What is a travel authorization for the United States?
The United States now has a travel authorization tool for its Visa Waiver program, in order to ensure visa-free travel is more secure. ESTA (the electronic system for travel authorization) lets nationals of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver program obtain their travel authorization online, in minutes, when they are planning travel to the United States.
Who is required to apply for ESTA?
If you are traveling to the United States as part of the Visa Waiver program and by air or by sea, you will need to apply for a travel authorization through ESTA. Travelers of all ages who have not secured a visa (infants included) should receive an authorization before traveling to the United States. Authorizations can be applied for by a third party on any traveler's behalf.
Does an approved travel authorization guarantee me admission to the United States?
Unfortunately, no. An approved travel authorization signifies that you qualify to travel to the United States as part of the Visa Waiver program, but admission to the United States will be evaluated upon your arrival by a Customs and Border Protection officer. Based on their inspection, there may be a reason to deny you admission to the United States either under the provisions of the Visa Waiver program or the laws of the United States.
When do I need to apply for ESTA?
You can apply for ESTA authorization immediately once you know you're going to be traveling to the United States even if you don't know your complete travel plans yet. However, the Department of Homeland Security advises that you submit your application at least 72 hours before traveling, in order to make sure your authorization is available on the date of travel.