As a national of Portugal, Belgium, Italy, Singapore, Chile, Japan, Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Finland and other countries adhering to the Visa Waiver Program, you must know by now that you are not required to get a Visa to visit the US for business or tourism purposes as long as you do not stay in the country for longer than 90 days. However, since January 2009, you still need to apply for an ESTA authorisation before you fly to the United States. This responds to security measures and its only aim is to make sure that you are eligible to enter their territory because you do not have any criminal records and your visiting the country does not represent a menace.
The process to obtain your authorisation to travel to the United States is quick and simple, but it can only be done through the official website provided by the Department of Homeland Security. Remember that it is mandatory for you to have the authorisation before going to the airport, otherwise you could be denied boarding. As a general recommendation, all travellers flying to the US under the Visa Waiver Program should have their ESTA authorisation approved online no later than 72 hours before departure; however, there are reported cases of frequent flyers applying for ESTA while at the airport lounge waiting for their flight.
This is possible because once you complete the form online, a reply is received almost instantly, telling you whether you are eligible to travel or not. You must also bear in mind that the ESTA authorization does not serve the purpose of the Visas needed when you are going to study or work in the US. Even citizens from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program need a Visa to carry out such activities in the country, and they should equally confirm if they are additionally required the ESTA authorisation in their particular case or not. In most occasions, it is very likely that you will need both travel documents.
Once you have applied for the ESTA authorisation and obtained approval, it remains valid for two years, although you cannot overstay the 90-day period every time you visit. When your passport expires, your ESTA authorization is not valid anymore, and so you will have to apply again even when the two-year period has not end. Upon arrival, officers at the border control will visualise your approved authorisation in their records, but it still a good idea to bring the confirmation printed to avoid trouble.
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