Planning a trip to the US? Most people require some sort of travel authorization for visiting the US. This can either be in the form of an ESTA or a US visa. Are you wondering which one would suit you better?

To find out which travel permit would be better for you, we have compiled a detailed article that highlights the differences between an ESTA and other US visas.

People Eligible to Travel Using ESTA

Not everyone is eligible to travel with an ESTA. Citizens from 39 countries fall under the Visa Waiver Program. If you are a national of one of the following countries, you can travel to the US using ESTA authorization:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and the United Kingdom.

You can use ESTA authorization if you are traveling to the US via sea, land, or air. The purpose of your visit must be either touring or for business. For any other purposes, you will have to apply for a US visa, even if you hold a passport from one of the VWP countries. 

Furthermore, with an ESTA you cannot stay in the US for more than 90 days in one visit and more than 180 days in a year. If you wish to prolong your stay, you can apply for a visa instead.

People Who Require a US Visa for Travel

If you are not a citizen of one of the 39 countries mentioned above, you would require a visa to travel to the US. Additionally, if you ARE a citizen of one of the VWP countries but do not fulfill the requirements for ESTA, you must apply for a visa instead.

What is the Difference Between ESTA and the U.S. Visa?

There are certain differences in the documents that you require when applying for ESTA and a visa. Additionally, there are other differences in what each travel permit offers.

Differences in Document Requirements

There are different types of visas to the US depending upon the purpose of your stay. Every visa type has its own specifications. While most of the basic document requirements for a visa and ESTA are the same, some differences are as follows:

  • You will need a completely filled-out DS 160 form, which is not needed for ESTA
  • You need a visa payment receipt, which is not needed for ESTA
  • You need to show evidence of any previous US visas, which is not needed for ESTA
  • You need personal documents (birth, marriage, divorce) which are not needed for ESTA
  • You need employment proof for visa application, which is not needed for ESTA
  • You need bank statements for the last six months for visa application, which is not needed for ESTA

General Differences

Some primary differences between a US visa and an ESTA are as follows:

  • The entire process of application and approval of ESTA is online. You do not have to visit the US embassy at any point. On the other hand, the visa application process is partially online (for B1/B2 visas) but you have to visit the embassy at one point or another.
  • ESTA expires with the expiry of your passport. However, your visa expiry is independent of your passport expiry. 
  • The most significant difference is the processing time for ESTA and a US visa. Once you submit your ESTA form, you will receive a status notification within 72 hours. However, the visa processing time is generally around 180 days after which you have to appear for an interview with the consular officer.
  • The ESTA fee is $21 per applicant whereas most non-immigrant US visas cost around $160 per applicant. 
  • The duration of your stay in the US when traveling with ESTA is up to 90 days in one visit and not more than 180 days in a year. However, depending upon your visa type, you can stay on US soil for one month up to 10 years, with a maximum duration of six months per stay. 
  • It is not possible to renew your ESTA and prolong your stay for more than 90 days. On the other hand, you may apply for visa renewal (depending on the type) and extend its validity while you are in the US. 


Compared to US visas, the process of obtaining an ESTA authorization is fairly easier and quicker. Each of these travel permits has its individual perks and drawbacks.

If you are eligible for traveling with an ESTA and intend to stay for 90 days or less, don’t hesitate and apply for an ESTA now!