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The Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA is an application process available to those traveling to the United States without a visa from a Visa Waiver Country only. Once you obtain an approved ESTA APPLICATION it is viable for a period of two years with the exception of passports which run out before this period is over. For each time you visit the USA whether for business, leisure or medical purposes, your approved travel authorization or ESTA gives you a maximum amount of 90 days per stay.
Your ESTA is valid for 2 years from receipt unless your passport expires within this time frame. If you are only residing in the United States for a short period less than 90 days you are able to easily apply for ESTA and avoid the long winded Visa application process. ESTA is not just for British Nationals who are visiting the United States but applies to all foreign nationals of the countries within the VWP or Visa Waiver Program who are using Great Britain as a stop-over on route to the United States. ESTA is also needed if you are a citizen or national from one of the countries within the VWP flying into Great Britain from the USA, however if you are residing in the USA for a greater amount of time than the 90 days specified or if you are ineligible to enter under the VWP then you will not be authorized to visit. It is worth bearing in mind that obtaining an ESTA only allows you to travel into the United States without a Visa it does not automatically give you permission to enter this will be granted by the immigration officer at your destination of arrival in the United States.
The Visa application process is much more complex and lengthy whereas the requirements you need to obtain ESTA are less time consuming and not as complicated. You will need to complete the online application form and in order to process it, you should also have your machine-readable passport and your credit card ready to pay and complete the process. Don’t worry about having your flight details or even your place of stay while in the USA (e.g., hotel reservation) all of this information can be provided where necessary once you have obtained ESTA or prior to travel.
The ESTA application system is only available online which means there are no forms that need printing and you have no need to visit the American Consulate or Embassy. Do remember that if you are NOT a citizen of one of the countries belonging to the Visa Waiver Program then you are unable to apply however if you are, then you are at liberty to submit an application so you need to be sure before beginning your online form. Do find out whether you are suitable by taking the ESTA eligibility test.