Travelling to the United states for an acceptable purpose like a tourism trip of 90 days or less under the visa waiver program is generally much simpler than obtaining a visa for the same travelling purpose. However, to avoid travel delays or an unapproved ESTA application recommendations document, it is important that travelers have the proper passport, apply with substantial time before their trip, and complete the online application correctly. Follow the tips below to facilitate a smooth application process and a successful trip to the US.
Is my passport eligible for the visa waiver program?
ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an electronic document that links to the passport via the passport’s data chip. The passport must be machine-readable and electronic. It is not possible to apply for a travel document with a temporary paper passport. The passport must be valid and in-hand at the time of completing the online application. If the passport will expire before or during a trip to the US, the traveler is required to renew the passport first, then apply for a new travel document. Likewise, if the passport is damaged, it is recommended to apply for a new passport, then submit an application for a new authorization before travelling to the US.
When should I submit the online application?
The travel authorization application should be submitted at least 72 hours in advance of travel. However, if there may be issues with the application, or uncertainty that it will be approved, the application should be submitted well in advance. Then, if the ESTA is not authorized, the applicant has sufficient time to apply for and receive a visa from a nearby US embassy or consulate before their preferred travel dates.
How soon will my travel authorization be approved after I apply?
Most authorizations are approved for travel within 24 hours. In some cases, the authorization can remain pending approval with US Customs and Border Patrol for up to 3 days before receiving authorization. It is not possible to speed up the travel authorization process. The approval time is always at the discretion of US Customs and Border Patrol. It is rare for an ESTA to remain in a pending state after three days, although it is possible. If this happens, the applicant should contact a US Embassy or Consulate for assistance.
What if I do not know the answer to some of the questions on the ESTA application?
When completing the online application, there may be information that is unknown, or the applicant is unsure how to answer. For assistance in completing each entry, hover the computer mouse over the “i” in the circle to the right of the application question. This will provide additional information to assist with completing the application question. For certain questions it is acceptable to enter “unknown” as the response on the application. It is not possible to modify the response of “unknown” on an approved ESTA. For the following application questions, “unknown” may be entered regarding the additional passports or national identity card number, the city of birth, parent’s name, emergency contact, and the travel information for the US point of contact.
Who do I contact if I have a specific question about the visa waiver program and I cannot find the answer online?
Resources are available at the ESTA Learning Center to answer common visa waiver program questions. If specific information is not found on the website, live ESTA experts are available to answer questions every day of the week. Get answers about the visa waiver program by utilizing the chat services on this website or by completing and submitting the contact us form.
ESTA is valid for two years