I remembered back in 2006 when I first travelled to USA, we were still using the conventional green card, and there was this incident I had that I forgot to return the green cards to the immigration and that created a snowball of document work for me in 2009; which I had to ensure the US government got my documents (which includes boarding passes, a bank statement or an authorisation form to state we already exited USA) before I assured myself that I was able to travel to the States again. It was a messy situation for me.
After the implementation of ESTA sometime in 2009, travelling to USA became much much more easier than before.
The ESTA system that the US homeland security has set up is an online application system for travellers from Visa waiver countries to apply for an authorization to travel to the States. This authorization form creates a online database on you based on your entered biographic, travel and credit card details and helps you to determine where you indeed need a Visa to travel to USA.
This system also helps eliminate the old physical green card system. In my opinion, ESTA is a much more user friendly method compared to the physical card system and also reduces the risk of forgetting to return the physical cards and all that trouble to clarify to the USA immigration of your entry and exit.
It is very easy to use and although it is advised that you allow the system 72 hours for approval, it usually get the approval in minutes.
|Image from ESTA|
Note 01: You can ONLY apply ESTA online.
ESTA can only be applied for online; you cannot apply it personally at the local US embassy.
So the most important thing is using the correct website.
It is important to know that websites can be easily created to look like the real McCoy so you will have to be very careful in going to the correct website.
Do not use “agent” websites or websites that applies for ESTA on your behalf. These bogus websites may not only over-charge you on your application, you may also be denied entry into USA.
The legitimate website is here: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
*note: that the extension is .gov ; which represent legitimate government websites.
Applying for ESTA
It is very easy to apply for your ESTA.
Get your passport, air tickets and accomodation details ready and follow the simple steps reflect on the ESTA website and you are done.
|Image source from ESTA|
Do note the reference number of your application when you apply. They will usually prompt you to save a copy or print it. With the application reference number, you can always check your status by entering the application reference number to retrieve the ESTA.
Always print out a physical copy of your application.
a) the page on your application status; and also
b) the page of your payment receipt which will have all your travel details.
I usually will print a few copies of each official documents and ensure all my trustees / emergency contacts will have a copy each of all my official documents
Note 02: ESTA cost USD14.00
ESTA used to be free in the past; but currently, it’s chargeable.
The processing fee is USD4, and USD10 goes to promoting US Tourism.
USD14 may not be much; but if you add in total a family of four, it would come up to USD56 and it’s about SGD70 ~ SGD80, depending on your bank credit card exchange rate.
(I recently applied for my ESTA again and it costs me $17.28 on my citibank card)
So back to note 01; you want to use the correct website.
Note 03: ESTA application is valid for 2 years or to the expiry of your passport; whichever is shorter.
Yes, ESTA is valid for 2 years, provided your passport does not expire before then.
Here’s the important note: ESTA is non-renewable.
The ESTA application is pretty much tied to the status of your passport. Ie. Your passport number and its expiry date.
So, if you change your passport (from old to new biometric passports), you need to re-apply for a new ESTA.
If you renew your passport, you will need to re-apply for a new ESTA. Once you have applied for a new ESTA, your old one will be invalid.
Note 04: Your can amend your destination details.
Yes, if you decide to change to another hotel , you may amend these details on your ESTA.
You don’t have to re-apply.
* Here’s the interesting thing about this: *
Remember that ESTA is valid for 2 years?
If your budget affords, plan for USA trips for 2 years.
You can make it 2 trips to 2 different states within the USA.
So within the span of 2 years, you can utilise the same ESTA application; just amend the hotel/accommodation details so that you need not to re-apply again for a new ESTA.
This way, your USD14 cost will be able to spread out to 2 trips.
And that’s how I usually do.
Note 05: Don’t leave for USA without ESTA. And I mean it!
Don’t risk travelling without ESTA if you are there for a short trip.
As a rule of thumb, you should never board the plane without all the necessary official documents covered.
Travelling on planes can be very tiring and it will be disastrous if you are detained at the customs due to insufficient documents.
To my knowledge, you won’t be able to claim for your airfare, hotel, and ground transport expenses from your travel insurances if the customs officer denied you of entering to USA soil. You may also want to take note that you may also incur additional expenses of flying back home due to such circumstances.
So, it is crucial that you check your passports, your plane tickets, your Visas, and in this case ESTAs; even your accommodation bookings and ground transport bookings (if any) before you leave the country.
For more information or the complete FAQs on ESTA, head over to the ESTA – USA Customs and Border Protection Website.
Have a safe, and happy travel!