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What is Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

To strengthen the security of travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, requirements to travel visa-free have been enhanced. Nationals of Visa Waiver Program countries will still be eligible to travel without a visa but will have to obtain an approved travel authorization prior to their travel to the U.S.

The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have provided a secure public Web site with an automated form for you, or a third party, to complete in order to apply for a travel authorization. Once you enter the required biographic, travel, and payment information on the secure Web site, your application is processed by the system to determine if you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program without a visa. The system will provide you with an automated response, and prior to boarding, a carrier will electronically verify with the United States Customs and Border Protection that you have an approved travel authorization on file.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

ESTA approval authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the United States under the VWP. Private carriers must be a signatory visa waiver program carrier. See list of Signatory Carriers. While CBP recommends that you apply at least 72 hours before travel, you may apply any time prior to boarding. In most cases, a response is received within seconds of submitting an application.

ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet the legal requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa when a visa is required. Travelers that possess a valid U.S. visa may travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose it was issued. Travelers traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for an ESTA. In the same way that a valid visa does not guarantee admission to the United States, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admission to the United States.

ESTA became mandatory January 12, 2009. VWP applicants are required to complete a blue Customs declaration upon arrival in the U.S. whether or not they have an ESTA authorization. VWP travelers are no longer required to complete the green I-94W card.

Approved ESTA applications are valid for a period of 2 years, or until the passport expires, whichever comes first, and multiple trips to the United States without the traveler having to re-apply for another ESTA. When traveling to the U.S. with the approved ESTA, you may only stay for up to 90 days at a time - and there should be a reasonable amount of time between visits so that the CBP Officer does not think you are trying to live here. There is no set requirement for how long you must wait between visits.

Travelers whose ESTA applications are approved, but whose passports will expire in less than two years, will receive an ESTA valid until the passport s expiration date.

A new ESTA authorization is required if:

  • You are issued a new passport,
  • You change your name (first and/or last)
  • You change your gender (ESTA does not currently have a gender X to choose from on the application. It is suggested that the traveler choose whichever choice they feel most comfortable with. ESTA will not be denied solely on the gender chosen on the application.)
  • Your country of citizenship changes
  • Your circumstances change, e.g., you are convicted of a crime of moral turpitude or you develop a contagious disease. Such a change may require you to get a visa to travel to the U.S. You must re-apply and your application must reflect the change in your circumstances or you may be denied entry upon arrival in the United States. More information about other ineligibilities can be found on the U.S. State Department website

DHS recommends that you apply for ESTA authorization as soon as you know you will be traveling to the United States under the VWP. If your ESTA expires while in the U.S., it will not affect your departure.

Beginning September 8, 2010, there is a fee required by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (Section 9 of the United States Capitol Police Administrative Technical Corrections Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-145). The fee is comprised of two parts:

  • Processing Charge -- All applicants requesting an electronic travel authorization are charged for the processing of the application. The fee is US $4.00.
  • Authorization charge -- If your application is approved and you receive authorization to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, an additional US $10.00 will be added to your payment method. If your electronic travel authorization is denied, you are only charged for the processing of your application.

CBP is not responsible for any third party fees for the transaction.

Note: It is important to PRINT a copy of the document for your records. The printout is not required upon arrival into the United States, as the officers have the information electronically.

What is the difference between an ESTA and a visa?

An approved travel authorization is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a United States visa when a visa is required under United States law. Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for a travel authorization.

Who is eligible to submit an application?

