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Should you apply for an ESTA or a visa to visit New York?

Read information and details on the procedures to follow to visit New York using an ESTA or visa and the differences between these travel authorisations to travel to the United States.

Maybe you are planning a visit to New York and wish to learn more about the travel documents necessary, more precisely if you require an ESTA or visa for your visit. In this article we will explain the differences between these two types of travel authorisation and how to obtain each of them including details on the application procedures. But first, let us look at if it is truly necessary to hold a travel authorisation to visit New York.


Is a travel authorisation obligatory to travel to New York?

If you travel frequently to other European countries maybe you think that a visit to New York only requires a passport in terms of official documents. But this is in fact not the case. The American government is in fact very strict relating to entry onto American territory and you can therefore not visit New York without previously obtaining an official travel authorisation, even if you plan to visit for just a few days or your holidays.

There are currently two types of travel authorisation that enable you to visit the USA; the Visa and the ESTA. In this article we will explain the differences between these two travel authorisations that have distinctly different application procedures and are suitable for different types of visitors.

In all cases, without one of these travel authorisations you cannot travel to the United States. Your visa or ESTA will in fact be checked at the time of boarding and again when you enter the United States.

It is also important to note that all visitors need a travel authorisation, including children and babies, even if they are accompanied by their parents. It should also be noted that even if you travel to a different final destination but need to transit or make a stopover through an American airport you will still need this travel authorisation in the same way as if you actually stayed in this country.


What is the difference between an ESTA and a visa to travel to New York?

Let us now pass on and examine the differences between an ESTA and a visa if you wish to travel to New York. In fact, both these travel authorisations are valid for this destination but they differentiate on certain points.

An ESTA is in fact a simplified digital travel authorisation, issued under the Visa Waiver Programme. This system was implemented fairly recently to enable certain groups of visitors to obtain a travel authorisation online without passing by the more complicated and time consuming visa application procedure. Of course, and as we shall examine more in detail later on, to benefit from this system you must fulfil certain criteria and conditions.

So what are the differences regarding procedure? For a visa the procedure was recently modernised and now it is possible to apply online. However, you are still required to send certain documents by mail and sometimes a visit to the Embassy or Consulate will be necessary for an interview relating to the reasons for your visit. Concerning an ESTA, completing a simple online questionnaire is all that is required with no visits and no documents.

Another important difference is in the time it takes to obtain these travel authorisations. In fact, an ESTA can be obtained in just 72 hours maximum after the submission of the online application. For the visa it generally takes much longer; anywhere from a few days up to several months for the more complex applications.

One aspect that is particularly appreciated with an ESTA travel authorisation is the fact that it enables you to visit New York, or elsewhere in the United States, numerous times. This travel authorisation is in fact valid for two years from the time of its issue so you do not need to complete a new application each time you plan to visit, transit or make a stopover in the USA.

Finally, the fees payable for each of these procedures are also different. A visa costs a little more than an ESTA for which the cost is payable directly online at the time you submit your application.


In which situations is it possible to use an ESTA to travel to New York?

As you have probably understood, an ESTA is a travel authorisation that is far more advantageous than a visa for visiting the United States and therefore New York. However an ESTA can only be applied for if you fulfil certain existing conditions. Here is a list of the criteria you will need to fulfil in order to benefit from this simplified travel authorisation procedure: 

Firstly, the ESTA only concerns visitors who are citizens of one of the member countries of the ESTA programme. Of course, the majority of European countries belong to this programme as well as other countries such as Norway and Chile. It is necessary to first confirm that you live permanently in one of these member countries to be eligible to benefit from this programme. Your passport should of course also be issued by one of these countries.

Your passport should of course be valid at the time you apply for an ESTA as well as for the entirety of your visit. Only biometric or electronic passports are acceptable as an ESTA is digitally linked to the passport.

The reason for your visit to New York is also very specific for the ESTA programme. Under this system the only reasons authorised for a visit to the United States are to visit someone close to you, tourism or for business. If you wish to travel to the USA to work or reside permanently then you will need to complete a traditional visa application.

