If you are a citizen of a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program, you can come to the United States without obtaining a visa from a U.S. Consulate. However, you still have to apply for authorization to travel to the United States through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (“ESTA”).
With the ESTA authorization, you can stay in the U.S. for a maximum period of 90 days at a time, and the purpose of your travel can be only tourism or business. The fee for ESTA authorization is $14 and ESTA is valid for 2 years. You can find out more about the visa waiver program by clicking here.
We sometimes get a question from our clients/potential clients who are currently in Europe and would like to apply for a National Interest Exception (“NIE”) and come to the U.S. as business visitors whether they can apply for an ESTA online and whether the ESTA system is currently working.
You are a national of Germany who does not hold a B-1 business visitor visa and does not hold a valid ESTA. You want to come to the U.S. to set up a company and to meet with your business partners and investors. You need to travel to the U.S. urgently to meet with the investors as otherwise they will not invest in your U.S. busines. You want to apply for the NIE.
As a national of Germany, you qualify for an ESTA. Because getting a visa appointment for a B-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate in Germany (and currently all U.S. Consulates) may take some time, applying for an ESTA is a much better solution.
Please note that Covid-19 does not affect the ESTA system – ESTA is an electronic system that approves/denies ESTA applications and no in-person follow appointment is necessary (unlike when you are applying for a visa at a U.S. Consulate abroad where a visa interview is usually necessary). Most ESTA applications are approved within couple hours/days.
Our clients who applied for ESTA during Covid received ESTA approvals usually within couple of hours.
If you qualify for an ESTA, we definitely recommend applying for an ESTA rather than B1/B2 visa as the process is much faster generally, and especially during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Please note that if you don’t have a National Interest Exception application approved and you will try to enter the U.S., your ESTA will be cancelled. Please find out more about this topic when you click here.
Please click here if you want to find out when it may be better to apply for a B-1 visa rather than ESTA (this blog post was written prior to Covid-19).
Please click here to read more about the National Interest Exception.
Please click here to find out whether it’s better to apply for a National Interest exception at a U.S. Consulate or at a port of entry.
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