The US ESTA online system allows citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to apply for an electronic travel authorization. By traveling under the VWP and applying for a US ESTA, travelers can visit the United States for up to 90 days for tourism, business, medical or short-term study programs. ESTA is not a visa. It is a travel authorization for entry to the USA.
Germany joined the VWP in October 1989, together with other European countries. It has become easier for German nationals to visit the USA by joining the VWP. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was introduced in 2008 and became mandatory in 2009, and it is still a requirement today. The ESTA USA system allows travelers to apply electronically instead of visiting the embassy (or consulate) to apply for a visa. 2,242,202 German nationals visited the USA using the Visa Waiver Program, from October 2013 - September 2014.
German passport holders who are planning to visit the United States can submit an ESTA application. The entry authorization confirmation may take up to 72 hours, however, may be issued before that. It is recommended to complete the entry application online at least 72 hours before departure. Confirmed entry authorizations are valid for two years and applicants must fly with a signatory carrier. Lufthansa German Airlines, for example, is a signatory carrier.
If any German citizens are not approved entry to the USA with ESTA, they may apply for a B1/B2 visa at the US Embassy in Berlin.
Airlines (Signatory Carriers) in Germany:
Cruise ships (Signatory Carriers):
The US Embassy and Consulates in Germany: