ESTA Frequently Asked Questions
In addition to the questions listed below, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security maintains a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about ESTA that are updated frequently.
General Information on the Visa Waiver Program
Q: What is the Visa Waiver Program?
A: The Visa Waiver Program enables eligible citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes on stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.
General Information on ESTA
Q: What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization?
A: A Visa Waiver Program traveler who wishes to travel to the United States without a visa must first apply for permission under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is an automated system that assists in determining an individual's eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
NB! - For any application made on or after 8 September 2010, the cost of applying for ESTA is US$ 14. Any third party website that charges more than $14 is fraudulent. Please apply only through the official ESTA website.
Q: Why is authorization under ESTA required for U.S.-bound travel under the Visa Waiver Program?
A: Legislation passed by the U.S. Congress in 2007 requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement an electronic travel authorization system and other measures to enhance the security of the Visa Waiver Program.
Q: Is an ESTA a visa?
A: No. An ESTA approval is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa.
Q: Are there any countries that have a similar system in place for in-bound travelers?
A: The Government of Australia has a program that is similar to ESTA, called the Electronic Travel Authority. The Australian Electronic Travel Authority is comparable to ESTA in that travelers planning to visit Australia may submit an application electronically through the Electronic Travel Authority Web site.
Who Needs to Apply for an ESTA
Q: Who is required to apply for an electronic travel authorization via ESTA?
A: All citizens who plan to travel to the United States by means of the Visa Waiver Program are required to receive an approved travel authorization through ESTA prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or vessel.
Q: Do nationals or citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program require an ESTA if they are only transiting the United States en route to another country?
A: Yes. If a traveler is only planning to transit through the United States en route to another country, when he or she completes the ESTA application, the traveler should enter the words "In Transit" and his or her final destination location in the address lines under the heading "Address While In The United States".
Q: I have a visa. Do I need to apply for an ESTA?
A: No. A traveler possessing a valid U.S. visa does not need to apply for a travel authorization through ESTA.
How to Apply for an ESTA Travel Authorization
Q: How does a traveler apply for an ESTA travel authorization to travel to the United States?
A: ESTA is a web-based system. In order to apply for an ESTA, please visit the ESTA webpage, follow the instructions to answer all of the required questions, and submit an application for travel authorization. Travelers will NOT be able to submit ESTA applications at a U.S. port of entry or a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Q: Is this Web site secure and private?
A: Yes. The Web site will be operated by the U.S. government and employs technology to prevent unauthorized access to the information entered and viewed.
Q: If a traveler is approved through ESTA to travel to the United States, does that mean that the traveler can enter the country?
A: Not necessarily. An ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. An approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at a port of entry. In all cases, Customs and Border Patrol officers at U.S. ports of entry make admissibility determinations.
Q: How far in advance of a trip is it necessary to apply for travel authorization through ESTA?
A: ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, and in most cases, ESTA will provide an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel under the Visa Waiver Program. However, DHS recommends that ESTA applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel. Visa Waiver Program travelers are not required to have specific plans to travel to the United States before they apply for an ESTA. As soon as Visa Waiver Program travelers begin to plan a trip to visit the United States, they are encouraged to apply for authorization through the ESTA Web site. Applicants will not be required to update their destination addresses or itineraries should they change after their ESTA has been approved.
Q: What happens when a traveler submits an application and how long does it take for ESTA to process an application?
A: In most cases, ESTA will provide an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel under the Visa Waiver Program.
There are three types of responses to an ESTA application: "Authorization Approved," "Authorization Pending," and "Travel Not Authorized." Those applicants who receive an approval are authorized to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Applicants who receive an Authorization Pending response will need to check the Web site for updates within 72 hours to receive a final response. Applicants whose ESTA applications are denied will be referred to http://travel.state.gov for information about how to apply for a visa to travel to the United States. Applicants who wish to apply at the U.S. Embassy in Estonia should visit the U.S. Embassy webpage.
Q: How long is a travel authorization via ESTA valid?
A: Each approved ESTA application generally will be valid for a period of two years and allows for multiple visits to the United States within that period without having to apply for another ESTA. A traveler whose ESTA application is approved, but whose passport will expire in less than two years, will receive an ESTA valid only until the passport's expiration date.
A new travel authorization is required if (1) the traveler is issued a new passport; (2) the traveler changes his or her name; (3) the traveler changes his or her gender; (4) the traveler's country of citizenship changes; or (5) the circumstances underlying the traveler's previous responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a "yes" or "no" response have changed.
Q: What is the cost to the traveler?
A: Effective 8 September 2010, ESTA applications will cost US$ 14. Payment may be made by credit card and certain debit cards. The payment system uses advanced encryption to protect an applicant's personal information.
Q: Can prospective travelers apply for an ESTA travel authorization without specific travel plans if they want to be able to travel to the United States later on short notice?
