What is ESTA?

Visa-free travelers to the United States from Visa Waiver countries (including Denmark) must use ESTA to enter the country. But what is ESTA and how does it work?

What does ESTA mean?

ESTA is an electronic system developed by the US government for the pre-authorization of visa-free travelers to the United States. The name is an abbreviation for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The purpose of the ESTA requirement is to ensure that all travelers to the United States meet all entry requirements.

Is ESTA an evisa?

ESTA is not the same as evisa. Travelers who require a visa to enter the United States cannot apply for an ESTA instead. ESTA is reserved for travelers who already have visa-free entry to the United States (i.e. nationals of visa-free countries, including Denmark).
ESTA, on the other hand, is only a prior authorization by the traveler, which is why the application process is much easier than for a visa, as many applicants only have to go through a routine check. Therefore, the processing time is usually shorter than for a visa. However, certain applications may require additional processing time, which is why it can take up to several working days for you to receive a response to your application.

What does it mean in practice that ESTA is electronic?

The entire ESTA system is electronic and offers the traveler the following advantages:

  • Online application and payment: You can apply for your ESTA travel authorization quickly and easily online. Simply fill out this online application form and pay the registration fee.
  • You will receive a response to your application by email: As soon as your ESTA application has been processed, you will receive an email with the answer to your application. It is therefore important that you double-check the email address you provide in your application.
  • Your travel authorization will be issued electronically: once your application has been approved, your ESTA travel authorization will automatically be saved as an electronic authorization in a central database. So you don’t need to bring a physical copy or screenshot of your trip with you.
  • Your ESTA status is linked to your passport: airlines and border authorities can automatically check your ESTA status by simply scanning your passport.

The electronic system makes work easier for both the traveler and the border authorities, as they can automatically check the traveler’s ESTA authorization at the same time as passport control.

Should I use ESTA if I am only stopping in the US?

All passengers traveling to the United States must present either an ESTA travel authorization or a visa. This also includes travelers passing through to a third country. You will need an ESTA travel authorization even if you are not leaving the airport during your layover.

What are the Visa Waiver countries?

Only nationals of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program can apply for ESTA.

Visa Waiver Countries:

Andorra Australia Belgium Brunei Chile Denmark Estonia
Finland France Greece Netherlands Ireland Iceland Italy
Japan Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg Malta Monaco
New Zealand Norway Poland Portugal San Marino Switzerland Singapore
Slovakia Slovenia Spain United Kingdom Sweden Taiwan Czech Republic
Germany Hungary Austria

Travelers from other countries must apply for a visa to enter the United States. This also includes people who are resident in a visa waiver country but are citizens of a country that is not a member of the visa waiver program.

Can ESTA be used for all travel purposes?

With an ESTA travel authorization, you can travel to the US at:

  • holidays
  • Business trip
  • Family visits
  • Stopover

A visa may be required for certain other travel purposes, such as if you intend to do journalism, study or work directly for a US company.

How does ESTA work?

ESTA is a complete electronic system for issuing travel authorizations. You can apply for your ESTA online by completing an application form here. After your application has been processed, you will receive the answer to your application to the email address you provided on the application form.
Your ESTA travel authorization is issued electronically. This means that your ESTA status is linked to your passport number in a central database. This allows airlines and border authorities to access your ESTA by simply scanning your passport. Therefore, if you are traveling to the United States with an ESTA authorization, you do not need to bring a hard copy of the answer to your ESTA application with you.

What is the validity of an ESTA authorization?

Your ESTA travel authorization is usually valid for up to 2 years, unless your passport expires beforehand (in which case your ESTA authorization will expire at the same time). You can stay in the US for up to 90 days at a time, including stays in neighboring Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean islands. You can travel to the United States as often as you like during the period of validity.