Difference Between VISA and ESTA

Traveling to different countries is common these days. It may be for leisure or business, traveling abroad requires an official authorization to enter the foreign land.


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Although these official norms are not a kind of restrictions, safety measures laid down by the countries. There are a few nations that do not permit certain nationalities inside the country because of various reasons.

At the same time, there are a few nations that have strict norms in permitting another country national to its land. It is all known that a passport is the first ticket to a foreign land, it is issued by the parent nation for the citizen.

For many reasons, a Passport is required to apply and collect the travel documents. Passport is the genuine authentication of a citizen’s presence and all the countries in the world accept it.

There are various travel documents available for a person to travel abroad. The first term that comes to mind about traveling to any country is the VISA.

VISA is a must to travel to any country. There are many types of VISAs available to passengers.


The difference between VISA and ESTA is that VISA is the travel permit that can be obtained only by visiting the embassy or the consulate while ESTA can be easily obtained online.


The United States of America is a land wanted by many to visit. The US travel norms have 2 types of travel permits; VISA and ESTA, both function in a similar way but have their differences.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonVISAESTA
Meaning/DefinitionVISA is a travel document required for other countrymen who would like to visit a foreign nation for many reasons.ESTA is a travel document required to enter the United States of America. These are the people who belong to countries that are listed under the Visa Waiver Program.
Purpose of VisitVISA is entitled to business visits, Work, study, and also for Sightseeing purposes.ESTA can allow only for 2 reasons; Business or Leisure
Application MethodThe applicant is required to visit the embassy or the consulate.It is a simple online process that needs to be submitted 72 hours before the travel. No embassy or consulate visit is required.
VISA durationThe duration varies for every type of VISA from months to years.ESTA is offered only for a period of a maximum of 2 years and the traveler can stay in the US for a maximum period of 90 days for one entry.
Documents requiredVISA requires a lot of documents. The mandatory ones are mentioned below
1. Current Passport
2. One Photograph
3. Confirmation of Form DS-160 which is submitted
4. Receipt of VISA fee that is paid.
ESTA requires an online form submission where certain VWP related questions must be answered along with a valid Passport. Not much of documents required to apply for ESTA


What is VISA?

VISA is a legal and an official document that allows the holder to enter a foreign country, stay in the foreign nation, or even leave that nation to another. It is issued to a person on certain conditions granted by a nation.

The conditions may include, the duration of stay in the foreign nation, places of visit, and also the dates within which he/she must enter or exit. It is a request by the applicant to enter a particular territory.

VISA permit is also different from a request applied for staying in a foreign nation for good. However, in both instances, the VISA is offered by an immigration official and it is also subject to cancel it any point in time.

In practical ways, a VISA is a sticker that will be stuck on the passport once it is approved. It is always suggested to apply for a VISA in advance to get a permit to enter the foreign territory.

There are many reasons why officially a VISA is required. The main reason is that the country will ascertain the nobility of the person by analyzing the documents that he/she has submitted, it may be the financial status of the person, number of visits to other countries, the reason for travel.


What is ESTA?

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a travel entry authorization required to enter the United States of America. ESTA is exclusively available for people who are traveling from countries which are listed under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Another important aspect to note is, ESTA does not ensure the person to enter the US, the customs and border protection officers grant the permission once arrived on the American land.

ESTA is a simple online application submission process that is required to be submitted by the applicant to get approved.

ESTA is not required while traveling from Canada or Mexico while traveling by land. A total of 39 countries fall under the Visa Waiver Program. 

ESTA is offered to people for two reasons; pleasure and work. The person with ESTA is not allowed to work in the American Land.

ESTA permits the traveler to stay within the American Land for 90 days. Although multiple visits are possible, on an entry the person can stay only for 90 days.

It is also observed that ESTA applications will get its response within seconds and the person does not require to be in the embassy to procure one. It is also suggested to apply for ESTA at least 72 hours before the travel.


Main Differences Between VISA and ESTA

  1. Both the documents allow foreign nationals to enter the US, however, the main difference between VISA and ESTA is, VISA to the US is obtained only by visiting the embassy or the consulate whereas ESTA is very easy, it is an online form submission process and no embassy visit required.
  2. VISA is a permit that is obtained to visit the US for many reasons, it may include leisure, business, work, or even study. ESTA is given only for 2 major purposes, Leisure and Business.
  3. The duration of stay concerning the VISA varies from types of VISAs. The VISAs are offered for a longer period with multiple visits too. ESTA is given for 2 years and withing which every entry should not exceed 90 days.
  4. The documents required for VISA application are many, a few of those are a valid passport, photograph, Form DS-160 confirmation receipt and payment receipt for VISA fee while ESTA application is simple, a valid passport and an email address is more than sufficient to apply.
  5. The VISA is offered to all foreign nationals for many purposes except a few which are restricted to enter the US while ESTA is a travel permit offered to people who belong to the countries which are listed under VISA Waiver Program


  1. https://www.passportindex.org/visa.php
  2. https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/esta
  3. https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/
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