What is ESTA?

An ESTA stands for "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" and is a system introduced by the U.S. Government to improve travel security in relation to persons entering the U.S borders. An ESTA involves providing information that will be assessed to decide whether the applicant is eligible to travel to the USA without the requirement for a visa, under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
You can apply for ESTA online, and the form is straightforward and can be completed in a matter of minutes. Normally the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recommends that you fill in and submit your form at least 72 hours before you are due to start your journey to the USA, but because the system is automated your application is normally processed quickly and is usually reviewed in minutes.
If your application is accepted, the ESTA form grants you an approved authorisation prior travel to the U.S. without a visa. However, authorisation via ESTA does not determine whether you can enter the United States - this will be decided by CBP officers upon your arrival. What ESTA allows for biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions to be collected. It is not a visa, and does not meet the requirements to serve instead of a visa in the U.S.
It is now mandatory for all citizens of VWP countries to obtain ESTA when travelling to or even through the USA by air or sea, provided the trip is for 90 days or less and the purpose of the trip is for business or pleasure. Outside of these parameters, a visa shall be required. The requirement extends to all persons travelling, including children and infants.
Your authorised ESTA is valid for 2 years, and during this period you can make any number of 90-day trips for business or tourism, provided your passport does not expire in this period. Your ESTA will also become invalid if you overstay the 90-day period. Certain changes in your circumstances and personal details can also invalidate your authorisation, including your legal name, citizenship, and criminal record. Some changes might mean that you can no longer travel under ESTA, so you should check it is still valid by reading the relevant information on the website before you travel.

Related FAQs


What is the difference between ESTA and the US visa?

The US visa system has been in place as far back as 1924 for any non-citizen to visit the US. Since then, the system has developed to help control the criteria for immigration to the US and to protect the US workforce...

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Can a third party fill out my ESTA application for me?

Yes, a third party can fill out your ESTA form for you, as it is not compulsory for the person whose name appears on the form to complete the form themselves. It is acceptable for a third party such as a friend, parent, partner or travel agent to fill out all or part of the form on your behalf.

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Can I use my post-dated passport?

If you are a UK citizen and have a post-dated passport that won’t be valid until a certain date (due to name change for example), you will not be able to apply for ESTA, as you need to apply using a passport that is valid at the time the application is submitted. Since a post-dated passport

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