Electronic System for Travel Authorization

Website esta.cbp.dhs.gov

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a United States government requirement (mandated by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007) for participating travelers from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries. ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Authorization via ESTA does not determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers determine admissibility upon travelers’ arrival. The ESTA application collects biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended that travelers apply as soon as they begin preparing travel plans or prior to purchasing airline tickets.

ESTA is not needed when arriving by land from Canada or Mexico.[1] Passengers (including babies) without an ESTA may be denied check in, although it might be possible to get one while at the departure airport.[2][3] Since 2010 the payment of US$14 is required to obtain the ESTA.


Passengers were able to sign up in August 2008, and the travel authorization became mandatory from January 12, 2009. Once pre-screened, passengers may reuse the ESTA approval for two years (1 year in case of Greece[4]), although they may still need to complete the I-94W paper form for land entry, or if the electronic system is unavailable.[5]

ESTA adds a requirement for pre-authorization to the existing Visa Waiver Program.

Since January 20, 2010, airlines have been forced (through fines) to require ESTA at check in.[6]

Before September 8, 2010, ESTA was available for free from the official government websites. Since then, the Travel Promotion Act introduced a charge of $14. This is made up of $10 which goes to the Corporation for Travel Promotion and a $4 fee levied by the CBP for administration costs.[7] The EU Ambassador to the United States John Bruton argued that it is illogical to think tourist numbers will go up if they are charged to enter the country.[8] The charge has also been described by critics in the European Parliament as little more than a way to fund advertisements for United States tourism.[9]

Eligible countries

Currently, 38 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program:[10][11]

Visitors may stay for 90 days in the United States which also includes the time spent in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the islands in the Caribbean if the arrival was through the United States. The ESTA is only required if arriving by air or cruise ship. It is not required if arriving on a ferry between British Columbia (Vancouver and Victoria) and Washington State. If a passenger is arriving by land ESTA is not required.

ESTA holders who are dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria had their ESTAs revoked in January 2016, and will be required to apply for a regular tourist visa at a US foreign mission. ESTA holders who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011 will not have their ESTAs revoked, but will be refused entry if their travel is discovered by the CBP on arrival unless they qualify for a waiver.[12] The Secretary of Homeland Security may waive these restrictions if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include individuals who traveled to these countries on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, and sub-national governments on official duty; on behalf of a humanitarian NGO on official duty; or as a journalist for reporting purposes.[13]

The leaders of the 27 EU member states agreed in their Bratislava Declaration and Roadmap on September 16, 2016 to set up an analogous EU Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).[14]

Applying for ESTA

An ESTA terminal at Brussels airport.

The U.S. Government recommends that travellers go online to submit an authorization request at least three days (72 hours) before travelling to the United States.[15] This is not a requirement, and the majority of applications are approved in less than one minute.[16] However, if a traveller is not eligible for visa-free travel, he or she will need to apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, which is a substantially lengthier process that may require an interview with a U.S. Consular officer. As a result, opponents claim the new rules will delay last-minute business travel.[17]

Each travel authorization under ESTA can be valid for up to two years. However, a Visa Waiver Program traveler must obtain a new ESTA authorization if he or she is issued a new passport, or changes his or her name, gender or country of citizenship. In addition, a traveler must obtain a new ESTA authorization if any answer to the ESTA application eligibility questions changes.[18]

Entry under the Visa Waiver Program is only valid for a combined maximum stay in the USA and its surrounding countries of ninety days. Admission period cannot be extended under the program. If a longer stay is intended, a visa is required.[19]

ESTA does not guarantee entry to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers make final determination of admissibility (entry) to the United States and may cancel/deny ESTA at any time during travel.

Third-party websites

Some websites offer to complete ESTA applications for a fee, often many times more than the required $14 fee charged by the US Government. Access and application through the official U.S. Government website are available to any passengers/visitors to the U.S. who qualify under the ESTA program. Prevention of such "ESTA fee scams" was made more difficult when the mandatory US Government fee was imposed, as previous public education efforts focused on getting out the message that ESTA applications were free of charge and anybody requesting payment was an unauthorized third-party.[20]

Even if one of the third-party websites is used, passengers themselves still have to complete the same form.[21] Concerns have been raised that third-party sites could be used for identity theft, credit card fraud, or the distribution of malware.[22]

See also


  1. "Who must apply for ESTA". US Customs and Border Protection. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  2. "Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) Online Help". US Customs and Border Protection. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  3. Check-in staff is unlikely to do this. It might be done by a travel agent or by oneself using a smartphone or an internet café.
  4. Athens gets more time to update IDs for visa-free travel
  5. "Arrival-Departure Record, CBP Form I-94W, for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Applicants". July 19, 2010. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  6. "Electronic System for Travel Authorization Compliance Now Required |ETB News Australia". Etravelblackboard.com. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  7. "DHS, CBP Announce Interim Final Rule For ESTA Fee". CPB.gov. August 6, 2010.
  8. "Travel Promotion Act of 2009 could have unintended consequences". September 4, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  9. "European Parliament criticizes ESTA fee to fund travel promotion". Visabureau.com. 2010-09-27. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  10. "Visa Waiver Program (VWP)". Travel.state.gov. 2014-03-31. Retrieved 2014-05-20.
  11. Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, South Korea, Greece, Taiwan and Chile are required to present electronic passports.
  12. United States Begins Implementation of Changes to the Visa Waiver Program
  13. DHS Announces Further Travel Restrictions for the Visa Waiver Program
  14. European Commission - Press release October 12, 2016
  15. CBP Press Release Archived October 11, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  16. "DHS Press Release".
  17. Industry Anxious About Planned U.S. Electronic Entry System: The Transnational
  18. 'Travelling to the US Without a Visa,' http://www.usvisalawyers.co.uk/article6.htm
  19. "Visa Waiver Program – Embassy of the United States Canberra, Australia". United States Foreign Service. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  20. "Fraud Strikes U.S. Travel Authorization Agency". McAfee Labs. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
  21. "Beware of ESTA Scams". US Embassy in London. March 25, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  22. "Fraud Strikes U.S. Travel Authorization Agency". McAfee Labs. Retrieved 4 August 2015.
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