Do I need an ESTA or a Visa?

Published on: May 15, 2018, Last Edited: Mar 18, 2019 | Tags: ESTA Eligibility, USA Visa Requirements, Denied for US Visa


U.S. bound foreign national travelers will either need an ESTA or visa. Determining the traveler’s need for either form of travel authorization will depend on a few factors.

Purpose of Visit

If you are seeking to visit the United States for tourism, visiting friends or family, business, transit, medical or other similar short-term purpose, you should determine if you are eligible for ESTA. Applying for ESTA is a much more simple and straightforward application process in that the application for the travel authorization can be completed online. You can check your ESTA eligibility by visiting the following link to see if you hold a passport from one of the 38 visa waiver countries:

Personal Circumstances

There are additional factors such as medical, criminal, immigration and travel history which impact an applicant’s ability to obtain an ESTA. For the most current information on these eligibility questions, visit and view the current eligibility questions at the lower part of the form.

Travel Circumstances - An approved ESTA is only required for travelers entering the United States by sea or air, and thus is not needed for those arriving by land from Canada or Mexico.

Ineligible for ESTA

If you are not eligible for ESTA, or wish to stay in the United States for more than 90 days, then you will need to obtain a B2 Tourist Visa for tourism purposes, or a B1 Business Visa for business purposes.

Tourist Visa Option

A B2 Tourist Visa can be used to visit family and friends, sight-see and holiday, receive medical treatment, or attend a short course without receiving university credit. The B2 Tourist Visa can be used for stays of up to 180 days per visit and is usually issued for a period of 10 years, however this may vary depending on the applicants personal circumstances.

Business Visa Option

A B1 Business Visa can be used to attend meetings, conduct negotiations or settle an estate. The ‘business’ activity conducted by the foreign national must be allowable in that the applicant should generally not receive income from a U.S. source whilst travelling on a B2 Business Visa. The B1 Business Visa can be used for stays of up to 180 days per visit and is usually issued for a period of 10 years, however this may vary depending on the applicants personal circumstances.

Transit Visa Option

Those who are ineligible for a Visa Waiver are transiting through the U.S. onward to another destination will need to apply for a C-1 Transit Visa. Those wishing to work, invest, study or perform other activities lawfully in the United States, regardless of their duration of visit or ESTA eligibility, should seek more information on the relevant visa type most suitable for their needs.

Application Processing Timelines

If you do require a USA Visa, please visit for more information. Visa applications typically take between 4-8 weeks. However, this depends on the processing timelines and workloads of the U.S. embassy where the application was submitted. Thus, ensure you plan for these processing timelines prior to booking your travel itinerary via or to the United States. For an up-to-date check on U.S. embassy appointment wait times for visitors, immigrant visas and other types, please visit for more information.

Getting Professional Advice

If you are not eligible for an ESTA or have been denied a U.S. visa, seek the services of an experienced and accredited U.S. immigration lawyer to find out if you may benefit from their services in helping you obtain a U.S. visa. Beware of misleading claims of ‘guaranteed’ visa schemes and other tactics aimed at deceiving users from parting with their money.



Apply for ESTA

ESTA is a mandatory travel authorization for travelers visiting the United States either by Sea or Air for tourism, transit or business visits under 90 days.

Apply for ESTA

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