You are eligible to apply for admission under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) if you:

  • Intend to enter the United States for 90 days or less for business, pleasure or transit
  • Have a valid passport lawfully issued to you by a Visa Waiver Program country
  • Arrive via a Visa Waiver Program signatory carrier
  • Have a return or onward ticket
  • Travel does not terminate in contiguous territory or adjacent islands unless the traveler is a resident of one of those areas
  • Are a citizen or national of one of the Visa Waiver Program countries listed below:
      • Andorra
      • Australia
      • Austria
      • Belgium
      • Brunei
      • Chile
      • Czech Republic
      • Denmark
      • Estonia
      • Finland
      • France
      • Germany
      • Greece
      • Hungary
      • Iceland
      • Ireland
      • Italy
      • Japan
      • Latvia
      • Liechtenstein
      • Lithuania
      • Luxembourg
      • Monaco
      • Netherlands
      • New Zealand
      • Norway
      • Portugal
      • Republic of Malta
      • San Marino
      • Singapore
      • Slovakia
      • Slovenia
      • South Korea
      • Spain
      • Sweden
      • Switzerland
      • Taiwan[1]
      • United Kingdom
  • Establish to the satisfaction of the inspecting United States Customs and Border Protection officer that you are entitled to be admitted under the Visa Waiver Program and that you are not inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act.
  • Waive any rights to review or appeal of the admissibility determination of the United States Customs and Border Protection officer, or contest, other than on the basis of an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application for admission under the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Reaffirm, through the submission of biometric identifiers (including fingerprints and photographs) during processing upon arrival in the United States, your waiver of any rights to review or appeal of the admissibility determination of the United States Customs and Border Protection officer, or contest, other than on the basis of an application for asylum, any removal action arising from an application for admission under the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Not pose a threat to the welfare, health, safety, or security of the United States.
  • Have complied with all conditions of any previous admission under the Visa Waiver Program.

[1] With respect to all references to "country" or "countries" in this document, it should be noted that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, Pub. L. No. 96-8, Section 4(b)(1), provides that "[w]henever the laws of the United States refer or relate to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities, such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with respect to Taiwan." 22 U.S.C. § 3303(b)(1). Accordingly, all references to "country" or "countries" in the Visa Waiver Program authorizing legislation, Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1187, are read to include Taiwan. This is consistent with the United States one-China policy, under which the United States has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan since 1979.

Do I need to apply for ESTA if...?

I am a citizen of Canada?
No, citizens of Canada who are traveling with a Canadian passport do not need an ESTA.

I am a Landed Immigrant of Canada?
If you are a landed immigrant of Canada and a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and you enter the U.S. by land, ESTA is not required. If you do not have ESTA, you will be required to complete the paper I-94W form and proceed through a manual entry process at the land border crossing. If you have an approved ESTA when entering the U.S. at a land border crossing, you will not be required to complete the paper I-94W form and your entry process is expedited. If you are coming to the U.S. by air or sea, you DO have to apply for ESTA. If you are not a citizen of a VWP country, you are required to have a visa, and therefore ESTA does not apply to you.

I am a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States and a citizen of a VWP country?
No.

I am a citizen of a VWP country and am visiting the U.S. from Canada or Mexico?
If you are a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and you enter the U.S. by land from Mexico or Canada, ESTA is not required. If you do not have ESTA, you will be required to complete the paper I-94W form and proceed through a manual entry process at the land border crossing. If you have an approved ESTA when entering the U.S. at a land border crossing, you will not be required to complete the paper I-94W form and your entry process is expedited. However, if issued, you should return your green I-94W card upon departure from the U.S. If you are arriving by air or sea, you do need to apply for ESTA.

I am a citizen of a VWP country and am traveling to the United States by air to transit the U.S.?
Yes. You must apply for ESTA even if you are only transiting the U.S. In the address field of the application, write "In Transit."

I have dual citizenship from both a VWP country and a non-VWP country?
If you are flying under the terms of the VWP, with your VWP passport, you must apply for ESTA. If you are using your non-VWP country s passport, you will require a visa and therefore ESTA does not apply to you.

I am a citizen of a VWP country and am going to Guam or Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI)?
For international travel to Guam/CNMI under the VWP, ESTA is required. Nationalities that are eligible for Guam/CNMI VWP can travel to Guam/CNMI under that program without an ESTA. However, under the Guam/CNMI VWP, the maximum stay is 45 days and stay is restricted to those islands only - travel cannot be to the United States.
Travel from the United States to Guam/CNMI is considered a domestic flight, so no ESTA is required. Travelers go through pre-inspection for travel from Guam/CNMI to the United States. If that travel is under VWP, they need an ESTA.

