ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program: What You Need to Know

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a program managed by the United States government specifically for travelers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows citizens of designated countries to travel to the U.S. for tourism, business, or transit for up to 90 days without needing a visa. However, these travelers must obtain ESTA approval before their journey.

ESTA Application Process

  1. Eligibility Check:
    Ensure you are a citizen of a VWP country. As of 2023, there are 40 countries under the VWP, including the United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, and Australia.
  2. Gather Required Information:
    Before starting the application, gather your passport, travel details, and personal information. You will need your passport number, its issuance and expiration dates, details of your travel itinerary, and addresses of your accommodation in the U.S.
  3. Application Submission:

Online Form: Complete the application online through the official ESTA website. The form includes sections on personal information (name, birth date, nationality), passport details, travel information, and a series of eligibility questions.
Security and Health Questions: Answer questions regarding criminal history, communicable diseases, past visa denials, and other security-related topics.
Payment: After completing the application form, pay a non-refundable fee of $21 (as of 2024) using a credit or debit card.

  1. Review and Submit:
    Review all the information for accuracy before applying. Any errors can cause delays or denial of the authorization.
  2. Processing Time:
    Most applications are processed within minutes, but it can take up to 72 hours. It’s recommended to apply at least 72 hours before your travel.
  3. Receive ESTA Authorization:
    Once approved, you will receive an email notification. The ESTA is electronically linked to your passport and remains valid for two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.

What You Need to Know About ESTA

Validity and Usage:

An approved ESTA is valid for two years or until the passport expires.
It allows multiple entries into the U.S. within its validity period, provided each stay does not exceed 90 days.
Changes in personal circumstances (like a name change) or answers to eligibility questions may require a new application.

Travel Requirements:

You must have a return or onward ticket.
Ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay in the U.S.
Airlines usually check ESTA approval before allowing you to board a flight to the U.S.

Reasons for ESTA Denial:

Incorrect or incomplete information in the application.
Travel to certain countries (like Iraq, Syria, Iran, and Sudan) after March 1, 2011, can affect eligibility.
Previous denial of a U.S. visa or an overstayed trip in the U.S. under the VWP.

What to Do if Denied:

If your ESTA application is denied, you must apply for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate.
There is no appeal process for ESTA denials.

Travelers Exempt from ESTA:

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda typically do not need an ESTA for short visits.
Travelers with valid U.S. visas are not required to apply for an ESTA.

Data Privacy and Security:

The information provided in the ESTA application is used by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for security screening.
Personal data is protected under U.S. privacy laws, though it is shared among relevant U.S. government agencies for security purposes.

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. When should I apply for ESTA?
    It is recommended to apply as soon as you begin planning your trip to the U.S. and at least 72 hours before departure.
  2. Can I update my ESTA information?
    You can update certain details like your email address and U.S. destination address, but core information such as your passport number and personal details cannot be changed. If these change, a new application is required.
  3. How do I check my ESTA status?
    You can check your ESTA status on the official ESTA website using your application number, passport number, and date of birth.
  4. What happens if my ESTA expires while I’m in the U.S.?
    As long as you enter the U.S. with a valid ESTA, you can stay for up to 90 days, even if the ESTA expires during your visit.
  5. Do children need an ESTA?
    Yes, all travelers, including infants and children, require an approved ESTA to enter the U.S. under the VWP.
  6. How does ESTA differ from a visa?
    ESTA is not a visa. It is a travel authorization for eligible travelers under the VWP. It is quicker and easier to obtain than a visa but does not provide the same rights and protections. If denied, you must apply for a traditional visa.
  7. Can I travel to the U.S. for work with an ESTA?
    ESTA only permits travel for tourism, business meetings, or transit. It does not allow for employment or long-term study. For these purposes, you would need a different type of visa.


The ESTA application process is designed to facilitate secure and efficient travel for eligible visitors to the United States. By understanding the eligibility requirements, preparing necessary documentation, and following the application process carefully, travelers can ensure a smooth entry into the U.S. It is crucial to stay informed about the details and updates related to ESTA to avoid any travel disruptions.