When it comes to visiting the US from abroad, some countries have nearly unlimited access to VISA’s while other countries need to apply and wait. Many countries were basically “pre-approved” to visit the US for up to 90 days in order to vacation, conduct business, or other purposes without prior VISA approval. But, starting 2009, all of that changed, with those same visitors needing to register beforehand if they were to arrive by plane or ship if they were planning on entering the US. This was called the ESTA program.

Crossing By Land Was Exempted

This was considered a convenience matter since many thousands of people cross the land borders daily and getting VISA’s would prove cumbersome. However, the nearly 20,000,000 visitors from the previously exempt countries were having to pre-register at least 72 hours prior to crossing. Each ESTA Travel Authorization is good for 2 years, so once a person was registered they needn’t worry for awhile.

People could register online at the ESTA government website in order to facilitate things. Once a person was registered the data was compared to many different law enforcement databases to check whether the person was wanted, part of a terrorist organization, or otherwise banned from entering. Then the VISA would be either denied or approved. Failure to apply before arriving would be a huge mistake as foreign travelers were forbidden from submitting for the applications at the airport.

Since no prior plans or itinerary is required to apply for the approval, it’s best to apply months in advance, even before you make your plans to visit the US. And visitors are not required to update any plans after approval, so a person need not worry about that.

Even Though A Person Is Approved, Entry Isn’t Guaranteed

Although it may sound confusing, the VISA approval doesn’t guarantee admission. A person will still have to go through customs and speak with officers before entry. Some VISA’s will even still require a person to travel to the US Embassy for an interview with the Consular Officer, this would apply to the B1/B2 Visitor VISA’s.

The new program was designed to be another safeguard against terrorism and criminals entering the US. It adds an additional layer of security for those arriving by ship or plane. It gives law enforcement additional time to check people against the databases and make sure they are allowed to enter the US. It’s another way to help keep American safe at home without causing undue harm to tourism or business interests.