ESTA USA – the mandatory travel authorisation for the United States

Everyone who wants to travel to America needs a valid travel authorisation. The ESTA is an electronic travel authorisation which can be easily applied for through an online form. Anyone who has an ESTA may travel to the US without a visa.

Are you planning to travel to America soon? When checking in for your flight or cruise, you must show a valid travel authorisation. This applies to every traveller, including children and babies. The easiest way to meet this requirement is to apply for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). The ESTA can be applied for through a digital form and is intended for business trips and holidays of up to 90 days in America. Only travellers with a passport from a country that is a member of the American Visa Waiver Program (including the UK and Ireland) are eligible for an ESTA.

Apply for an ESTA USA here
Temporary restrictions due to COVID-19 in the US

All travellers to the USA must have an ESTA, a visa or a US passport before starting their trip.

Application procedure

It is quite easy to apply for an ESTA. The entire procedure can be completed online. You only need to fill in a digital form and upload an photograph or scan of your passport. Filling out the form takes no more than 10 minutes. The application fee can be paid securely and easily by iDEAL, Bancontact, PayPal, Trustly or by credit card Once the payment has been completed and the image of your passport has been uploaded, your data is transferred to U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. immigration service. An automated system then processes the data entered and checks whether the traveller is known to the Department of Homeland Security databases. This way, the immigration service of the United States is able to keep out known criminals.

Compared to applying for a paper visa, applying for an ESTA is significantly easier and faster. Due to automated checks, an ESTA application is usually processed within 3 days. If no problems occur, the ESTA will be granted within 3 days after submitting the application, often even within one day. Those who require an ESTA within an even shorter period of time also have the option of submitting an urgent application. Urgent applicationsare approved within an hour on average, but in exceptional cases, delays may occur.

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ESTA requirements

There are some conditions for travelling with an ESTA. Most UK and Irish travellers with a valid passport are eligible to apply for an ESTA, but it is still good to read through all the requirements. If you do not meet all the requirements, your ESTA application may be rejected. These requirements apply to travelling with an ESTA:

  • The traveller has a valid biometric passport from one of these countries
  • The stay in the United States does not exceed 90 days
  • Purpose of travel is business or tourism
  • The traveller is not going to live or study in the US
  • The traveller does not enter into an employment relationship in the US
  • The traveller has not been to Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and/or Syria after 1 March 2011
  • The traveller does not pose a threat to the safety or law enforcement of the United States

An approved ESTA is not an absolute guarantee that you will be allowed to travel to the United States. Upon arrival in the US, U.S. Customs and Border Protection checks again whether each traveller has a valid travel authorisation. A customs officer may also choose to subject the traveller to a more thorough inspection. The immigration service always has the right to refuse travellers and send them back to their country of origin. In the vast majority of cases, however, entry is problem-free.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection retains the right to refuse and return persons to their country of origin at any time.

Issuing and verification

The ESTA is a digital travel authorisation which is electronically linked to the traveller's passport. After granting the authorisation you will receive a confirmation in PDF format with all the data provided. However, you do not need to print or save this digitally, as the US immigration authorities and your airline will be able to see from your passport data whether you have a valid ESTA. The airline will already check during check-in whether you have a valid travel authorisation. Is this not the case? Then you will not be allowed to board the plane.

Validity period

An ESTA is valid for 24 months. It starts at the moment of issuance. If your passport expires within the validity period, your ESTA will automatically expire as well. This is because the ESTA is linked to a passport. If you receive a new passport, you will also have to apply for a new ESTA.

Within the 24-month validity period, an unlimited number of trips to the United States are allowed, but each consecutive stay may not exceed 90 days. In addition, travellers should take into account the conditions in the statement signed during the ESTA application.

Transit to Canada

Those planning to travel on to Canada from the United States usually also require an eTA for Canada. Similar to the ESTA for America, the eTA for Canada is also an electronic travel authorisation that allows visa-free travel. Read more about the eTA Canada.