Electronic System for Travel Authorization

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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 is possible to get one while at the airport.[2] 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, although they may still need to complete the I-94W paper form for land entry, or if the electronic system is unavailable.[3]

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

From January 20, 2010 airlines are forced (through fines) to require ESTA at check in.[4]

Before September 8, 2010 ESTA was available for free from the official government websites. From then, the Travel Promotion Act introduced a charge of $14. This is made of $10 which goes to the Corporation for Travel Promotion and a $4 fee levied by the CBP for administration costs.[5] The EU Ambassador to the United States John Bruton, argued it is illogical to think tourist numbers will go up if they are charged to enter the country [6] 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.[7]

Eligible countries[edit]

Currently, 38 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program:[8][9]

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.

Applying for ESTA[edit]

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.[10] This is not a requirement, and the majority of applications are approved in less than one minute.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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.[14]

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 anytime during travel.

Third-party websites[edit]

Some websites offer to complete ESTA applications for a fee. 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.

Even if one of the third-party websites is used, passengers themselves still have to complete the same form.[15] Concerns have been raised that third-party sites could be used for identity theft or credit card fraud.

See also[edit]


  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. ^ "Arrival-Departure Record, CBP Form I-94W, for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Applicants". July 19, 2010. Retrieved November 12, 2010. 
  4. ^ "Electronic System for Travel Authorization Compliance Now Required |ETB News Australia". Etravelblackboard.com. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  5. ^ "DHS, CBP Announce Interim Final Rule For ESTA Fee". CPB.gov. August 6, 2010. 
  6. ^ "Travel Promotion Act of 2009 could have unintended consequences". September 4, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2010. 
  7. ^ "European Parliament criticizes ESTA fee to fund travel promotion". Visabureau.com. 2010-09-27. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  8. ^ "Visa Waiver Program (VWP)". Travel.state.gov. 2014-03-31. Retrieved 2014-05-20. 
  9. ^ Citizens of Czech Republic, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, South Korea, Greece, Taiwan and Chile are required to present electronic passports.
  10. ^ CBP Press Release[dead link]
  11. ^ "DHS Press Release". 
  12. ^ Industry Anxious About Planned U.S. Electronic Entry System: The Transnational
  13. ^ 'Travelling to the US Without a Visa,' http://www.usvisalawyers.co.uk/article6.htm
  14. ^ "Visa Waiver Program – Embassy of the United States Canberra, Australia". United States Foreign Service. Retrieved February 28, 2012. 
  15. ^ "Beware of ESTA Scams". US Embassy in London. March 25, 2009. Retrieved November 12, 2010. 

External links[edit]