Want to pass through the USA en route to another destination? Find out the visa type you need
Imagine you’re traveling to Canada from Europe. But you couldn’t find a straight flight. So you decide to hop on a plane heading to the US, and from there, you join a Canadian flight.
When you do this, it’s said that you’ve traveled in transit.
For you as the traveler, this may not seem as much of a biggie. After all, you’re only going to be spending a few hours (max) at the intermediate country before moving on.
However, for many countries’ immigration systems, it’s really a big deal.
Let’s take the US as a case study.
When you have a flight stop in the US, you can only stay within the airport’s walls until your next flight arrives. And even that requires that you get a certain type of visa known as a “Transit Visa.”
If you’d like to wander outside the airport’s walls and go sightseeing, you will need to apply for a different kind of visa. This can be an ESTA USA visa.
With a transit visa like ESTA USA, a traveler can move around the country as they wish and may even pass the night at one of the hotels in the country.
Transiting through the US: How does it work?
Now, let’s discuss each of the different possibilities that may occur.
Transiting without stopping
Not every traveler that passes through the US is interested in sightseeing. It’s possible that a traveler might want to move out as soon as possible. Maybe because they’re in a hurry, have a place to be, or simply not interested in the United States’ allures.
In this case, such a traveler will only need to apply for a Transit (C) visa. This type of visa permits them to touchdown on the US border for a few minutes, or hours, at most. With a Transit (C) visa, a traveler is expected to move out of the US almost immediately after landing. There’s no room to hang around or anything.
Finally, a Transit (C) visa is what helps you continue your flight journey at the US border points.
Transiting but stopping
Some travelers may try to sneak into the US under the guise of stopping over and waiting for their flight. To prevent this from happening, the United States custom department mandates that every traveler stopping over and who wants to stay back a little should get a different kind of visa.
In other words, if you want to pass the night, see a friend, or see places while waiting for your next flight, you must get a different kind of visa.
Often, you can use a type (B) visa for this purpose. However, if you’re a citizen of a country on the US Visa Waiver Program, you may be qualified for a faster method of entry – the ESTA USA visa.
What is an ESTA USA Visa?
First and foremost, ESTA is not a visa program like the rest. Instead, it is an entry permit or a ‘waiver.’ In fact, calling it a visa-free program would be the right description.
It’s designed for the citizens of some 40 countries to come into the US for a period of 90 consecutive days within a two-year validity mark.
At its core, an ESTA application qualifies a traveler to stop and spend some time in the US before continuing their journey. If you’ve been dreaming about visiting a lot of places in the US before, the ESTA application suddenly opens the door for you.
How do you obtain an ESTA USA authorization?
The process of obtaining an ESTA USA authorization is fairly straightforward. You apply online by filling in your details on the ESTA website.
Usually, you can get an approval notification almost instantly after you apply. But in some cases, it may take up to 72 hours to find out the status of your ESTA application. While waiting, you can do an ESTA status check every day to see if your request has been accepted.
When should you apply for ESTA?
Since ESTA online visa can take up to three days to be approved, it’s advisable to submit your ESTA application at least 72 hours before departure from your home country.
This way, you would have known the status of your application. And if you’re denied, you would know to adjust your travel plans.
Does ESTA have other use cases?
You bet it does.
As a Visa Waiver Program (VWP), ESTA isn’t only designed for people transiting within the US. In fact, that’s not its primary purpose.
ESTA was developed to help citizens of US VWP citizens get into the US swiftly and easily. Specifically, business owners and tourists.
The fact transiting travelers can use it is just an added advantage.
Is the ESTA application the only way for transiting travelers to spend time in the US?
No. As noted earlier, travelers in transit can use the Type (B) visa to stay for a while inside the US. At least, up to a couple of hours. They can even sleep over.
However, if a traveler would like to stay for a number of days rather than a few hours, their best bet is ESTA USA.
With a 90-day visitation allowance, travelers have enough time to visit places, friends and live their dreams.
Do children need ESTA, too?
Yes, they do. If your children will be transiting with you through the US, you must submit an ESTA application for them, too.
The US government handles its immigration programs on a headcount basis. The authorities issue ESTA-s regardless of age to account for every person entering the country. As such, being an infant, a toddler, or a young kid doesn’t really matter.
Will I be qualified for ESTA?
It is important to know whether you’re qualified for an ESTA USA. Because not knowing might ruin your entire travel plans.
Check the criteria below to see whether you have all it takes to submit an ESTA application.
- Must have an IC chip-integrated valid passport.
- Must be traveling to the US strictly for tourism, transit, or business purposes.
- Book roundtrip flight tickets showcasing an intention to leave on or before 90 consecutive days.
- Must be a citizen of one of the countries listed below:
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino. Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, and United Kingdom.
What is the difference between transfer, transit, and stopover?
To avoid mixing all up, here is the difference between each one.
Stopover: Stopover is when you stay in the US for a day, two days, or more before moving on to your final destination. Usually, people have stopovers for a number of reasons. It could be because of a flight delay, bad weather, socio-economic/security factor, or a personal decision of the traveler.
Transit: A flight is said to be in transit if it stops briefly at an intermediate location for food, supplies, or fuel and then continues on its journey to its final destination.
Transfer: Transfer is when a traveler has to change flights. This could be because there are no straight flights from the traveler’s home country to their destination.