Can I get an ESTA at the airport?

A common issue that people with travel plans for going to the US encounter is that they are unaware of the need to obtain an ESTA or a visa as travel authorization to enter the US. Sometimes people forget that they require an ESTA, or think that their existing one is still valid. In many cases, this can mean that their booked flights get missed and they need to either reschedule or cancel their travel plans entirely.
However, if you do find yourself in this position, there is still a chance that you could obtain an ESTA whilst you are at the airport. With many ESTA applications, the whole processing time can be completed in just a few minutes, although this is not always the case. The good news is that the ESTA application can be completed using your mobile, so you can apply for it whilst you are at the airport, provided that you have internet connection. The other requirements are:
  • You have a valid biometric passport
  • You have a payment card to pay the application fee
  • You have a valid email address that you can access

How long does it take to submit an ESTA application?

If you have forgotten to apply for your ESTA before you set off for the airport, you can visit the website to send your online ESTA application and fill in all of the details. This usually takes around 10 minutes to provide all of the required information. You will then need t make the application fee payment using a credit or debit card and then provide the email address that the ESTA correspondence should be sent to.
The processing time for an ESTA varies depending on how many are being processed at the time and also whether there are any aspects of the application that could hold the application up. It is very important that the applicant takes great care in filling in the details, as if a mistake is made, the application will usually get declined.
Once you have submitted your application you will need to wait to receive an email that will advise you whether your ESTA has been approved. It is therefore really important that you have good internet connection so that your email comes through as quickly as possible.

What happens when the ESTA is approved?

If your ESTA is approved, it will be automatically electronically linked to your passport and will be ready for you to use to travel to the US. Your ESTA will get checked as you go through the Border Control when you land in the US. It is not possible to board a plane to the US without an ESTA, as the airline will usually check whether you have a valid ESTA attached to your passport and if not, they will not allow you on the plane.
You should have at least six months left on your passport before it expires and if your ESTA is approved it will be valid for two years, or until your passport expires if that is sooner.

Related FAQs


Do I need ESTA to visit the USA?

If you are a citizen of one of the VWP countries and you are travelling to the USA by air or sea using your VWP country passport, you must apply for ESTA, which has been mandatory since 2009. This includes if you are visiting the United States for business, pleasure, or in transit

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Do I need specific travel plans to apply for ESTA?

You do not need specific travel plans when you are applying for an ESTA, you just need to fill in the address where you will be staying. If you’re travelling around the U.S. then you can just write the first place you’re staying at as a point of reference.

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Do I need to apply for an ESTA application if my flight passes through U.S. airspace?

No. As long as the plane you are on is not landing in any continental United States territory you do not require any ESTA authorisation (or visa) as you won’t be passing through U.S. customs and immigration or setting foot on U.S. soil.

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