ESTA

ESTA USA - the mandatory travel authorisation for the USA

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

Travellers 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. Travellers 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 travellers who are only on a transit through the US.

ESTA USA Application
Temporary restrictions due to coronavirus in the USA

All travellers to the USA 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 traveller poses a possible threat to the safety and law enforcement of the USA. This happens based off of the answers given in the ESTA application form, and by cross-referencing the name of the traveller with the blacklists of the Department of Homeland Security.

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

American flag

ESTA requirements

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

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

If an ESTA is granted, this means that the traveller is allowed to board a plane or boat headed for the US. A final decision on the admissibility of the traveller is taken by the customs officer of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, which only happens once the traveller 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 traveller. Airlines flying to the United States have insight into who has been issued an ESTA travel authorisation. During boarding of flights to the United States, the airline will refuse travellers that do not possess an ESTA, US visa or US passport. By linking the ESTA with the passport, it is not necessary to print it yourself or keep a digital copy of it.

Validity

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 authorisation, a traveller can travel to the United States as often as possible, as long as each stay in the US lasts for 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 authorisation to travel to Canada without a visa. Read all about the eTA Canada here.