Everything you need to know about ESTA!

Electronic System for Travel Authorisation

ESTA was established by the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). It is an electronic resource available for many citizens that fall under the category of the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). The ESTA was created to increase security measures on those wanting to travel to the US. Applicants of the ESTA are screened and vetted once they have applied and the DHS are able to determine if an applicant is a potential risk to the country or not.

The VWP allows citizens from 38 countries around the world to travel to the US for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The ESTA would also be necessary for a VWP traveller that has a connecting flight involving the United States, even if they have absolutely no intention of leaving the airport. For example, if a traveller was flying from London to Rio de Janeiro, via New York, that traveller would require an ESTA.

Eligibility of ESTA

Not all nationals qualify for the ESTA programme under the VWP. Most notably, you must first align with certain criteria.

E-Passport requirements for ESTA

Since the 1st April, 2016, only those travelling with an electronic passport, or e-Passport, are able to apply for an ESTA. Furthermore, it is essential that the passport holder has to have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page. If a potential traveller has anything other than an e-Passport or possess a passport that does not contain a machine-readable biographic page, they must apply for a conventional visa.

What is an e-Passport?

Electronic passports, or e-Passports can be easily spotted. On the front of your passport, you will see a small internationally recognised symbol which indicates if the passport is electronic or not.

The symbol looks like this:

If you do not see this symbol on the front of your passport, then you do not posses an electronic passport. Therefore, you wou will either have to apply for an electronic passport before you apply for an ESTA, or apply for a nonimmigrant visa to enter the USA. Travellers can apply at the US Embassy or Consulate for a nonimmigrant visa.

Do children require an ESTA?

Yes. Children, no matter their age require an ESTA to travel to the United States. It does not matter if that child is travelling on their own or if they are accompanied by somebody.

If your child is unable to complete the ESTA application, you can complete it for them. Whilst completing the ESTA application on their behalf, you will be presented with a set of options on the ‘Waiver of Rights’ section (here you can click on the second option). By completing the ESTA application on behalf of your child or children, as their legal guardian you must ensure that you answer everything honestly.

Moreover, it is paramount that each and every child has their own valid passport. Those listed on their parent's passport do not qualify for the ESTA programme.

Which countries participate in ESTA programme?

There are currently 38 countries across the globe that participate in the ESTA programme. Notably, the majority of countries that participate in in the VWP are from Europe, with a select few eligible from Oceania, Asia and South America respectively. Any nationals that hold a passport from a country not mentioned below, have to obtain a visa in order to travel to the US.

What are you allowed to do with an ESTA?

Once an ESTA has been granted, the authorised national may travel to the United States as a tourist or to conduct business (as previously mentioned, connecting flights, too). However, with a valid ESTA authorisation that is all that ESTA holders can do.

Unfortunately, if you are hoping to work or study within the US, a visa would be required. The ESTA is strictly intended for those purposes mentioned above.

When should you apply for your ESTA?

The US government recommends that you should apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours prior to departure. 72 hours is mostly a safety guideline, as ESTA applicants usually receive a response in a fraction of that time, generally even within a matter of seconds.

However, a small percentage of applications can take up to 72 hours to be processed.

Therefore, it is advised to apply for your ESTA application at least 72 hours before you visit the US if you want to be absolutely sure that you will be granted authorisation in time for your journey.

Although, the general advice is to conduct your application at least 72 hours prior to departure, applications completed shortly before can still be processed. So, if you have booked a surprise or spontaneous trip, your application may still be granted authorisation.

Where it is possible, always try to complete the application process as soon as possible to avoid any unnecessary complications.

How long is an ESTA valid for?

From the day that an ESTA is granted, it remains valid for two years. Once your ESTA has been approved, you will see the expiration date on the ‘Authorization approved’ screen.

The two year validity of the ESTA depends on certain factors, though. For example, if the passport that the ESTA is assigned to expires, then the ESTA will expire, too. Whenever a passport expires, a new ESTA is required.

The two year validity of ESTA also depends on circumstantial occurrences. If, for example, your country of residence, name or gender were to change, it would be essential to apply for a new ESTA. Moreover, if any of your VWP eligibility questions were to change, then you would have also be required to apply for a new ESTA.

Also, if the ESTA is revoked, it will be invalid from that day.

If your ESTA expires whilst you are in the US, do not panic. This will not affect your departure.

ESTA vs Visa

Time, cost and convenience

The main differences between ESTA and a visa are simple. The ESTA is very easy to obtain and a cheaper alternative to the visa.

With the ESTA, you have to complete one online form, which usually takes around 30 minutes and that’s it. However, with a visa, you have to travel to the Embassy or Consulate, as well as completing various online forms. This can be very time consuming and expensive when you factor in travelling expenses.

When applying for a visa, you often have to provide more detailed documents about yourself. Not to mention, visas tend to last for a shorter amount of time. With the ESTA, you are granted access into the US for two years.

The beauty of ESTA is that applications can be completed in such a short amount of time and you can expect a response within 72 hours. With a visa, responses can take up to a few months.

