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The Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) programme allows citizens from participating countries to travel to the U.S. as non-immigrants for business, tourism, transit and medical purposes. Travellers arriving into the U.S. under the VWP are permitted to stay up to 90 days per visit and not required to obtain other travel authorisations, such as a U.S. visa. There are currently 39 countries that participate in the VWP.
Individuals travelling under the VWP agree to waive their rights to review or appeal. Thus, obtaining an approved ESTA does not guarantee a traveller entry into the Untied States.
ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. ESTA is an online application system developed by the United States government to pre-screen travellers before they are allowed to board an airplane or ship bound for the United States. Starting on January 12, 2009, any person entering the United States under the visa waiver programme is required to hold an approved ESTA. Foreign nationals who are not eligible to ESTA or who have been denied an ESTA, will need to apply for a U.S. visa.
You can use this website to submit your ESTA application. The following information is required to submit the form:
Once you’ve entered the required information, your application to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Programme is processed by the system. Your application may take up 72 hours to process, however most applications are approved within minutes or a few hours. If your authorisation is approved, you will be cleared to board the air or sea carrier for the United States.
You will be eligible to apply for admission under the Visa Waiver Programme (Visa Waiver Programme) if;
[Department of Homeland Security – Customs and Border Protection - ESTA]
All travellers entering the United States (by air or sea) under the visa waiver programme are required to hold a valid ESTA travel authorisation. The purpose of ESTA is to enable the US Department of Homeland Security to pre-screen all Visa Waiver Travellers before they leave their respective countries. U.S.-bound travellers are recommended to apply for a Travel Authorisation at least 72 hours prior to departure.
Each individual who does not have a visa and is planning on travelling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme must have a pre-approved travel authorisation, this includes infants and children. The authorisation needs to be obtained before travelling and is required regardless of whether that travel is via air or sea. It is admissible for a third party to submit an application on behalf of a traveller.
The full conditions on an ESTA are:
Unless revoked, travel authorisations are valid for two years from the date of authorisation, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. However, an ESTA can also be revoked or overwritten by the applicant when resubmitting a new ESTA application. Your travel authorisation will also automatically terminate when your passport expires before the end of the two-year period when the travel authorisation was issued.
An approved travel authorisation only allows you to travel to the U.S. it does not guarantee your entry. Admission is determined by a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer, who will review your passport and ask you questions regarding your visit upon your arrival in the United States. The officer will then establish if you may enter based upon your admissibility under the Visa Waiver Programme, and U.S. Laws.
If your electronic travel authorisation is approved, this approval establishes that you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme, but does not guarantee that you are admissible to the United States. Upon arrival in the United States you will be inspected by a Customs and Border Protection officer at a port of entry who may determine that you are inadmissible under the Visa Waiver Programme or for any reason under United States law.
No, an ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a United States visa when a visa is required under United States law. Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued. Also, individuals travelling on valid U.S. visas are not required to apply for an ESTA.
Furthermore, an ESTA will not be recognised in place of either a non-immigrant or immigrant visa. If you hold a valid visa, you can travel to the U.S. under that visa and there is no need to apply for an additional travel authorisation.
Eligible nationals or citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Programme require either an ESTA or a visa to transit through the United States. If a traveller is only planning to transit through the United States en-route to another country, when he or she completes the travel authorisation application, the traveller should select the option that their visit is for "Transit" purposes for the "Address While In The United States" field on the application.
If an ESTA application is denied and the traveller wishes to continue with the trip, the traveller will be required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa by completing a DS-160 form as well as attend an interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Any individual who is a citizen or national in one of the participating countries can apply for entry under the VWP. The following is a list of eligibility requirements:
The passport needs to contain a digital chip with a digital photograph of the passport holder. This digital chip carries unique identifiers about the passport holder. A dedicated readable area must also be present in the personal information section. This is identified by the two lines of text with numbers and chevrons (<<<) at the bottom of that page.
Note: Only full British Citizens are eligible to apply for an ESTA. British Subject, British Dependent Territories Citizen, British Overseas Citizen, British National (overseas) Citizen or British Protected Person are not eligible to travel to the U.S. under the VWP and will require a U.S. visa.
