What’s the Difference Between ESTA and a Visitor Visa (B Visa)?

 In How To...

If you’re planning a trip to the United States, you may be wondering whether you need to apply for a Visitor Visa (B Visa) or if you can simply use ESTA.

The answer is…it depends.

Both options have their pros and cons, so it’s important to be clear about the nature of your travel and what you’ll be doing while you’re in the United States to understand which one will work best for you and your trip.

Visitor Visa (B Visa)

A Visitor Visa (B Visa) is required for individuals who wish to enter the US for business, pleasure, or medical reasons for stays of longer than 90 days. The Visitor Visa (B Visa) remains valid for a longer period than ESTA – usually up to 10 years. One of the main benefits of having a B Visa is that it allows you to apply to change your status while you’re in the United States.


ESTA is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which allows eligible citizens of participating countries to travel to the US for business or tourism for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. ESTA allows for multiple entries into the US and is valid for two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. As for adjusting or changing your status, it is more complicated if you’re visiting the United States on ESTA. Typically, this is not allowed under ESTA, but there can be exceptions for immediate relatives.

One important factor to consider, is the fact that ESTA is generally quicker, easier, and less expensive to obtain than a Visitor Visa (B Visa). Travelers that qualify for ESTA permits can obtain travel authorization within three days. A Visitor Visa, however, is a much longer process, taking approximately 180 days just to schedule an appointment for an interview with a consular officer.

What if you’re visiting via ESTA and can’t leave within the 90-day deadline? Find out what to do here. And, visit our section on Visitor Visas for additional information about applying for a B Visa.

Still not Sure which one is Right for You?

As you can see, there are several key differences between ESTA and a Visitor Visa (B Visa).  If you have any questions about ESTA or B Visas, want to start the process, or need help deciding which one is right for you, contact us directly at 310-477-0047 or online to schedule a consultation.