Electronic System of Travel Authorization, or ESTA, has now processed 8 million applications for visa free travel to USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that 35 countries participate in. The VWP means that citizens of those countries (see below) don't need visas to visit the US, leaving people more free to travel and no doubt adds considerably to the US economy.
The ESTA program launched on 1 August 2008 and became mandatory for visa free travel on 12 January 2009. It's free to use and any website which charges a fee for ESTA is running a scam on travelers. So far, there don't seem to be many complaints about the new online process, and it's in fact quite easy to use.
You do need to enter your ESTA information before traveling. But an ESTA approval is valid for two years or until your passport expires, so go ahead and do it now even if you don't have firm travel plans yet. Now, just like with the Visa Waiver Program before, you can only visit the US for pleasure, business, or transit without a visa to the country and stay only up to 90 days. An onward or return travel ticket is also required. There are full requirements here.
The system isn't yet fully automated, so travelers still need to fill out the green I-94W form to take part in VWP. At some point, this will become redundant, removing another hassle when traveling.
For more information on ESTA, visit https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov
After the Visa Waiver program expansion in 2008, there are now 35 countries that are approved for participation in the VWP: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Japan, the Republic of Korea,Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
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