After the multitude of paperwork I needed to fill out to apply for my family’s required visas to travel to Russia in 2014, I was so thankful that we, as United States citizens, don’t need visas to travel to several other countries in the world, from Austria to Taiwan. That’s thanks, in part, to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the State Department.
The VWP program permits citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. In return, those 38 countries must permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes–thus, for example, my most recent trip to Spain, France, Monaco and Italy was delightfully visa free!
However, since 2009, the U.S. government has required all visitors of these 38 participating countries to fill out an online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application, which basically allows the State Department and DHS to pre-screen all Visa Waiver Program travelers before they leave their respective countries.
This travel authorization procedure is a fast, easy and secure alternative to the traditional visa process, allowing millions of travelers to visit the United States for business or vacation. (Side note: The United States welcomed approximately 20 million VWP travelers in 2014 who, according to the Department of Commerce, spent approximately $84 billion on goods and services. VWP travelers injected nearly $231 million a day into local economies across the country. In other words, the United States welcomes VWP travelers with open arms!)
So, how do foreigners fill out this ESTA pre-screening application? Passport holders from any of the Visa Waiver Program countries can go directly to the ESTA application on the Department of Homeland Security website and pay $14 to have it processed and hope for the best.
ESTAS.net for fast, easy, worry-free ESTA application
However, private companies offer value-added services that provide assistance and support to travelers during the entire ESTA application process. One such helpful company is ESTAS.net. With this online service, agents personally review each ESTA application and look for errors. Having processed thousands of applications, these folks know from experience what to check. They are trained experts in ESTA processing, and will communicate directly with applicants if there is any error or omission in the application form data prior to processing. A full refund, including any and all government fees, will occur if an applicant is denied travel authorization through the service, which costs $74 (includes those government fees).
Here are a few other key facts about ESTAS.net:
- ESTA agents are available for your questions via email or an online chat service for one-on-one customer service.
- ESTA agents can communicate and correspond with customers in their native language for a better customer experience.
- ESTAS.net application approval rate is greater than 95 percent
- Again, a 100 percent refund is guaranteed if your application is denied.
I found the ESTAS.net website chock full of information, especially the ESTA Learning Center, which includes all the “ESTA Basics” as well as “Commonly Asked Questions.”
Also very informative is the series of newsy blog posts on ESTAS.net, including information about Visa Waiver Program changes after the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris last year, as well as tips for negotiating typical security procedures in U.S. airports.
As a U.S. citizen, I won’t ever have to fill out an ESTA application, but I do encourage our foreign readers to check out ESTAS.net as one private company that employs knowledgeable agents, who can help you navigate your application process.
This post is sponsored by ESTAS.net.