Travel arrangements have largely been put on hold across the world in 2020 but with news about a COVID-19 vaccine on the horizon, travel in 2021 could be much improved, with travel restrictions and quarantine requirements hopefully no longer in place at some point in the year.

Over the next months, travel restrictions should be relaxed allowing easier travel between places like the UK and the US. Of course, before traveling to the USA you will need to check what the latest travel restriction news is for your country and for the US. There may also be localized travel restrictions, particularly where COVID-19 infection rates are higher than in other areas.

Who can apply for ESTA?

For people that are considering a visit to the US in 2021, the first aspect of planning is to make sure that you have travel authorization for entering the US. For citizens from the 39 countries that are currently within the visa waiver program, instead of requiring a visa, they will only require an ESTA to visit the US for business, tourism, medical or transit purposes.

The 39 countries in the VWP at the beginning of 2021 are:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • 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
  • United Kingdom

Citizens of any of these countries listed above are eligible to apply for an ESTA, as long as their travel plans meet the ESTA criteria. For example, the limit for any US visit using an ESTA is 90 days and if the applicant wanted to stay in the US for longer than that, they would be required to apply for a visa instead. Find out more about applying for ESTA and the eligibility criteria at www.estaform.org.

The additional criteria involve the purpose for travel, with the following reasons for travel to the US being permitted under an ESTA:

  • Business
  • Tourism
  • Medical
  • Transit

So, if you are visiting the US for a holiday in 2021, the ESTA is suitable but if you wanted to get a job in the US, or wanted to study at college in the US, the ESTA does not provide authorization for this. Instead, you would be required to apply for a work visa, student visa, or another relevant visa that is applicable to your purpose for visiting the US.

The ESTA is valid for two years, so if you have an existing ESTA and your passport that it was issued in connection to, is still valid, you are able to use it for any visit to the US while it is valid. The ESTA must be valid on the day that you enter the US, so if you plan on using an existing ESTA, make sure you check the expiry date. If it is getting close to expiry, you can quickly apply for a new ESTA that will begin as soon as it gets approved and will be ready for your travel plans for the US in 2021.