Frequent international travelers are usually familiar with the concept of a visa. It’s a document from the destination country stating that you have permission to travel across their borders.
Less familiar is the concept of a visa waiver. This is a program between participating nations where travelers would normally be required to have a visa but instead can apply for a waiver of this visa.
The list of USA visa waiver program countries can be found on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. In addition to the list of participating countries, the website also hosts ESTA, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
Would-be travelers use ESTA to apply for a USA visa waiver. Certain travelers from participating countries can use this system if their travels will have them in the US for qualifying reasons and for less than 90 days.
The ESTA application for a visa waiver is very straightforward. It takes most applicants about 20 minutes. It costs USD$14 to apply – you’ll need a credit card in order to pay this fee. You’ll also need to have on hand your current passport from your country of citizenship, your contact information, and your recent employment information.
However, just because you apply for a visa waiver and are denied doesn’t mean you have to cancel your trip. You haven’t been denied access to the United States; you have only been denied a visa waiver.
A denial just means you’ll have to go ahead and apply for a full visa. This is a longer process which is more expensive, so be sure to plan ahead. It would be awful if your travel plans were ruined due to a delay in the processing of your visa or your visa waiver.
If you want to travel to the United States, it is likely possible. You’ll just need to fill out the appropriate paperwork.