Visa-free travel to the USA with Esta – Beware of rip-off artists!

With Esta visa-free to the USA - beware of rip-offs!

Since an electronic entry permit is required for entry into the USA, dubious profiteers are trying to make money with it. Third-party providers that are not properly authorized thus try to charge a fee that is higher than the usual fee of 14 US dollars (the equivalent of 13.03 euros, as of 20.03.2017). In principle, it is possible to apply for the electronic entry permit via third party providers, for example via a travel agency. However, caution is advised. Even if the sites promise something else, there is no guarantee nor acceleration for granting the permit.

Esta – the procedure

ESTA is the “Electronic System for Travel Authorization”. The application can be submitted in twenty different languages, including German, via the official website of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The application process is very simple, the following requirements must be met to enter the US without a visa:

  • electronically readable passport valid for the duration of the trip
  • Nationality of a participating country
  • Return or onward ticket
  • Purpose of travel: tourism or business trip

If you are traveling with a family or in a group, you must apply for an Esta travel permit for each individual member, even for babies or small children. This means that each member must have his own passport. Once the travel permit has been issued, any number of entries are possible within a period of two years from the date of issue. In order to be able to enter the country without any problems, the US authorities recommend that you submit your Esta application at least 72 hours before your trip. The fee is simply paid by credit card.

Google does not always give the best results first

Anyone searching the Internet for the Esta travel permit page will be surprised to find that the official U.S. government page does not rank first in Google’s search results lists. For Google, there is no difference between an official site and a third-party site if the search engine’s criteria are met or if appropriate advertising is displayed. So it may happen that the provider has nothing to do with the official site, and charges a fee for its service – i.e. help in filling out the application and possibly tips for travel preparation – which is much higher than the actual Esta fee. This can quickly cost more than 50 EUR.

Many tips and hints about traveling to the USA, the Esta permit and the visa regulations of the USA can be found on

Rejection of an Esta application

Even if it seems that all criteria for granting an Esta travel permit are fulfilled, it can happen that the US authorities reject an Esta application. Then the only way to apply for a visa is to go to an embassy or foreign mission near your home. The application may be rejected if, for example, there are spelling mistakes in the application or the passport number is not indicated correctly. Attention: the passport number does not contain the letter O for an important reason; it is always the digit zero.

A few tips at the end

If the name, gender, passport or the answer to one of the yes-no questions changes during the validity period of the Esta permit, a new application must be submitted directly. The existing Esta permit with the outdated data immediately loses its validity. Entry into the USA is then not possible.

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