How Long Does an ESTA Application Take?

One of the key benefits of applying for an ESTA instead of applying for a US visa is that the processing time is much faster. The whole process is completed online, which means that the administration elements are much quicker. Generally, an ESTA application will take less than 72 hours to get processed but in many cases, it is much quicker than this, even taking a few minutes in some applications.
Once an ESTA application is submitted, it goes to the Department of Homeland Security to get checked and approved or declined. Like most administration processes, if there is a heavy workload at the time, the processing of the application can be delayed, or technical issues can sometimes affect how quickly an ESTA application gets processed. If the application is straightforward and there are no concerns when Homeland Security screen the applicant, then it is usually gets processed really quickly.
Research into the processing times showed that 92% of applications are approved within 4 hours, with the likelihood of the application taking longer than 24 hours being 5%. So, as you can see the majority of people will have their ESTA approved on the same day they submit their application.
In order to make sure that the application is not unnecessarily delayed, applicants should carefully check through all of the information that they enter into the application form. A small error could cause the application to get delayed, or even declined, so double-checking the information is really important. Other issues that could impact the application include problems regarding the applicant's payment card, which could be that it is not an accepted payment method by the CBP.
If there are any flags raised regarding the eligibility questions, then the ESTA application is likely to be declined by Homeland Security when they cross-check the information provided. However, it may still be possible for the applicant to apply for a visa to enable them to visit the US.

How long does it take to complete an ESTA application?

The actual completing of the application does not take long at all. Most people will be able to fill in all of the required details in the application in less than 20 minutes. As long as the applicant has all of the information that they need, such as their passport number, this should be straightforward.

How does the ESTA work when it is approved?

When an ESTA is approved, the applicant will be sent an email to confirm that it has been approved. The ESTA will then be electronically linked to the applicant’s biometric passport. When they enter the US border, the CBP will then check the passport to see that there is a valid ESTA attached to it.
One of the great benefits of having an ESTA is that it lasts for two years and within that time, you can use it for multiple visits to the US. Therefore, anyone who is worried about not getting the ESTA application approved in time, can apply well in advance of travel plans, knowing that they can travel to the US any time within the two years validity.

Related FAQs


What is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a program administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) which allows citizens of specific countries (to see the full list of countries, click here) to travel to the U.S. under certain conditions without the need to obtain a visa.

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Can children fly with ESTA?

If a child is the citizen of a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Program then they will require a valid ESTA to travel to the United States. This applies to children of all ages, including infants, in the exact same way that adults require an ESTA for permission to enter the US.

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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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