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Do I need a digital passport for ESTA?

All applicants for ESTA must have unexpired, up-to-date, and valid passports. This also applies to children of all ages, including infants. The passport must remain valid for the entire duration of your stay in the United States. You cannot remain in the United States with an expired passport, or you will be in violation of the Visa Waiver Program.
A biometric passport will contain personal data and identifiers which may include fingerprints, date of birth, place of birth, and nationality, amongst others.
In order for your passport to be valid with the Visa Waiver Program requirements, passports issued must be digital, the features of which vary according to when it was issued as follows:
  • If you have a machine readable passport that was issued, renewed, or extended before October 26, 2005, then your passport is eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program.
  • If you have a machine readable passport that was issued, renewed, or extended between October 26, 2005 and October 25, 2006, the passport must possess a digital photo printed directly on to the data page (not attached to it) or an integrated data chip (e-Passport) in the passport. Please refer to the section below on integrated data chips.
  • If you have a passport that is machine readable and that was issued, renewed, or extended on or after October 26, 2006, the passport must have an integrated data chip in the passport (e-Passport). Please refer to the section below on integrated data chips.
  • If you have a non-machine readable passport, you will not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, and you will have to apply for a visa if you wish to travel to the United States using your existing passport. Alternatively, you can update your passport to an e-Passport type to fulfil the passport requirements of the Visa Waiver Program.

What is a machine readable passport?

This kind of passport has an area on the identity page which has been encoded in a format which can be scanned by machines. The encoded data contains the information found on the identity page. This allows for greater data security and helps to prevent identity theft.

How can I tell if my passport has an integrated chip?

Passports with integrated data chips or also called e-Passports, digital passports, or biometric passports. These passports include a data chip that contains personal information found on the identity page that can be read by a machine. Many such passports contained a logo in the shape of a small rectangle and circle on the cover of the passport indicating the presence of a chip, similar to this:
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Temporary and emergency passports.

Temporary and emergency passports must contain an integrated digital chip. It must be noted that German emergency and temporary passports do not meet the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program.
Official and diplomatic passports only have to be machine readable and usable if the trip is not intended for official business. If the trip, on the other hand, is for official business, then a visa must be obtained, and the passport holder will not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program.