Visa Waiver Program

Electronic System for Travel Authorization

What is ESTA and how does it affect my travels to the United States?

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

ESTA approval authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the United States under the VWP.  Private carriers must be a signatory visa waiver program carrier. See list of Signatory Carriers (PDF 141 KB).  While CBP recommends that you apply at least 72 hours before travel, you may apply any time prior to boarding. In most cases, a response is received within seconds of submitting an application.

ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet the legal requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa when a visa is required. Travelers that possess a valid U.S. visa may travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose it was issued. Travelers traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for an ESTA. In the same way that a valid visa does not guarantee admission to the United States, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admission to the United States, nor is a U.S. visa.

ESTA became mandatory January 12, 2009. VWP applicants are required to complete a blue Customs declaration upon arrival in the U.S. whether or not they have an ESTA authorization.  VWP travelers are no longer required to complete the green I-94W card.

Approved ESTA applications are valid for a period of two years, or until the passport expires, whichever comes first, and multiple trips to the United States without the traveler having to re-apply for another ESTA. When traveling to the U.S. with the approved ESTA, you may only stay for up to 90 days at a time – and there should be a reasonable amount of time between visits so that the CBP Officer does not think you are trying to live here. There is no set requirement for how long you must wait between visits.

Travelers whose ESTA applications are approved, but whose passports will expire in less than two years, will receive an ESTA valid until the passport’s expiration date.

A new ESTA authorization is required if:

  • You are issued a new passport
  • You change your name (first and/or last)
  • You change your gender (ESTA does not currently have a gender X to choose from on the application. It is suggested that the traveler choose whichever choice they feel most comfortable with. ESTA will not be denied solely on the gender chosen on the application. )
  • Your country of citizenship changes
  • Your circumstances change, e.g., you are convicted of a crime of moral turpitude or you develop a contagious disease. Such a change may require you to get a visa to travel to the U.S. You must re-apply and your application must reflect the change in your circumstances or you may be denied entry upon arrival in the United States.

DHS recommends that you apply for ESTA authorization as soon as you know you will be traveling to the United States under the VWP.

If your ESTA expires while in the U.S., it will not affect your departure.

Beginning September 8, 2010, there is a fee required by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (Section 9 of the United States Capitol Police Administrative Technical Corrections Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-145). The fee is comprised of two parts:

Processing Charge — All applicants requesting an electronic travel authorization are charged for the processing of the application. The fee is $4.00.

Authorization Charge — If your application is approved and you receive authorization to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, an additional $10.00 will be charged to your credit card. If your electronic travel authorization is denied, you are only charged for the processing of your application.

CBP is not responsible for any third party fees for the transaction.

Note:  It is important to PRINT a copy of the document for your records.  The printout is not required upon arrival into the United States, as the officers have the information electronically. Some airlines require the printout upon check-in, please check with your respective airline.

For more detailed information please click here.

All nationals and citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries, are required to obtain a travel authorization prior to initiating travel to the United States. This requirement commenced January 12, 2009. Authorization may be obtained online through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an internet application administered by the Department of Homeland Security.

As of September 9, 2010, a fee of $14USD will be charged to submit an ESTA application. VWP travelers should be aware that unauthorized third-parties have established websites, which charge visitors an additional or higher fee for information and for submitting ESTA applications. These websites are not endorsed by, associated with, nor affiliated in any way with the U.S. government.

VWP visitors should apply now for the travel authorization.