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ESTA or Visa, which is more suitable for a trip to the US?

There are two types of permits that allow you to travel to the United States, one is the traditional nonimmigrant Visa which can be obtained in the United States Embassy, the other is the ESTA, which is processed online through the application site.

In order to obtain a Visa, a scheduled appointment with the Embassy/Consulate is required. The applicable nonimmigrant visa application must be completed prior to your interview date with the American Embassy in London. The consulate representative will determine granting of such Visa.

There are specific visa categories that according to the reason for your visit would allow you to visit the United States under the terms of the applicable visa. The most popular nonimmigrant visas include, visitor, work, and student visas. 

However, the majority of travellers entering the United States do so for Tourism and Business and under specific provisions, the ESTA ( Electronic System for Travel Authorization) faciliates the process for short-term travel.

In the year 1986 the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) was created with the idea of making the necessary travel pre-requirements easier for tourist and business travellers from qualifying countries. 

In November of 2006, the administration of George W. Bush announced the creation of the ESTA or “Electronic System for Travel Authorization” which allows the citizens of each country participating in the VWP to apply for a travel permit to the United States via the Internet, without having to process a Visa and without the obligation to visit the Embassy.

In your particular case, is the ESTA or a Visa more convenient?

The ESTA is obtained in an automated form via the Internet, there are less requirements and the response is immediate, for which it is usually more convenient, comfortable and practical in the majority of cases, however the ESTA only allows a limited number of possibilities whilst the application of a Visa is much more flexible.

Cases in which it is more practical to process an ESTA application:

Tourist Trips: If you travel to the United States for tourism for a period equal to or less than 90 days you will be able to opt so much for the ESTA as for an USA Visa. I recommend that you apply for an ESTA due to its simplicity and convenience.

Business Trips: If you are going to travel to the United States for business you will be able to process your application with the ESTA, for example for visits to events and expositions, to purchase or sell any real estate, etc...

While in Transit: If you are going to visit the USA just as an intermediate point in order to travel to another country you will be able to opt to apply for your permit with the ESTA.

Cases in which it is better to apply for a Visa:

To travel under any of the following reasons you will need to apply for a VISA in the American Embassy as in none of these cases is it recommended to do it by applying for an ESTA.

To work: Those who intend to be compensated for their work during their stay in the United States are obligated to apply for a Visa.

Even in the cases where their professional labour is going to be carried out over a few hours, for example, reporters, artists, etc.

To study: If you are travelling in order to study then you must apply for a Visa. Visas for studying are relatively simple to get, they are extensible and they have some specific advantages that neither the ESTA nor other types of Visas can offer you.

For Marriage: A travel application processed through the ESTA does not allow in any case the possibility of lengthening, renewing or changing the reason of your trip nor modifying its status, it is for this that if you are going get married in the United States then it is of the utmost importance that you do not process your application with the ESTA.

A Visa would allow you to apply for a modification of your resident status afterwards.

Emigration: If you are going to travel to the United States to emigrate to the country, your only reasonable option is to apply for a Visa that allows you to update your status to resident and eventually to citizen. The ESTA does not allow any modification of your type of visit and it would not allow you to apply for residency as a long term visitor or as a resident.

Nationalisation or naturalisation: If you are travelling to the United States with the intention of converting yourself into a Citizen of the United States then your only viable option is to apply for a Visa as the ESTA does not allow any type of modification or updating of your status and it would not allow you to apply for nationalisation.

Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.