1. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ESTA AND VISA?
Some may confuse ESTA with a Visa or a type of Visa, however, it is not the case. Therefore, it is important to distinguish the difference between an ESTA and a Visa.
ESTA is a unique authorization to travel in the USA that is only available to all the citizens of the countries in the Visa Waiver Program made by the US government.
Finland is one of those countries.
However, if an individual does not have citizenship from one of the VWP countries, then he or she cannot apply for an ESTA and obtaining a Visa is mandatory.
That being said, even citizens of Finland who have the opportunity to apply for an ESTA, still have to meet some specific criteria to receive their ESTA approval in order to travel to the USA, such as:
- The reason of travel is business, leisure or just transit.
- The visit does not extend 90 days.
2. WHEN TO APPLY FOR A VISA INSTEAD OF AN ESTA?
If you do not meet the criteria for applying for an ESTA, then you can obtain a Visa.
Below criteria are indicators that you should apply for a Visa:
- The air carrier you are flying with into the USA is a non-signatory air carrier.
- Your visit will extend the ninety-day period.
- Your reason for travel is not business, short-term tourism or transit.
- If any of the impermissible rules of the Immigration and Nationality Act apply to you.
3. FOR HOW LONG IS AN APROOVED ESTA VALID?
ESTA is valid for two years or until the expiration date of the passport, which was used to apply for ESTA.
Which means, if your passport expires before the two-year validity period of your ESTA, then you must apply for a new ESTA since you will have a new passport.
Other reasons for re-applying for an ESTA include legally changing your name, gender or citizenship.
If your passport is valid for more than two years, then your ESTA will expire in two years from the date of approval, which gives you a period of two years to visit the USA.
It is important to understand that an ESTA does not permit any citizen of a VWP country to stay in America for two years. The authorization is legitimate for two years and with that approved ESTA you may travel to the USA more than once in the two-year time frame, on the condition that each visit is 90 days or less.
If your plan is to stay longer in the USA, then obtaining a Visa is mandatory.