A: Yes. Visa Waiver Program travelers are not required to have specific plans to travel to the United States before they apply for an ESTA. If a traveler's destination address in the United States is unknown when he or she completes the ESTA application, the traveler should enter the name of the hotel or approximate location (i.e., city and state) he or she intends to visit.
Q: How can a traveler apply for an ESTA without access to the Internet?
A: A third party, such as a relative or travel agent, may submit an ESTA application on behalf of the traveler. The traveler is still responsible under the law for the answers submitted on his or her behalf.
Q: What information is needed in order to complete the ESTA application?
A: The traveler must provide (in English) biographical data including name, birth date, and passport information, as well as his or her destination address in the United States. The traveler will also be required to answer Visa Waiver Program eligibility questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests, convictions for certain crimes, and past history of visa revocation or deportation, among others.
Q: Are answers required in English?
A: Yes. The ESTA must be filled out in English.
Q: Do Visa Waiver Program travelers need to bring a paper printout of their ESTA approval to the airport?
A: No. DHS will be able to communicate a traveler's ESTA status with the U.S.-bound carriers.
However, DHS recommends that each Visa Waiver Program traveler print out the ESTA application response in order to maintain a record of his or her ESTA application number and to have confirmation of his or her approved ESTA status.
Q: If a Visa Waiver Program traveler has received an ESTA approval, does he or she also need to complete Form I-94W while aboard the U.S.-bound airplane or vessel?
A: The use of Form I-94W, which collects information that is substantially similar to that required by ESTA, has been discontinued on U.S.-bound airplanes and vessels. However, Visa Waiver travelers arriving in the United States by land may still be required to complete Form I-94W at the border, and pay a modest processing fee at the time of crossing.
Q: What happens if a Visa Waiver Program traveler flies to the United States, but for some reason does not have a valid ESTA travel authorization?
A: Once ESTA is mandatory, all nationals or citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the Visa Waiver Program will require a valid ESTA travel authorization prior to boarding a carrier for travel by air or sea to the United States. Visa Waiver Program travelers who do not have a valid ESTA travel authorization may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry.
ESTA and U.S. Visas
Q: What if a traveler has a current, valid visa?
A: Individuals that possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas will not be required to apply for an ESTA.
Q: What should a traveler do if he or she is not approved for travel through ESTA?
A: If an ESTA application is denied and the traveler wishes to continue with the trip, the traveler will be required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. For more about visa application procedures, please visit the Department of State Travel site. Travelers who wish to apply at the U.S. Embassy in Estonia should visit U.S. Embassy webpage.
Q: Should a traveler not approved for travel through ESTA reapply?
A: If an ESTA application is not approved ("Travel Not Authorized"), a traveler may reapply for an ESTA travel authorization after a period of ten days. However, unless the traveler's circumstances have changed, the traveler will not qualify for an ESTA and will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. In addition, reapplying with false information for the purposes of qualifying for an ESTA travel authorization could make the traveler permanently ineligible for travel to the U.S.
Q: How can a traveler find out the reason an ESTA application was denied?
A: DHS is carefully developing the ESTA program to ensure that only those individuals who are ineligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program or those whose travel would pose a law enforcement or security risk will be refused under ESTA.
While the ESTA Web site will provide a link to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) Web site, there are no guarantees that a request for redress through DHS TRIP will resolve the Visa Waiver Program ineligibility that caused an applicant's ESTA application to be denied.
Please note that Embassies and Consulates will not be able to provide details about ESTA denials.
ESTA and Data Privacy
Q: How will the U.S. government protect the privacy of ESTA data and who will have access to it?
A: Information submitted by applicants through the ESTA Web site will be 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.
Q: Will DHS share ESTA data with others?
A: The information collected by and maintained in ESTA may be used by other components of DHS on a need-to-know basis consistent with the component's mission.
Under current agreements between DHS and the U.S. Department of State (DOS), information submitted during an ESTA application may be shared with consular officers of DOS to assist them in determining whether a visa should be issued to an applicant after an ESTA application has been denied. Information may be shared with appropriate federal, state, local, tribal, and foreign governmental agencies or multilateral governmental organizations responsible for investigating or prosecuting the violations of, or for enforcing or implementing, a statute, rule, regulation, order or license, or where DHS believes information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws. Additionally, information may be shared when DHS reasonably believes such use is to assist in anti-terrorism efforts or intelligence gathering related to national or international security or transnational crime. All sharing will remain consistent with applicable U.S. privacy laws.
While U.S.-bound carriers will not receive the ESTA application information that travelers provide to DHS, they will receive confirmation of a passenger's ESTA status via the Advance Passenger Information System (APIS)/APIS Quick Query system indicating whether an ESTA is required and whether authorization has been granted.
Q: Will DHS use application data for any purpose other than determining eligibility for an ESTA?
A: The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will use the application data to screen the individual before granting authorization to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. As part of this screening process, information that identifies suspected or known violators of the law and other persons of concern will be provided to the appropriate law enforcement, national security, and/or counterterrorism agency.