The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) permits qualifying individuals to travel to the United States for approved reasons. Regulated by the Department of Homeland Security, there is a series of requirements those wishing to travel under the Visa Waiver Program must meet in order to qualify. The full list of ESTA requirements are as follows:

Eligibility Requirements

  • The applicant must be from a qualifying country which is covered by the Visa Waiver Program. This includes Australia, Belgium, France, Germany, Ireland, New Zealand, Singapore, Spain, the United Kingdom, and others. For a full list of qualifying countries, visit our homepage.
  • The applicant is required to hold a valid passport. Furthermore, the passport must be valid for the duration of the intended stay and must not be due to expire before the scheduled return date.
  • The passport must be an e-Passport that contains a functioning digital chip.
  • The passport must also be capable of being successfully read digitally using a machine. To check whether a passport is an e-Passport, inspect the front cover: those enabled with electronic chips will bear the universal e-Passport symbol on the lower half of the document’s cover. Without it, travellers will be denied boarding at the airport and will not be permitted to travel to the US.

 

Machine Readable Passport

 

Travel Restrictions and Approved Duration

  • ESTA is specifically for those who are visiting the United States for a period of less than 90 days. Those who wish to stay longer or become permanent residents will need to investigate visa alternatives.
  • Accepted reasons for travel include pleasure (such as tourism or visiting family), professional events, medical appointments, or short periods of study which do not award official credit or end in the rewarding of an official degree. Conversely, those wishing to study at a college or university will be required to pursue an alternative visa.
  • Although the ESTA does not grant travellers work rights within the country, travel for the purposes of negotiating contracts, consulting with business contacts, and meeting with possible clients all fall within the ESTA’s parameters. However, those wishing to seek employment within the country will be required to explore other options.

Application Process

  • ESTA must be applied for online through the official website, via a travel agency or a third-party processing company.
  • Generally speaking, applicants are required to show proof of funds. This confirms they are able to cover themselves financially for the duration of the trip.
  • The application is brief and generally takes around twenty minutes to complete. After paying the mandated $14 USD processing fee (which may be up to $90 if you use a third-party), the application will likely be processed quickly.
  • Although the application process is often instant, American travel authorities ask that applicants apply at least 72 hours before the flight is scheduled to depart. This way, there’s time to remedy problems should there be any delays.

Arrival Restrictions

  • Whether travelling by plane or boat, those travelling with the ESTA will be required to have a pre-purchased onward ticket before entering the US. This may be either the applicants home country or any other non-US destination.
  • Travellers are required to keep proof of an onward ticked on their person at all times during travel should an authority or border agent request it for verification.
  • When entering through Canada or Mexico by a land border, additional paperwork is necessary. At the border, travellers are required to present a filled-out I-94W form.

Reasons for Ineligibility

  • In some cases, even if an individual meets the above requirements, they may be ineligible. For example, those who have criminal records, those who have been arrested, those who have contracted certain specified diseases, those who have ever abused a visa and those who have ever been deported from the US in the past will likely be deemed ineligible.
  • Additionally, those who are shown to have visited the countries of Iran, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia or Sudan on or after March 1, 2011 may be denied.
  • Lastly, Individuals with dual nationality from Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria are also barred from qualifying to travel under the Visa Waiver Program.
Passports

If you fail to meet one or all of the above listed criteria, you may still have options. To explore alternative authorization processes for your travel plans, consider researching and applying for an appropriate visa.

Likewise, if you plan to remain in the US for longer than the ESTA’s restricted time period, pursue a degree, or become employed in any way within the country, you are required to seek out alternate travel authorization options.

Lastly, those who apply for the ESTA and are rejected are still permitted to apply for alternate visas. Those who receive notice of an ESTA refusal are generally given instructions or resources regarding next steps and other possibilities.