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What are the main differences between a visa and ESTA?

An ESTA authorization and a visa are both required to enter the United States. However, they differ in the procedures for obtaining them, their periods of validity and their conditions of use. The three fundamental differences between a visa and an ESTA authorization are :

  1. The visa is issued by an American embassy or consulate in the traveler’s country of residence, while the ESTA is an electronic authorization obtained online.
  2. The visa has specific conditions and validity periods for each type of visa, while the ESTA is valid for short stays of less than 90 days under the Visa Waiver Program.
  3. Visa procedures often involve a consular interview and additional documentation, while ESTA simply requires you to complete an online form and pay the fee directly.

Is an ESTA an American visa?

No, an approved ESTA authorization is not a visa. ESTA authorization cannot be used as a U.S. visa under U.S. law. The ESTA does not have the legal and regulatory requirements of an American visa.

Can I travel with an ESTA if I have a visa for the United States?

No, anyone with a valid U.S. visa must travel with that visa to the United States. The stay must correspond to the purpose for which the visa was obtained. Travelers do not need to apply for ESTA online to travel.

Can EU citizens travel to the United States without a visa?

European citizens can travel to the United States without a visa with a simple ESTA authorization under certain conditions:

Exception: Some European countries are still not members of the Visa Waiver Program. Their nationals cannot obtain ESTA authorization, and must apply online for a B2 visa to travel to the USA. These are mainly the following European countries: Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus.