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Electronic System for Travel Authorization

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Record of ESTA approval

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). ESTA was mandated by the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.[1] ESTA only authorizes travel to a U.S. airport, border, or port of entry, but admissibility into the United States is determined by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer upon arrival. The ESTA application collects biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions.

ESTA applications may be made at any time, but travelers are encouraged to apply at least 72 hours prior to travel. ESTA has an application fee of $4, and if approved, an additional fee of $17 is charged, for a total of $21.[2] After approval, the authorization remains valid for two years, or until the passport expires if earlier, for multiple trips during that period.[a] Each person traveling under the VWP, regardless of age, needs a separate ESTA.[2]

ESTA is also needed for travel under the VWP to the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, but some of these territories have separate waivers for certain nationalities that do not require ESTA.[2] Travel to American Samoa requires a different electronic authorization or permit.[3]



Travelers were able to apply for ESTA in August 2008, and the authorization became mandatory for travel by air or sea from January 12, 2009. Since January 20, 2010, airlines may be fined if they do not require ESTA from passengers traveling under the VWP.[4]

Initially ESTA was available for free from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. On September 8, 2010, following the Travel Promotion Act, CBP began charging a fee of $4 to cover administrative costs, and if the application was approved, an additional fee of $10 to fund the Corporation for Travel Promotion (also known as Brand USA[5]), for a total of $14 for each approved ESTA. On May 26, 2022, the second fee was increased to $17, for a total of $21 for each approved ESTA.[2] The European Union criticized the fee when it was introduced,[6][7] but later planned to also require an electronic travel authorization named ETIAS for a fee of 7.[8]

ESTA became required also for entry by land from October 1, 2022.[9]

On July 6, 2023, the validity of new ESTA applications from nationals of Brunei became limited to one year. On August 1, 2023, the validity of new ESTA applications from nationals of Hungary became limited to one year and to a single use.[2]



As of 2023, nationals of 41 countries may travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program:[10]

Visitors under the VWP may stay in the United States for 90 days, which also includes the time spent in Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, or the islands in the Caribbean if the arrival was through the United States.

Due to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, those who have been in Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, or in Cuba on or after January 12, 2021, or who are dual nationals of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan or Syria, are not eligible to travel under the VWP.[14][2] However, those who traveled to such countries as diplomats, military, journalists, humanitarian workers or legitimate businessmen may have this ineligibility waived by the Secretary of Homeland Security.[15] In any case, those ineligible for the VWP may still apply for a regular visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate.


The official website for Electronic System for Travel Authorization applications
An ESTA terminal at Brussels airport
Thermochromatic print out slip of the system

In December 2018, CBP announced that instant ESTA approvals would no longer be available and reiterated that it "strongly encouraged" travelers to submit an online authorization request at least three days (72 hours) before traveling to the United States.[16] However, CBP's website still says that "In most cases, a response is received within seconds of submitting an application."[17] However, some immigration consultants report that decisions on ESTA applications can occasionally take longer than 72 hours, for example if the applicant had any U.S. visa refused before (even if declared on the application). [18]

Each travel authorization under ESTA can be valid for up to two years, for multiple trips during that period.[a] However, travelers must obtain a new ESTA authorization if they are issued a new passport, or change their name, gender or country of nationality, or if any answer to their ESTA application eligibility questions changes.[2]

Each entry under the Visa Waiver Program is only valid for a combined maximum stay of 90 days in the United States and its surrounding countries. The admission period cannot be extended under the program. If a longer stay is intended, a visa is required.[2]

ESTA does not guarantee entry to the United States. CBP officers make the final determination of admissibility (entry) to the United States and may cancel or deny ESTA at any time during travel, for example for suspicions of giving false information in the application.

Mandatory information


The applicant must provide the following information:

  • Full name and gender
  • Other names or aliases, if any
  • Date and city of birth (according to passport)
  • Country of nationality and passport
  • Other nationality including historic, if any
  • Passport number and expiration date
  • Address
  • Parents' names, if known
  • Employer's name and address, if any
  • Emergency contact, name, phone and address
  • U.S. point of contact information (a person, business or hotel one intends to visit)
  • Whether the applicant is a member of Global Entry
  • Applicants must also specify whether any of the following applies to them by way of yes/no answers. Applications will be denied if the applicant:
    • Has a physical or mental disorder posing a threat to others, or is a drug abuser, or has one of certain contagious diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, tuberculosis, plague, yellow fever, ebola or severe acute respiratory illnesses[2]
    • Has ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority
    • Has ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs
    • Plans to engage in or has ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide
    • Has committed fraud or misrepresented oneself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States
    • Intends to seek employment in the United States or was previously employed in the United States without prior permission from the U.S. government
    • Has been denied a U.S. visa, or been refused admission to the United States at a U.S. port of entry (This includes any past visa denials under INA 221(g), whereby a visa applicant needed to provide more information or a case needed further processing, even if the visa was later approved[19]).
    • Has previously stayed in the United States longer than the admission period
    • Has traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, or Cuba on or after January 12, 2021

Third-party websites


Some websites offer to complete ESTA applications for a fee, often many times more than the required fee charged by the U.S. government. Access and application through the official U.S. government website are available to any travelers who qualify under the VWP program. Prevention of such "ESTA fee scams" was made more difficult when the mandatory U.S. 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] Third-party websites try to make themselves look legitimate by using official-sounding web addresses and posting logos that resemble the U.S. government emblem. They may or may not contain a small disclaimer at the bottom of the page that says they are not associated with the U.S. government.

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.[20]

See also



  1. ^ a b For nationals of Brunei applying from July 6, 2023, ESTA is valid for one year. For nationals of Hungary applying from August 1, 2023, ESTA is valid for one year and for a single trip.[2]
  2. ^ Only Hungarian citizens born in Hungary.[11][12]
  3. ^ Only holders of passports with a national identification number.
  4. ^ British citizens are eligible to participate in the VWP, but other categories of UK national are not.[13]


  1. ^ "Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007". United States Congress.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Frequently asked questions, Electronic System for Travel Authorization, U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  3. ^ Travel Authorizations: Entry Permits & OK Boards, Department of Legal Affairs of American Samoa.
  4. ^ "Electronic System for Travel Authorization Compliance Now Required |ETB News Australia". Etravelblackboard.com. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  5. ^ Terms of use, Brand USA.
  6. ^ "Travel Promotion Act of 2009 could have unintended consequences". September 4, 2009. Archived from the original on June 25, 2010. Retrieved November 12, 2010.
  7. ^ "European Parliament criticizes ESTA fee to fund travel promotion". Visabureau.com. September 27, 2010. Archived from the original on December 15, 2018. Retrieved May 20, 2014.
  8. ^ European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS), European Commission.
  9. ^ CBP Expands ESTA Requirements for Visa Waiver Program Travelers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, April 7, 2022.
  10. ^ "Visa Waiver Program". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved July 14, 2023.
  11. ^ Information on conditions of entry and stay in the United States, Consular Services of Hungary (in Hungarian).
  12. ^ Hungarian citizens abroad can no longer travel to the United States without a visa, Krónika Online, January 20, 2022 (in Hungarian).
  13. ^ Passports, U.S. Embassy & Consulates in the United Kingdom.
  14. ^ Visa Waiver Program, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, June 9, 2022.
  15. ^ United States Begins Implementation of Changes to the Visa Waiver Program, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, January 21, 2016.
  16. ^ "CBP Reminds Travelers to Allow 72 Hours for ESTA | U.S. Customs and Border Protection". www.cbp.gov.
  17. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions about the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) | U.S. Customs and Border Protection". www.cbp.gov.
  18. ^ Bray, Ilona (2023). U.S. Immigration Made Easy. NOLO. p. 371. ISBN 9781413330724.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  19. ^ "Visa Refusals under Section 221(G) or 212(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act". U.S. Embassy & Consulates in the United Kingdom. Retrieved July 2, 2024.
  20. ^ a b "Fraud Strikes U.S. Travel Authorization Agency". McAfee Labs. Archived from the original on August 29, 2015. Retrieved August 4, 2015.
  21. ^ "Beware of ESTA Scams". US Embassy in London. March 25, 2009. Archived from the original on July 20, 2011. Retrieved November 12, 2010.