Difference Between VISA and ESTA

Travelling to different countries is common these days. It may be for leisure or business, but travelling abroad requires official authorization to enter a foreign land.


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Although these official norms are not restricted, safety measures are 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, a few nations have strict norms in permitting another country’s national to its land. It is all known that a passport is the first ticket to a foreign land; the parent nation issues it to the citizen.

For many reasons, a Passport is required to apply and collect travel documents. A passport is the simple 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 travelling to any country is the VISA.

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

Key Takeaways

  1. A visa is a legal document or endorsement issued by a country’s government, allowing a foreign national to enter, stay, or leave that country. At the same time, ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
  2. A visa typically involves an application process with supporting documents and an interview at a consulate or embassy. In contrast, ESTA is an online process with a shorter application form and no interview requirement.
  3. Visas can be issued for various purposes, such as tourism, work, or study, and have different validity periods. ESTA is specifically for short-term visits (up to 90 days) for tourism or business purposes.


A visa is a legal document required to enter any country for different purposes like work, study, tourism, etc. It is issued by the government of the country and it has a procedure including an interview. ESTA is supported by  VWP. It is an automated system that allows visits for short time in US.


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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 similarly but have their differences.


Comparison Table

Parameter of ComparisonVISAESTA
Meaning/DefinitionFor many reasons, a visa is a travel document required for other citizens who want to visit a foreign nation.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 sightseeing.ESTA can allowed 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 maximum of 2 years, and the traveller can stay in the US for a maximum period of 90 days for one entry.
Documents requiredVISA requires a lot of records. 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 specific VWP-related questions must be answered along with a valid Passport. Not much of documents are required to apply for ESTA.


What is VISA?

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

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

A 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 cancellation at any 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 foreign territory.

There are many reasons why a visa is officially required. The main reason is that the country will ascertain the nobility of the person by analyzing the documents they have submitted; it may be the person’s financial status, the number of visits to other countries, or 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 travelling from countries which are listed under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Another essential aspect to note is ESTA does not ensure the person enters the US; the customs and border protection officers grant the permission once they arrive on American land.

ESTA is a simple online application submission process for applicants to get approved.

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

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

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

It is also observed that ESTA applications will get their response within seconds, and the person is not required to procure one in the embassy. Applying for ESTA at least 72 hours before the travel is also suggested.


Main Differences Between VISA and ESTA

  1. Both documents allow foreign nationals to enter the US. However, the main difference between VISA and ESTA is that VISA to the US is obtained only by visiting the embassy or the consulate. ESTA is straightforward, with an online form submission process, and no embassy visit is required.
  2. VISA is a permit to visit the US for many reasons, including leisure, business, work, or even study. ESTA is given only for 2 primary purposes, Leisure and Business.
  3. The duration of stay concerning the VISA varies from type to VISAs. The VISAs are offered for a more extended period with multiple visits too. ESTA is given for 2 years; every entry should not exceed 90 days.
  4. Many documents are required for a VISA application; a few are a valid passport, photograph, Form DS-160 confirmation receipt and payment receipt for the VISA fee. While the ESTA application is simple, a valid passport and an email address are more than sufficient to apply.
  5. The VISA is offered to all foreign nationals for any purpose except those restricted from entering the US. At the same time, ESTA is a travel permit offered to people who belong to the countries listed under the VISA Waiver Program.
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  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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