There is a real problem about unofficial sites that are authorized to grant or refuse an official ESTA authorization that allows you to enter the USA. They are accused of taking advantage of a legal vacuum to overcharge their services. The price of ESTA through the official website is 14 dollars, and invariable.
Overview of the arguments in favour of unofficial sites and their disadvantages; Can we really talk about a scam?
On the official American website, we have a rough presentation of the information to be provided. The site is not very functional. On the other hand, great efforts on ergonomics are generally made on unofficial sites, thus promoting a simpler, almost intuitive use of their functionalities.
On the official website, we make a request and we have an immediate response. If ESTA is granted, perfect, the essential is acquired. Otherwise, for a refusal, we have no justification and we do not even know why ESTA was refused. With unofficial sites, you get a real after-sales service, which answers questions. Thus, if ESTA has been refused, you will be given a justification. There is real support and we can help you, for example, to direct you to a temporary VISA. The after-sales service of unofficial sites is able to answer the vast majority of your questions: “Can I use the same ESTA more than once?” or “How long will my ESTA be valid?” etc. This after-sales service is a real asset, because we don't leave you alone, lost in your administrative procedures.
For ESTA applications, most unofficial sites have very high acceptance rates of 99%. However, sometimes an ESTA application is refused. In these rare cases, the unofficial site guarantees a full refund of the amount advanced by the applicant. This current practice shows that unofficial sites are not necessarily guided by a purely commercial approach.
Once you have completed the ESTA form, a whole mechanics process begins to follow up your request. This explains why the response is not immediate and will be given at least 72 hours after the request is made. Until your ESTA USA is obtained or refused, several controls will follow. There will be a mandatory pre-submission data check, but also a follow-up of your file. This follow-up will continue even beyond the decision with an efficient after-sales service that will answer your legitimate questions.
Unofficial websites delivering ESTA USA charge extra fees for their services. In concrete terms, on the official website, the price, invariable, is 14 dollars. On unofficial websites, however, the prices charged for ESTAs vary between $50 and $80. The difference in rates between the two types of sites is far from negligible. Thus, many people who have filled out their ESTA form on sites other than the official website have the unpleasant feeling of having been robbed. Unofficial sites are certainly more expensive, but can we consider this as a scam? In fact, these unofficial sites are intermediate sites and function as such by taking on more or less substantial commissions. In addition, they offer additional services and benefits that do not exist on the official website (see above). It might therefore seem quite logical that they should charge for these exclusive services. However, one must remain suspicious when the price difference between the two types of sites is too great. On average, unofficial sites have rates of about $50. At the margin, some sites charge up to $80.00, but this overbilling can be considered excessive.
The decision to grant or not ESTA is immediate on the official website. This is not the case on official sites that take at least 72 hours (three days) before giving the answer.
ESTA applicants who want to get to the bottom of the matter, i. e. to obtain an ESTA to travel to the United States, find the services of the sites unofficial, superfluous and useless. These additional services lead to the same result as on the official website. The debate therefore also focuses on the usefulness and effectiveness of the opportunity to select, and pay for, services that do not influence the final response. These services are to be considered rather as comfort services, aimed at reassuring and accompanying ESTA applicants.
Most unofficial sites issue a valid ESTA USA, equivalent to the one issued by the official site. However, some sites are not authorized to produce ESTA and therefore, will hand over invalid ESTAs to applicants, which will not allow them to travel to the USA. It is therefore necessary to remain vigilant and to inquire upstream about the integrity of the site that caught your attention.