ESTA: Entry Requirments for the US

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There are a number of requirements for the ESTA application. These are based on a number of factors, such as your nationality, health status, and criminal record. These factors should be taken into consideration when applying for ESTA, as if you are not approved you will need to apply for a standard visa when entering the country.

Requirements for Travel

  • Limit to stay in the US with ESTA: You must not stay in the US for 90 days or longer
  • Purposes of visit: Your visit should be for business or tourism (or one of the other reasons detailed below)

    Business travel includes – meeting potential clients or business associates. Tourism travel includes – visiting family, going on vacation, sightseeing etc.

    Other types of travel:
  • To attend professional events such as a business convention or short term training
  • To attend social events such as amateur sports or music competitions/meetings
  • For recreation, which includes a short recreational course, such as a cooking class (not an academic course that gains points)

Passport Requirements

  • To be eligible for an ESTA you must have a passport from a country within the Visa Waiver Program. These countries currently are:
    • Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom.

Countries may be added to or removed from the Visa Waiver Program countries, if the US government decides to do so.

  • You must have an electronic, biometric passport (e-passport), which should be valid when you depart to the US. Your passport must have an electronic chip in it, which contains your biometric data.
  • Your ESTA must be valid when you arrive in the US, you will not be able to renew your ESTA while in the US and you are not required to but it is important that you do not overstay the 90 days limit from the day that you entered the US

Requirements for Your ESTA Application

  • Your application must be completed online, by filling in the digital ESTA application form
  • You are advised to submit your ESTA application at least 72 hours prior to your departure for the US, to allow for the processing time. However, you should take into consideration whether there could be current delays with processing and allow more time if you think there may be any issues with your application. For example, any health conditions or criminal convictions could result in the application being refused, so the applicant might need to apply for a visa instead, which takes considerably longer.

Additional Requirements

Return tickets – If you are flying or sailing to the US, you must also have a return ticket for your journey to show when you are leaving the US. The US border agents will ask to see your return ticket.

If you are entering the US by land, then you must have a form I-94W.

What to do if ESTA is Refused

If you do not match the eligibility requirements for an ESTA, your application will be refused, so it is worth checking the information to see if you are eligible before paying the ESTA application fee (which you will not get refunded). If you have made a mistake on your ESTA application, you may be able to submit another application but you will be required to pay the application fee again.

Reasons for ESTA Ineligibility

You may get refused an ESTA due to one of the following reasons:

  • You have previously been arrested and/or have a criminal record
  • You have been refused entry to, or deported from, the US
  • You have a certain communicable disease
  • You have overstayed the limit on a visa or ESTA previously
  • You have visited any of the following countries since March 2011 – Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen
  • You have dual nationality including one of any of the following countries – Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan or Syria.

If you receive an email to confirm that your ESTA has been refused, then you may still be able to visit the US but would require a visa for your visit. To apply for a US visa, you will be required to attend an interview at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country and provide certain documents as required, depending on the reason for your refusal. The visa application fee for the majority of non-immigrant US visas (including tourist, business, student) is currently $160.

FAQ

When you apply for ESTA, there are a number of questions that will determine eligibility, such as country of citizenship to ensure you are the citizen of a country that is a member of the visa waiver programme. There is a specific section containing eligibility questions which include questions related to drug use, diseases, criminal convictions, terrorist activity, fraud and travel to high risk countries.
Before 2020, social media information was optional on the ESTA application but it is now mandatory. Therefore, it is important that you include your social media usernames are provided, as failing to give the correct information on your ESTA application can result in it being declined.
You do not have to upload your passport for ESTA but you have the option to do so. If you upload a picture of your passport, the biographic information will be automatically added to the ESTA form to save time.
Only citizens from visa waiver countries qualify for ESTA and the travel purposes must be for tourism, business, medical or transit purposes. Anyone travelling to the US for other purposes, such as studying or working would require the relevant visa instead of an ESTA. The ESTA is only available for travelers who are visiting the US for less than 90 days in total, for trips that are longer than this, a visa would be required instead.
An ESTA is required for travelers of all ages, from birth onwards. If you are traveling to the US with a child, you must have an ESTA for them. Parents and legal guardians should complete the ESTA application form on behalf of children.
An ESTA is required if you are in transit in the United States, for example if you are changing flights in the US before traveling to a different country. Even if you do not leave the airport, you are still required to have an ESTA as you are entering the US. The ESTA is a way of monitoring travelers to help protect US citizens and plane passengers entering the US.
If you need to apply for an ESTA again because your first application is declined, you must wait 24 hours after the result before you apply again. It is quite common for people to make mistakes on their ESTA application that results in getting their application declined. Therefore, it is important to check over your ESTA application before you submit it and correct any errors that you see. You will have to pay the application fee again if you send another application.
If you are applying for another ESTA because your existing one has expired, you will need to complete the full ESTA application form again, there is no way you can just renew your previous ESTA. If your passport has expired that your ESTA was linked to, your ESTA will also be expired and you will need to complete a new ESTA application.