An ESTA can also only be used for visits of a limited time period. You can therefore use it to stay in New York for a maximum time of 90 days consecutively. If you plan to stay longer then you will need to apply for a visa.

For your ESTA to be valid you also need to hold a return travel ticket showing that you intend to leave the United States within the 90 days limit.

It should also be noted that a recent law came into effect relating to double nationality. Those who hold double nationality with the second being Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian or Sudanese cannot visit New York with an ESTA.

As you have undoubtedly understood you will need to fulfil all these conditions to benefit from your ESTA and not require a visa.


In which cases should you hold an ESTA to travel to New York?

Let us now pass onto some specific cases that would require a visitor to apply for a visa to visit New York.   

Firstly, if you do not fulfil the conditions cited above for an ESTA application then you will of course need to complete a visa application. If you are not eligible for an ESTA this does not however mean that you cannot visit the United States.

For example, if you do not live in one of the programme’s member countries and you wish to stay more than 90 days in the USA or you plan to work or study there then you can apply for a visa. You will however need to carefully choose the type of visa to apply for depending on your situation. There are various types of visa available for the United States: Tourism and business B1, B2 and B1/2, the athletes and artists visas O and P, the Au Pair visa J, the A, C3, G and NATO official diplomatic visas, the house worker visas B1, A3, G5 and NATO 7, the F and M student visas, the investment visa E, the journalist visa I, visas J and I for exchange students, training and study courses, the transit visa C, and the work visas H, L and Q.    

You may wonder why a tourist visa exists when the ESTA was created for such a purpose as a travel authorisation. This type of visa actually exists for tourists that do not fulfil the other conditions of the ESTA system.

Although a visa will enable you to visit New York if you are unable to benefit from the ESTA visa waiver programme in the majority of cases there are of course certain situations where this travel authorisation would also be refused. This is notably the case for citizens from certain countries, or those whose legal situation or state of health do not enable them to enter American territory. It is therefore not guaranteed that you will obtain a visa as it is only after a thorough examination of your application that the American authorities will decide whether to grant you a visa or not.


How to apply for an ESTA online to visit New York?

If you have read this article and fulfil the conditions required for an ESTA application online to visit New York then we will now continue by explaining details of the travel authorisation application procedure.

Firstly, you will need to visit a website that offers the application in your native language such as the website we recommend here. From this website you can complete the online application which should only take a few minutes. Before starting however do ensure you have the necessary information such as your valid passport number. If you are travelling as part of a family group or group of friends then it is possible to complete an ESTA group application on certain websites such as the one we recommend in this article. 

Various details will be requested in the questionnaire including information relating to your identity (first name, last name and date of birth), your address, your profession and your family situation. You will also need to provide a valid email address to which the email response to your application will be sent.

The remainder of the questionnaire is composed of several questions relating to your judicial history, your state of health and the reasons for your visit to New York.  You should of course respond to all these questions honestly and clearly as your answers can of course be verified by the American authorities.

Once the questionnaire has been completed you may check your answers before submitting it definitively. Do ensure you verify all your answers carefully as a simple mistake could stop your visit to New York going ahead according to plan. You will then need to pay the associated costs and fees for the registration and processing of your application. This payment is completed online using a credit or debit card on a secure server. Once again, do ensure that you follow the payment process through to its successful conclusion.

Once this last step has been completed you simply need to wait for the response from the American authorities. This will be sent to you by email within a maximum of 72 hours although most of the time it will only take a few hours. It is unnecessary to print your ESTA or keep a paper copy as this electronic travel authorisation is digitally linked to your passport which is the only official document you will need to carry on your visit. However, you still have the possibility of receiving a paper copy of your ESTA by post if you prefer a physical copy of your travel authorisation. It is in fact recommended that you keep the email response from the American authorities to ensure you have easy access at any time to the status and validity dates of your ESTA as well as the reference number in case you wish to complete any later modifications.