ESTA USA - the mandatory travel permit for the US

The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is a travel permit within the American Visa Waiver Program.Only travelers that possess an ESTA are allowed to travel to the United States of America without a US visa. The ESTA is meant for business travelers and tourists who want to stay in the US for less than 90 days.

Travelers that do not possess a valid ESTA, US visa, or US passport, are not allowed to board a flight or boat to the United States of America. Travelers to the USA therefore are required to apply for one of these three documents before they go on their trip. This requirement also holds for children and babies. Applying for an ESTA is also mandatory for travelers who are only on a transit through the US.

ESTA USA Application
Temporary restrictions due to coronavirus in the USA

All travelers to the US are required to possess an ESTA, a US visa, or a US passport before their trip to the United States of America.

Application procedure

An ESTA can be applied for online through the digital form. The required payment can be made with Visa, Mastercard, American Express, or PayPal. After submitting the ESTA application and making the required payment, the application is immediately processed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The automated system checks right away whether the traveler poses a possible threat to the safety and law enforcement of the US. This happens based off of the answers given in the ESTA application form, and by cross-referencing the name of the traveler with the black lists of the Department of Homeland Security.

If the application is in order, an ESTA USA is usually granted the very same day. The traveler receives a confirmation by e-mail of this. It’s possible to apply for multiple travel permits/travel authorizations with a single application form. An ESTA can also be applied for with urgency; urgent applications in most cases result in an approval within an hour (never guaranteed).

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ESTA requirements

After submitting an ESTA application, it is automatically checked whether the traveler qualifies for an ESTA. A traveler qualifies for an ESTA under the following circumstances:

  • The traveler possesses a valid passport from one of these nationalities
  • The stay in the United States lasts a maximum of 90 days
  • The travel purpose is for business or tourism
  • The traveler does not plan to live or study in the US
  • The traveler will not enter into employment in the US
  • After 1 March 2011, the traveler has not been in Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, or Syria
  • The traveler does not pose a threat to the safety or law enforcement of the United States

If an ESTA is granted, this means that the traveler is allowed to board a plane or boat headed for the US. A final decision on the admissibility of the traveler is taken by the customs officer of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which only happens once the traveler arrives in the US. U.S. Customs and Border Protection at all times maintains the right to refuse individuals and send them back to their home country.

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency at all times maintains the right to refuse individuals and send them back to their home country.

Issuing and checking

After it is granted, the ESTA is digitally linked to the passport of the traveler. Airlines flying to the United States have insight into who has been issued an ESTA travel permit. During boarding of flights to the United States, the airline will refuse travelers that do not possess an ESTA, US visa or US passport. By linking the ESTA with the passport, it’s not necessary to print it yourself or keep a digital copy of it.


After it is granted, an ESTA USA is valid for two years, unless the passport that was used during the application expires earlier. When the passport expires, the validity of the linked ESTA immediately expires alongside it. During the validity period of this travel permit a traveler can travel to the United States as often as possible, as long as each stay in the US lasts a maximum of 90 days. Aside from that, there are a number of other limitations that apply to the validity of the ESTA.

Transit to Canada

If you are on a transit to Canada, an eTA can also be required. An eTA Canada is a mandatory travel authorization to travel to Canada without a visa. Read all about the eTA Canada here.