ESTA is an abbreviation for the "Electronic System for Travel Authorization.” It is an online application system developed by the United States government to pre-screen travellers entering the country under the VWP before they are allowed to board an airplane or ship that is bound for the United States. An ESTA and a US Visa are not the same and is only an entry requirement for passport holders from visa waiver countries, which includes Ireland.
The ESTA application form takes between 10 and 15 minutes to complete. Depending on the service you use, it may take up to 72 hours to know if you are approved for travel or not. Anyone who is denied through ESTA may apply for a US visitor visa (B-1 Business or B-2 Tourist visa).
The validity of an approved ESTA lasts typically for 2 years depending on the travellers' citizenship. For Irish citizens, it lasts for 2 years depending on passport expiration dates. If the applicants’ passport expires in less than 2 years, the ESTA will also expire on that same date.
All Irish passport holders who wish to enter or transit through the United States by air or sea under the Visa Waiver Program must apply for an ESTA. Each traveller must have his or her own approved ESTA application before being allowed to board any U.S.-bound flight or cruise (including children and infants). Travellers are advised to apply 72 hours before check-in at the airport. Travellers without an approved travel authorisation will likely be denied check-in and boarding at the airport.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program created by the U.S. government, which enables citizens of 38 countries to enter the USA for tourism, business, short-term study programs and for medical reasons. Citizens visiting the United States under this program can stay for up to 90 days without obtaining a US visa. A visa application can take weeks or months to finalise, while the ESTA application can be completed online within 10-15 minutes. Ireland was added to the list of VWP countries on April 1, 1995.
As of 2019, these countries are part of the VWP: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.
Other countries that might be added to the VWP in the future are Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Israel, Turkey, Bulgaria, Romania, Poland, and Cyprus.
A travel authorization is normally valid for 2 years (unless your passport expires earlier).
You can apply for your travel authorization at any time and do not need to have your itinerary arranged in advance.