Obviously, if you’re planning to work or study in the US, you cannot use an ESTA. At this point, you would need to apply for a visa. Additionally, the ESTA is only available for 38 countries. So if you are from a country that does not qualify for the Visa Waiver Programme, you would also require a visa.

Other reasons that you will need to apply for a visa are as followed:

If you’re only planning on travelling to the US for tourism purposes or if you have business matters to attend, for short periods of time in the US, the ESTA is the obvious choice.

Transit in the States - Is ESTA required?

As previously mentioned, anybody that lands in the US requires an ESTA. In airports across the US, there aren’t any transit areas. This means that everybody that lands in the country is seen as entering the country. Therefore, anybody that lands within the US must have an ESTA.

If, for example, you’re flying over the United States, but, not landing there, you will not require an ESTA.

Can 3rd parties apply for my ESTA?

Yes. This is quite common. A third party can apply for your ESTA application on your behalf. They can also pay your application fee. The information submitted is solely your responsibility, though.

Can I enter the US several times with my ESTA?

Yes. Theoretically, you can enter the US as often as you like during the two year validity period that your ESTA allows. However, you may want to restrict the amount of times that you travel to the US, as to not arouse suspicions with the US authorities. Each time that you travel to the US you will need to ensure that you have evidence of your itinerary for the proposed trip. Otherwise, the border authorities may question your activity involving the country.

Do I need an ESTA even though I have a valid travel visa?

My passport was reported stolen - does my ESTA remain valid?

If your passport is recovered, it will no longer be accepted for entry into the United States. Once you have obtained a new passport, you will be required to apply for a new ESTA.

Is an approved ESTA a guaranteed entry into the United States?

A valid ESTA does not guarantee entry into the United States. Approved ESTAs authorise the travel to the United States and allows for entry onto a plane or ship without a visa. The US Customs and Border Protection officers ultimately decide the admissibility of any given person at the ports of entry. Upon arrival, the border officers have the right to decline entry.

What is the I-94-W form, when and why I need to fill this out?

By establishing the ESTA programme, the DHS were able to eradicate the need to fill out an I-94-W form before arriving to the US. The CBP now uses paperless processing methods for those travelling on the Visa Waiver Programme. Most carriers offer the I-94-W in transit. However, this form is available online if you wish to complete it beforehand.

Are there any downsides of entering the US with an ESTA?

There are a few.

For example, you cannot enter the US for more than 90 days. You cannot extend your period in the US over 90 days either. You can’t work or study whilst using an ESTA.

If your ESTA application is denied, you do not have the right to appeal this decision.

If you violate the terms of the ESTA programme, you also have no right to appeal that decision, except on the basis of an application of asylum.

Do I need an ESTA when entering the US from Mexico or Canada?

If you are a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Programme and you want to enter the US by land from Mexico or Canada, an ESTA will not be required. If you do not have an ESTA, you will have to fill out the aforementioned I-94-W form, which will be provided for you in paper. If you already have an ESTA and you’re entering the US from Canada or Mexico, you will not be required to fill out the I-94-W form.

How to obtain ESTA: Step by Step Guide

Where can I apply for my ESTA?

The answer… is right here. At easyESTA we provide a premium service regarding all things ESTA. From offering precise information, to assisting with your application (before and after the process has begun), you can trust us to ensure that we will make the entire process as smooth and unambiguous as possible.

The cost of our service is [ ]

Which data is necessary and which information optional?

Firstly, to start an ESTA application, you must first click on the application that applies to you. If you’re completing an application solely for yourself, select ‘INDIVIDUAL APPLICATION’, if the application is for two or more persons, select ‘GROUP OF APPLICATIONS’. All information fields marked with a red asterix have to be completed. All of the information on the application form has to be entered in English.

Upon accessing the application page, you will be asked to give detailed information about yourself.

Below you will see an example of the kind of information required to complete the application.

Information includes: your biographic information, such as your name; passport information, including your VWP eligibility, as well as other passports you may hold; your current or previous employment history; your address and your US point of contact; emergency contact information and payment method for the application.

There are 9 security questions that must be answered. Everybody planning on travelling to the US must possess a valid ESTA, regardless of their age.

The next step is to review your application. Here, you can check all of the information that you have added about yourself or others and make sure that it is correct before you submit it.

By clicking ‘Next’, you will submit your application. If you need to make any amendments to the ESTA application, you should select “Edit” in the following page, whereby you can make any changes necessary.

Following the submission page, is the “Record Your Application Number” page. The system will provide you with an application number. That is step 6. Take note of this application number.

When checking the status of your ESTA, editing any information or to retrieve your application, you will need the application number. Be aware that an application number does not mean that you have paid for the application yet.

Next, you have to make a payment. “Make Payment” - You must first read through the “Disclaimer’. Then you must click “Pay Now”. From there, you will be taken to the final step in the application process. On the “Pay Now” screen, you must enter your payment details in the fields provided.

Finally, the last step in the application process. “Check Your Application Status” - Usually, you should receive your ‘Check Your Application Status’ immediately. However, there are certain cases whereby this process can be slightly delayed. In these cases, an answer should be with you within 72 hours.

