ESTA safety questions

The safety questions in the ESTA form

An ESTA can only be granted if all of the safety questions in the ESTA form can be answered with "no". Read on this page which questions are asked. Do you need to answer one or several questions with "yes"? Then you can only travel to the US by applying for a visa at the embassy.

Why so many questions?

The US government has decided to only allowed travellers in through the ESTA program if it can be assumed with a large amount of confidence that they will not present any safety risks. If there is even a slight doubt as to this, the possibility to use an ESTA is immediately denied. There are a relatively large number of safety questions (nine), and these exclude many travellers that are traveling to the USA with the best intentions. For instance, a recent holiday to Iran will make it so an ESTA can never be applied for again.

What do I do if I need to answer "yes" to one of the safety questions?

Submitting an ESTA application is the easiest way to travel to the US, but not the only one. Travellers that are excluded from applying for an ESTA based on the safety questions can still apply for a US visa. Unlike an ESTA application, a visa application is always manually checked by an employee of the US government (usually a consular employee of the embassy). Travellers that have, for instance, travelled to Iran for work can then personally explain to the embassy employee what they did during their trip. If the embassy employee decides that it really did concern a holiday or business trip, and the trip did not have a political motive, then a visa will likely be granted without any problems.

When in doubt: closely read the questions

Travellers that are not sure whether they can meet the safety questions can prematurely choose to travel with a visa instead of an ESTA. However, this can have a number of negative consequences: a visa is more expensive, the processing of a visa application takes longer (usually one to two weeks, compared to minutes/hours for an ESTA), and to acquire a visa the traveller needs to personally go to the embassy, as the US visa procedure cannot be completed online. When in doubt, it is therefore advised to closely read the questions; if you can answer all of the questions with "no" after all, then you save time, money and effort.

When in doubt, closely read the questions: if you can answer all of the questions with "no" after all, then you save time, money and effort.

Question 1: Drug addict, sick or mental illness?

The first ESTA safety question is meant to keep out travellers that could pose a threat because of a physical and/or mental affliction. Take note: persons that are sick or suffer from an illness and do not pose a threat to their environment, can answer the question with "no", and apply for an ESTA. Because hard and soft drugs are a sensitive subject in the USA, all drug addicts are refused entry. Do you occasionally use drugs which are legal in your home country and you are not an addict? Then you can safely answer this question with "no". However, you need to answer "yes" in the following cases:

  • The traveller poses a threat to their environment
  • The traveller is addicted to one or several types of drugs
  • The traveller suffers from serious contagious diseases*

* Including: cholera, contagious tuberculosis, dysentery, poks, yellow fever, viral hemorrhaging fevers such as ebola, lassa, marburg, and/or congo-krim, or acute respitoreal afflictions that are transmittable to others and can cause death.

Question 2: ever arrested or convicted?

The second safety question in the ESTA form also requires some explaining. Many travellers think it is impossible to get an ESTA if they have a criminal record, or have ever received a traffic fine. This is not always the case. The question only needs to be answered with "yes" if the criminal record or fine is the result of an action which led to serious bodily harm or serious material damage. It is then no longer possible to apply for an ESTA. If, for example, a traffic fine was issued for speeding or driving under the influence, and this act did not cause any damage, then it is still possible to acquire an ESTA, and the question can be answered with "no".

Question 3: used, possesed or distributed drugs?

This question ties in to question 1, and concerns drug use, drug possession and distribution of drugs. An ESTA can only be applied for if this is not in any way the case, or if the traveller has followed the law in the country where they were involved with drug use, possession of drugs, or distributing it. Example: A Dutch person who regularly owns and uses weed, but follows Dutch law while doing so, can answer this question with "no".

Question 4: Terrorist, spy or saboteur?

To keep out unwanted persons, each traveller to the USA is asked if they are a terrorist, spy and/or saboteur. Committing genocide also falls under this. If this does not apply, fill in "no".

Question 5: frauded with earlier applications?

Travellers that applied for an ESTA or US visa before, and intentionally filled in wrong information or left out information, will never qualify for an ESTA again, because they need to answer this safety question with "no".

Question 6: Looking for work in the US?

Travellers looking for a paid job in the US cannot travel with an ESTA. This also applies to travellers that have been to the US before and performed paid labour there without having a valid travel visa. Travellers that will work (or have worked) in the US under the employment of an employer outside of the USA, can apply for an ESTA and can answer this question with "no".

Question 7: Application denied before?

This question concerns any previous ESTA applications and US visa application. If any of these have ever been denied by the US immigration service, or if the traveller has retracted them themselves, then this safety question needs to be answered with "yes", and no ESTA will be granted.

Question 8: Ever stayed for too long?

This safety question concerns any previous trips to the US. If it ever occured that the stay in the US was longer than the validity duration of the ESTA used at the time, then this question needs to be answered with "yes".

Question 9: Ever been to Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea, Libya, Sudan, Yemen and/or Somalia?

The US government is very hesitant with allowing any travellers that have been to any of the abovementioned countries; Iraq and Iran in particular are quite sensitive. An ESTA is not granted if after February 2011, the traveller has been in one of these countries, regardless of the reason for this trip. Travellers that have been in one or several of these countries have to be able to explain at the embassy what they were doing there, and might be denied for a visa. Travellers that have ever held the nationality of one of these countries, or were born there, are checked extra strongly. Their ESTA applications are often denied. They cannot apply for an ESTA through this website, but might be able to do so on the website of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency.

Answered all of the questions with "no"?

Then you qualify for an ESTA, although it can never be 100% guaranteed that it will be approved. Start the application procedure on time, so that you are sure you can enter the USA with an ESTA. By filling in the ESTA form well before departure, you still have enough time to apply for a physical visa in case the application is rejected.

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