There are multiple ways to obtain legal entry to the US, and most of them involve visas. However, there is a major exception in the “ESTA” system, or the “Electronic System for Travel Authorization.”
ESTA is one of the easiest ways to obtain legal entry to the US, but it is not intended for permanent immigration. According to US Customs and Border Patrol, the ESTA program allows persons from certain countries to stay up to 90 days in the US without a visa for the purpose of tourism or business.
How do I apply for ESTA?
Applying for ESTA is easy: if you are from one of the eligible countries, you simply need to log on to the ESTA website and submit an application. This process takes no more than a few minutes to complete. The ESTA system will send back a notification informing you of your eligibility quickly in most cases.
Keep in mind that even if the ESTA system deems you eligible for entry to the US, this is not a final decision. US Border Patrol agents will make the final decision upon your entry to the US.
What if the Border Patrol denies me ESTA?
Generally, if Border Patrol denies your ESTA application, you must then apply for a nonimmigrant visa to enter the United States. However, if you did not understand a question on the ESTA form or made a mistake, it is possible for you to request Border Patrol to re-evaluate your ESTA application.
Border Patrol will approve most persons eligible for ESTA: denials are comparatively rare. However, remember that ESTA is a nonimmigrant visa waiver, so you will need to show proof of return ticket upon arrival to the US.