Because you waive your right to review and appeal under the VWP, the following conditions are to be noted:
Your status as a non-immigrant is not changeable once you are given entry into the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Programme.
If you are denied entry into the U.S., you will need to return to your home country or a third country. You will be deported via the same carrier you used to travel to the U.S.
No. An ESTA is a visa waiver and the United States does not offer "electronic visas". An ESTA differs from a U.S. visa in that the visa requirements, for example for the B1 and B2 visas, are multifaceted and require an interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy. The ESTA does not require as much information prior to travel nor an embassy interview, whereas the application for a visa is accompanied by specific personal information as well as information regarding the applicant’s travel plans and more comprehensive information on an individual's employment, immigration and other personal history. Visa Waiver programme participants are not subject to these questions when applying for a travel authorisation and there are no plans to include DS-160 questions on the ESTA form.
A travel authorisation application should be submitted weeks or months before the date of travel. Applications are accepted any time before travelling to the U.S. and once approved, an authorisation will last for a 2-year period, or the date of passport expiry, whichever comes first.
Yes, pre-booked or detailed U.S. travel plans are not required to complete the ESTA application.
No. Each individual travelling on the Visa Waiver Programme must travel on the passport they originally used to obtain their approved authorisation. It’s important to note that if the traveller is in need of a new passport, a new travel authorisation application must be submitted to ESTA and a new fee will be charged for each new application. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your passport is current and will last the duration of your planned stay.
No, it’s no longer necessary. With the introduction of the ESTA, the process has been streamlined, allowing the DHS to do away with the formalities of filling out I-94W forms for Visa Waiver Programme travellers. The now paperless process allows many carriers the ability to validate messages and applications directly related to the applicant’s ESTA status. Thus, it stands to reason that I-94W departure coupons are no longer being given to individual’s travelling under the Visa Waiver Programme with a previously approved travel authorisation, unless the traveller is arriving to the U.S. by land.
The ESTA enables DHS to determine traveller admissibility to travel to the U.S. under the VWP. An approved ESTA does not guarantee entry into the United States as entry is determined by Customs and Border Protection officers. Without an approved ESTA or visa, a traveller will not be allowed entry into the United States.
Information regarding U.S. visa categories and requirements can be found by visiting the following link:
Here is a summary of each of those steps for a clearer understanding of how to complete the application process:
Fill out and complete your application online
You will need to supply information on:
If you are making a group application, please be sure to fill out an application for each individual who will be travelling to the United States. This includes infants and children. Each individual who wishes to travel to the U.S. under the VWP is required to have an approved travel authorisation.
Double check your details, especially your passport information.
Submit your application
Send your application after ensuring that your answers are correct. If you need to make a correction, you can go back to the application by choosing the previous button BEFORE submitting your application.
Take note of your application number and store it somewhere you’ll remember it
Your application number will come in handy at a later stage if you need to check your application status or to update your application details. Along with your application number, you will need to supply your passport number and date of birth to access this information.
Make your payment
Again, be sure to check your information before making payment as there are certain data fields you will NOT be able to change post-payment submission. You have up to 7 days to make your payment after initiating your application whether your application is a single application or a group application.
To make your payment, simply enter the required credit card information. Payment is required for processing the application, and then upon acceptance and approval of your travel authorisation, a fee is required to process each application.
You’re likely receive your application status within a few minutes or hours of submission; otherwise you may need to wait up to 72 hours to receive an update. The system will automatically issue you information that you can use to check your application status in the event that your status has come back with a pending notification.
You can receive one of the following three responses to your application:
If you receive this message it means that you can now travel to the U.S. using your approved travel authorisation under the VWP. You will receive confirmation of the application approval and your payment receipt. Please note that this still does not guarantee your entry into the U.S.
You have not received authorisation to travel to the U.S. under the VWP. However, a denied ESTA application does not necessarily mean you cannot enter the U.S. If you still wish to travel to the U.S. you will need to obtain a visa. You can find more information on visa categories and their use by visiting www.travel.state.gov.
If you receive this status you may need to wait up to 72 hours to receive a decision. You can stay updated by checking your ESTA status using your previously stored application number, passport number and date of birth.