I am a citizen of a VWP country and am traveling for short-term business or tourism under the VWP to Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands?
Yes, ESTA is required for travel to these locations.

I am traveling with a minor (child under age 18) who is a citizen of a VWP country?
If the minor is traveling to the United States under the VWP as a tourist 90 days or less, he/she is required to obtain an independent ESTA approval.

I am a U.S. Citizen with dual citizenship in a VWP country?
U.S. Citizens are not required to have an ESTA and are required to use their U.S. passport to travel to the U.S.

If I have a current, valid visa?
Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for an ESTA authorization.

What is the process to submit a group of applications?

Create Group Contact PersonTo submit a group of applications, select "Group of Applications" under Apply. You will be asked to create a Group Contact Person. When applying for ESTA authorizations for a group of travelers, the following information is required of the applicant, who in this case, is the Group Contact Person:
  • Family name
  • First (Given) name
  • Date of birth
  • E-mail address
Manage Group of ApplicationsThe Group Contact Person will have the option to “Add New Application” (to begin the process for a new applicant) or “Add Unpaid Application” (to add an existing unpaid applicant to your group).Make PaymentWhen two or more applications are submitted as a group, the group may be paid for any time within 7 days of creating the group. After 7 days, you will be unable to access the applications and Group ID, and the Group Contact Person will have to resubmit them.Check StatusThe Group Contact Person will also have the option to check the status on all applications within a group. If there is a "Pending" response for any application in a group, it will not delay the processing of the remaining applications. Also, the payment receipt will not indicate the total fee amount until all applications return a status of approved or not authorized.

Is there a fee to apply for an ESTA?

Yes, there is a fee associated with the Travel Promotion Act of 2009. The fee is comprised of two parts:

  • Processing Fee. All applicants requesting an electronic travel authorization are charged US $4 for the processing of the application.
  • Authorization Fee. If your application is approved and you receive authorization to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, an additional US $10.00 will be added to your payment method. If your electronic travel authorization is denied, you are only charged for the processing of your application.

CBP is not responsible for any additional fees that may be charged by your credit/debit card company or PayPal for the transaction.

How does the U.S. Government protect the privacy of my data, and who has access to it?

Information submitted by applicants through the ESTA Web site is subject to the same strict privacy provisions and controls that have been established for similar traveler screening programs. Access to such information is limited to those with a professional need to know.

When will I hear back if I m approved?

In most cases the Electronic System for Travel Authorization will return an Application Status immediately. In cases where more time is needed to process an electronic travel authorization application, an answer will be usually returned within 72 hours. Information will be provided to check the application status if you receive a pending response. The three possible responses to an electronic travel authorization application are:

Authorization Approved.Your travel authorization has been approved and you are authorized to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. The system displays confirmation of the application approval and a payment receipt notice showing the amount charged to your credit card. A travel authorization does not guarantee admission to the United States as a Customs and Border Protection officer at a port of entry will have the final determination.Travel Not Authorized.You are not authorized to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. You may be able to obtain a visa from the Department of State for your travel. Please visit the United States Department of State Web site at www.travel.state.gov for additional information about applying for a visa. This response does not deny entry into the United States. This response only prohibits you from traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. The system also displays a payment receipt notice showing the amount charged to your credit card for the processing of the ESTA application.Authorization Pending.Your travel authorization is under review because an immediate determination could not be made for your application. This response does not indicate negative findings. A determination will usually be available within 72 hours. Please return to this Web site and click “Check ESTA Status”. Your application number, passport number, and birth date will be required to check the status of your application.

If approved, does my travel authorization guarantee me admission to the United States?

If your electronic travel authorization is approved, this approval establishes that you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, but does not guarantee that you are admissible to the United States. Upon arrival in the United States you will be inspected by a Customs and Border Protection officer at a port of entry who may determine that you are inadmissible under the Visa Waiver Program or for any reason under United States law.