Whether you are thinking about investing in a US company, or you want to attend business conferences or meetings in the US, you will need to obtain the relevant type of travel authorisation to enter the country. The US government has a visa system in place for travellers entering the country, although the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is also available for citizens of the countries that are within the Visa Waiver Program.

If you want to visit the US from the UK to research an investment opportunity, you can travel using an ESTA as this purpose would be included in the allowed travel reasons. If you do make an investment in a US company and it meets the minimum investment amounts listed under the EB-5 Investors visa, then you could later apply for this type of visa. The key benefit of doing this is that you can then apply for a green card if you wanted to live in the US.

An ESTA only allows UK citizens to visit the US for a maximum of 90 days, so anyone wanting to stay for longer than that would need to apply for a relevant visa. The EB-5 visa is a good way for non US citizens to get permission to live in the US but the minimum investment amount is $900,000 for an investment under the Targeted Employment Area (TEA), or $1.8 million for an investment that is not part of the TEA.

Using an ESTA for Business Travel

Obtaining a visa can take a long time and you also are required to attend an interview at the US Embassy as part of the process to getting a visa. However, if you want to visit the US to have business meetings, whether related to an investment opportunity you are exploring, or simply attending a meeting with someone from a US company, or visiting your company’s US office, you can do this with an ESTA.

An ESTA is also fine to use if you wanted to attend a workshop or conference in the US related to business. So, whether you are looking to attend a digital marketing conference in Southern California, a finance conference in New York, or a medical conference in Florida, your ESTA provides the relevant authorisation.

Restrictions under ESTA

The ESTA is intended for short business trips only and has a restriction of 90 days, so if you wanted to stay in the US for a longer period, you would need to apply for the appropriate ESTA. You are not allowed to take employment in the US under the ESTA, as this is only possible with a working visa. The ESTA is for business travel, tourism, medical and transit purposes only.

If you wanted to combine a business trip to the US with some tourism activities, then that is fine to do, as long as you do not overstay the limit of 90 days in any one visit.

Applying for ESTA

Applying for an ESTA is fast and easy and you will usually have the confirmation that your ESTA is approved within a day or two. Sometimes ESTAs are processed in just minutes, so there really isn’t generally a long wait to get your ESTA.

You simply need to complete the online ESTA application form https://www.estaform.org/application and provide all of the necessary information including name, address, DOB, employment, US travel plans, passport details etc. You will also need to answer some eligibility questions which include criminal convictions and medical related information. Once you have completed the form, you pay the application fee and submit your ESTA application.

Once you have submitted your application you will receive confirmation via email and you should soon receive the response from the Department of Homeland Security to confirm whether your ESTA has been approved. Once your ESTA is approved, it electronically links to your passport, so the Custom and Border Protection agents will see your valid ESTA when they scan your passport upon arrival in the US.

One of the great benefits of using the ESTA is that it can be used multiple times whilst it is valid, as long as your linked passport is still valid. This makes it a great option for businesspeople that need to regularly visit the US for meetings and conferences. Once the ESTA expires, you are then able to apply for a new one, in the same way that you applied for the original one that has now expired.

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