9/11 was the catalyst to many changes within the travel industry and that includes the Visa Waiver Programme. Since then the VWP has had to adapt and enhance its security measures in order to effectively screen out security risks even before they travel to the United States. In 2016 and again in 2019, the ESTA underwent changes to enhance the security screening capabilities and detect traveller threats before they are allowed to enter the United States.
Here is some guidance pertaining to the security questions.
You will be asked a question regarding your mental/physical healthy, whether you have drug-related problems or if you have any one or more of the following diseases:
Contagious diseases which could massively impact the Public Health include those mentioned above.
You should answer “yes” to the question pertaining to physical or mental disorders if:
You should answer “no” to the question pertaining to physical or mental disorders if:
Drug Abusers and Drug Addicts
It’s possible that an individual found to be a drug abuser or addict may not be a plausible candidate for travel to the U.S. You will need to answer this question carefully and honestly.
Consult the following resources for a clearer understanding on the topic:
You will be asked a question regarding whether you’ve ever been arrested or convicted of a crime which led to serious damage to property, or grave harm to another person or government authority.
This generally points to such offences that are morally depraved, vile, and corrupt and goes against all socially accepted behaviour, morals, and values.
The age of the offender and the date on which the offence took place could possibly play a role in whether the offence is considered a crime with regards to the above-mentioned elements.
You will be asked the question regarding to law violations related to drug use, possession and distribution.
Consult the following resources for a clearer understanding on the topics:
There is no need to print out your travel authorisation, as the system is fully electronic and your air or sea carrier will be able to obtain your ESTA status information from the DHS. It might be a good idea to print out a copy of your approved authorisation so as to have confirmation on hand and to keep a record of your application number.
We have implemented security technology to ensure the privacy of all data and other vital information on the website. The website operates within full observance of the international regulations of the Standard Payment Card Industry – Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) laid down by the main credit companies for protecting their clients' personal information.
Here are the possible scenarios which would require a new travel authorisation:
It’s not necessary as it’s only required to hold a valid travel authorisation upon arrival and for entry into the United States.
Enter the most current information for your extra passport, even if it has expired. If you do not own a passport for the Non-VWP country, then leave the passport field blank after choosing the country from the drop-down menu.
No, every mandatory field is required and you will not be allowed to submit your application with blank fields. Incorrect information won’t necessary result in a denial of an application, but may require extra time to process before a decision can be reached for your ESTA application.
Your employment info helps to establish that you are not planning on entering the United States as an immigrant and provides evidence of your intention of returning to your country of origin.
Before payment is made and the process is finalised, you can update all information with exception to the passport number and passport issuing country. To make changes to these two fields, you will have to start a new application and pay the fees associated with the application.
If payment has already been made, you can only update the following:
If the passport on which you based your travel authorisation application has changed for whatever reason, you will have to begin the application process for a new travel authorisation. Please note that application fees are payable on the new application.
There are a number of other details you can update on your application without applying for an authorisation. Take a look at the list here.
All applicants are given an opportunity to review the information they supply and to ensure that it is 100% correct before submitting the application. You will be asked to reconfirm your passport number as well. You can still make changes before making payment. This includes all data except the passport number and passport issuing country, so it’s vital to ensure that this information is correct.
If you’ve made a mistake on your application regarding your passport and biographical information, you will need to start a new application. This new application is subject to the application fees.
For more information on fixing mistakes on your ESTA, please see the following link: Fix a mistake on ESTA Form
You can still make changes provided the application has not yet been processed. If you have already made a payment, you will have to begin the application process again. You will be required to pay the fee for the new application.
You can make changes to your application by clicking on the “retrieve application” option on the homepage. Once you’ve clicked on this option, you’ll notice that it takes you to a new screen where you can choose between retrieving a single application or a group of applications.
You will need the following information to retrieve a single application:
When you have entered the information after being prompted, you can select continue to go on to your application page.
You will need the following information to retrieve a group application:
Once all the information has been entered, you can go on to access the group application.
There is a fee for both the processing of the application as well as the authorisation of the application.
Processing Fee: there is a fee payable upon submitting the application for processing. Note that each new application requires a new fee; however, more than one application can be paid using a single payment.