How much does ESTA cost?

Using easyESTA, requesting and submitting an ESTA application costs [ ]

How can I pay for my ESTA?

To pay for the ESTA application, it is essential to possess a credit card/debit card or a PayPal account. The following credit cards/debit cards are accepted: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, and Discover (JCB, Diners Club). Any application that has not explicitly included payment details will not be processed.

How long does it take until I receive my ESTA authorisation?

Once an ESTA application has been processed, applicants can usually expect a response within seconds. There are rare occasions, whereby, applications can require more time to be processed. In these cases, applications can take up to 72 hours to deliver a response.

ESTA Statuses

There are three types of status response

“Authorization Approved”

After checking your application status, if you have received this response, it means you have been authorised entry into the United States via the VWP. There will be confirmation of your application and payment receipt displayed. Remember, even if your ESTA has been approved, it does not guarantee you entry into the United States. The border officials have the decisive say on who can enter the country.

“Travel Not Authorized”

If you receive this response upon checking your ESTA status, you are not authorized to travel to the United States under the VWP. This does not mean that you have been denied entry into the United States altogether. This response only restricts you from travelling under the VWP. You should consider applying for a visa if you still wish to travel to the United States. With this response, you will also receive a payment receipt, whereby you will have been charged for the processing of the application.

“Authorization Pending”

This response means that your application for ESTA authorisation is under review. Do not be alarmed if you receive this response. You will usually find out the final status within 72 hours.

If you receive this response, return to the website and click on “Check ESTA Status”. You will need your passport number, application number and birthdate in order to check the application status.

I have to answer one of the Security Questions with Yes…

If, on the question “Do you have any communicable disease?”

There are a lot of communicable diseases, such as colds and flu. However, those types of diseases are not usually something to consider when entering the US.

Whereas, you should select ‘yes’ if you have one of the following diseases:

Above are the types of communicable disease that the US are referring about. If you answered yes to this question, but, you are cured of the disease, you can change your answer. Note: you should take evidence with you, if this is the case.

Do I need to mention a double citizenship?

Which information do I need to enter if I own two passports?

If you want to travel to the United States using ESTA and you have dual citizenship, apply using your VWP-eligible passport when departing and arriving on US soil. If both of your passports are eligible for VWP, pick one of them to apply for ESTA with and stick with that passport for all future travels to the US. Having more than one ESTA per person can cause difficulties. To avoid any mishaps, stick to one passport.

When completing the ESTA application, if you possess more than one passport, input the information from the most recent document; even if it has expired. Dual citizens that do not possess a second passport must select the country they hold a dual citizenship with. Finally, do not enter any information in the Passport Number field.

Can I apply for an ESTA, even if my travel plans are not set in stone yet?


Whilst applying for your ESTA, it is not essential to have travel plans arranged beforehand. You will, however, be required to a obtain a US point of contact.

You do not require to have the specific details of your trip planned out before your journey, although, ideally it would be more beneficial to have the address where you will be staying before you apply. Before you leave for the United States, you should update this information.

Whilst travelling to the US, you may be intending to travel to numerous locations. Enter the address of the first location that you will be visiting, all other addresses are not required. If you do not have the information required, such as a specific address; you can enter the location you will visit, for example: Miami, San Diego, Maine, etc. Alternatively, you may enter the hotel or accommodation you are staying at.

For those travellers that have connecting flights, or are ‘in transit’, you will be presented with a question on your the Travel Information section; “Is your travel to the US occurring in transit to another country?”, to this question, you will select ‘yes’.

Why does the Government require all of this information?

The Government requires all of this information because of recommendations made after the 9/11 Act was enacted. The recommendations suggested that Department of Homeland Security implemented the ESTA programme, among other procedures, thereby increasing the security of the VWP. By establishing the ESTA programme, the DHS are able to screen applicants before their arrival into the United States. The increased security measures protect the country for potential risks. Therefore, that is why it is required to provide all of this information on the ESTA application; to maintain the security of the United States.

How do I input special characters on my passport, such as umlauts?

If the name on your passport has Umlauts or non-standard English characters in it, for example ä, ö, ü - letters with dots above them or; é, ó, à - letters with diacritic markings, also known as letters with accents above the letter, use the English equivalent spelling of the letter when inputting your name on your ESTA application.

Why should I order from easyESTA?

At easyESTA, we work tirelessly so you don’t have to. We recognise that planning trips to the United States can be very time consuming and expensive. Overall, it can cause a great deal of unnecessary hassle - quite simply, hassle that you could do without. We aim to eliminate some of the burden with a seamless process.

EasyESTA offers a premium service, complete with a highly trained customer service team that will provide expert advice to you at any stage of your ESTA application process. Moreover, if you apply using easyESTA, we will provide support for you in your own language.

Once the ESTA application is complete, we will send the application results to you via email. Additionally, we will send over a PDF of your granted authorisation.

If you input any data incorrectly into the ESTA application, we will provide you with the opportunity to correct those mistakes.

If you apply through easyESTA and your ESTA authorisation is denied, you will receive a full refund.