VISA vs ESTA – Difference and Comparison

What is VISA?

A visa is a travel permit that allows an individual to travel to a foreign country. The document is issued by the government of the destination nation and is valid for a set amount of time. Visas are required for individuals traveling to a country for extended periods, such as for work or study.

The type of visa that an individual requires will depend on the purpose of their visit. A work visa is required for those traveling to take up a job. To obtain a visa, an individual will need to provide a range of documents, such as proof of identity and financial stability. Depending on the country, the individual may also need to provide additional documents.

Once a visa has been issued, the individual who holds it must comply with the conditions set out by the government of the country they are visiting. For example, they may be required to register with local authorities, or they may need to leave the country within a certain period. Visas are an essential part of the international travel process. Many countries require them to ensure that the people visiting can enter and leave the country safely and legally.

What is ESTA?

The U.S. government uses the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) automated system to evaluate a visitor’s eligibility to travel to the country under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The ESTA is mandatory for all travelers who use the VWP and wish to enter the United States.

ESTA is a quick and easy process that takes just a few minutes to complete. Travelers must answer a series of questions about their purpose of visit, whether they have any criminal convictions, and whether they pose any security or health risks. Once the ESTA is approved, it is valid for two years or until the expiration date of the traveler’s passport, whichever comes first.

Travelers must reapply for an ESTA if their passport expires before the two-year validity period of the ESTA or if their circumstances change. Entry into the United States is not assured by having an approved ESTA. Entry into the United States is decided by the Border Protection (CBP) agents and U.S. Customs at ports of entry. Travelers should apply for the ESTA before they book their flights to the United States. The ESTA should be applied for at least 72 hours before departure to the U.S. to ensure it is approved in time.

Difference Between VISA and ESTA

  • VISA is a document issued by a country’s government to a foreign visitor that allows them to enter, stay and leave the country. At the same time, ESTA is an electronic travel authorization system for citizens of visa-waiver countries to travel to the U.S.
  • VISA is valid for longer than ESTA, for two years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first.
  • VISA applications require more paperwork and documents than ESTA applications.
  • VISA applicants must attend an interview with a consular officer, while ESTA applicants may apply online.
  • Visas are country-specific, while ESTA applies to participating countries’ citizens.

Comparison Between VISA and ESTA

Parameters of ComparisonVISAESTA
Required documentsPassport, completed visa application, photos, proof of financial support, and supporting documents.Passport completed ESTA application.
Processing timeIt can take up to several weeksIt can take up to 72 hours
ValidityTypically, valid for up to 10 yearsTypically, valid for up to 2 years
EligibilityMust meet specific criteria for visa typeMust be from a Visa Waiver Program country
ApprovalIt can be used for multiple tripslimited to short-term business and tourism trips


  1. 5 The Border Abroad – Visas and Border Controls in: In Search of Europe’s Borders (