Authorisation Fee: There is a fee payable upon approval of your submitted application. You will receive authorisation to travel to the U.S. once your application is approved and an extra approval fee will be added to the credit card payment. Note that this payment is only payable if your application is approved.
ESTA applications will be not processed without a valid payment method. All payments are to be made using one of the following credit or debit cards:
Yes, the ESTA makes allows group applications that can be paid using one payment method and one transaction. Group applications are applications which have two, or more, applicants applying at the same time. However, applying as a group does not mean that individuals in the group must travel together.
The total amount of applications you can submit per single payment is 50.
Yes, for both single and group payments, you can apply now and make your payment within 7 days of application being created in the system. After 7 days, your access to your application will expire and you will have to recreate your application or group applications.
Yes. The ESTA system does not retain any credit or debit card information. Your payment details are processed in observance of the international regulations of the Standard Payment Card Industry – Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS).
No, after application submission, the status of each application will be determined individually and you will be notified of their status within the 72-hour processing window. The authorisation payment amount will be allocated once all the applications have been worked through and they have a status of either "Approved" or "Travel Not Authorised".
You will need the following information on hand:
After completing your first application, you can add a new application or add an unpaid application by clicking the respective options for those two choices.
The information to the ESTA submitted by applicants can only be accessed by those who are required to deal with it. All data is strictly controlled and the standards of security are privy to the industry standards found in similar screening programmes for travellers.
Data provided by travellers applying for an ESTA is not shared and remains within rules set out by the Privacy Act System of Records Notice and these regulations can be found on the DHS website. There are a few instances where data may be shared outside of the ESTA framework. These instances include:
Air and sea carriers will have access to your ESTA application status. However, they receive no personal information other than that directly pertaining to the travel authorisation.
Generally, the information remains active for as long as your travel authorisation is active, which is a period of two years. This can be shorter if your travel authorisation expires sooner than expected for any reason, for example, your passport expires before the official expiry date of your travel authorisation, whereby your ESTA will automatically expire along with your passport.
After your Travel authorisation has expired, the DHS will hold onto the data for a further year.
After this period, your information will then be archived for a further twelve years.
Data being used for the following reasons will be kept for the span of the activities they are in use for:
ESTA data that is provided to replace the I-94W form and its data will be held for the duration of 75 years.
All data is archived after expiry of the travel authorisation. This is to ensure the availability of the information so that it can be recovered should it be needed for national security, investigation, and other related law enforcement purposes.
There is limited access to the data after it has been archived and it will be recalled only for the purposes mentioned above.
If you still wish to travel even though your application was denied, then you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa. You can visit www.travel.state.gov for more information on how to go about applying for the appropriate visa. Luckily, in this situation, a denial of a travel visa through ESTA does not automatically revoke your eligibility to apply for a visa. If your ESTA application is not approved, the matter cannot be brought before a court in order to reconsider.
If your application has been denied, it’s highly unlikely that it will be approved the second time around if your circumstance have not changed since the date of the first application. Travellers who have not qualified for ESTA are not qualified to travel under the Visa Waiver Programme, thus they will have to apply for a non-immigrant visa through their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
It is vital to note that re-applying with different or fake information in a bid to meet the requirements for a travel authorisation will permanently disqualify the traveller for approval to go to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Programme.
You can make a request for redress online at the DHS Travel Redress Inquiry programme website. However, because the ESTA programme has been formed in such a way so that only individuals who are not qualified to travel under the VWP, or whose travel to the U.S. would be a security risk, aren’t issued a travel authorisation, there are simply no guarantees that you request will be successful.
Embassies and Consulates cannot give you any information, nor resolve issues regarding your denied travel authorisation.
The availability of next-day appointments simply cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, it’s imperative to apply for an ESTA approval well ahead of time. The suggested minimum is 72 hours before travel departure, however, to be on the safe side, applicants should apply weeks or months in advance. You can get more information about the visa appointment process at your nearest consular, or at www.travel.state.gov.
You can navigate to the Retrieve Application Page where you’ll find a button for retrieving one application. You can use this option to access any individual application even when the group is locked.
An ESTA visa waiver is required for tourism, business or transit travel of less than 90 days.. Failure to obtain an ESTA can lead to denial of entry at the border and a large fine. It is advised to apply as soon as possible.