ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). ESTA became mandatory by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in January 12, 2009. All nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States for 90 days or less for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP will need to receive an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship. For details on the visa waiver program, please see here.
Travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):
- Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
- Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.
When To Apply for ESTA
All Visa Waiver Program travelers are strongly encouraged to apply for ESTA at the time of booking their trip and no later than 72 hours prior to departure. Applicants who apply on the same day of their flight’s departure risk not having an approved ESTA prior to their scheduled departure. International travelers without an approved ESTA will not be authorized to board their flight.
All Visa Waiver Program travelers must pay the $14 ESTA fees when applying for ESTA. The fees are collected when travelers apply for the ESTA online.
Note: VWP travelers should be aware that unauthorized third-parties have established Web sites, which charge additional fees for information about ESTA and for submitting ESTA applications to DHS on behalf of the traveler. These businesses and Web sites are not endorsed by, associated with, or affiliated in any way with DHS or the United States Government. Use of a private service to apply for travel authorization via ESTA will not expedite the granting of approval.
Once approved, authorizations are generally valid for multiple entries into the U.S. for up to two years or until the applicant’s passport expires whichever comes first. If you have acquired a new passport or have had a change in name, gender, or citizenship, or if the answers to any of the “yes or no” ESTA questions have changed, a new application must be submitted. Travelers with an approved ESTA do not need to pay the ESTA fees when updating non-critical information on an ESTA application. However, travelers with new passports and re-applying for an ESTA need to pay the ESTA fees.
Visitors traveling to the United States are required to be in possession of passports that are valid for six months beyond the period of their intended stay. Citizens of the countries listed on the Six-Month Club Update (PDF 21KB) , including Japanese nationals, are exempt from the six-month rule and need only have a passport valid for their intended period of stay.
Inquiries on ESTA
The Embassy is not able to check the status of an ESTA application or provide details about ESTA denials or resolve the issue caused by the ESTA denial. Travelers with general questions regarding the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, ESTA, can find answers to frequently asked questions on the Customs and Border Protection website at https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/list/kw/esta/. Travelers may also contact the Travel Communications Center by calling 1-202-325-5120 or submit an inquiry online at CBP info Center. The Travel communications Center is available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week.
Important Notes about applying for ESTA:
- The average time to fill out an ESTA application is 23 minutes.
- To avoid mistakes, it is recommended to use a computer instead of a smartphone or a tablet.
- Make sure to enter all information correctly. If you make a mistake on your ESTA application and the ESTA is denied, you will be required to come to the Embassy or Consulate for a visa interview.
- DHS Announces Further Travel Restrictions for the Visa Waiver Program (February 18, 2016)
- United States Begins Implementation Of Changes To The Visa Waiver Program (January 21, 2016)
- News Release: DHS, CBP Announce Interim Final Rule For ESTA Fee (August 6, 2010)
- ESTA information on CBP.gov