ESTA Travel Blogs

06 Feb

ESTA Travel - Automated Passport Control at US Airports

international arrival at US airport

APC self-service kiosks save time for ESTA travelers arriving from 39 eligible VWP countries.


Approval of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) offers the convenience of visa-free travel to the United States. Imagine all the adventures! Exciting cities, snow-capped mountain villages, vibrant wildflower-filled fields, sun kissed beaches. However, long lines at airports are anything but exciting. Good news! More than 30 major US airports offer the welcome convenience of Automated Passport Control (APC). Upon arrival at US airports all international passengers, including those traveling with ESTA USA approval as part of the Visa Waiver Program, are processed at inspection stations by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). With APC, the time-saving traveler entry program for passengers arriving from 39 eligible VWP countries, the initial step of the US entry procedure is self-service and automated, saving passengers time and stress. 



First, a quick review of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a convenient program that allows citizens from 39 countries including those in the UK, France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, and Italy to travel visa-free to the US for stays with a flexible 90-day limit. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency explains the VWP and corresponding ESTA authorization on their website, "ESTA is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Authorization via ESTA does not determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers determine admissibility upon travelers’ arrival. The ESTA application collects biographic information and answers to VWP eligibility questions. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, though it is recommended that travelers apply as soon as they begin preparing travel plans or prior to purchasing airline tickets.” 


The convenience of Automated Passport Control for VWP travelers

The convenient digital passport control is managed by way of self-service kiosks which offer online check-in at the beginning of the traveler entry and CBP inspection process. When foreign travelers including those with ESTA USA (anchor) approval arrive in the United States the first step, after deplaning, is the immigration inspection process at US Customs and Border Protection inspection areas. Historically this can be a time-consuming part of travel, especially during peak travel periods such as Christmas and New Years and summer holiday season. Other peak times occur when multiple international flights deplane in the same time frame resulting in slow ques at CBP inspection areas. The Automated Passport Control system facilitates the entry procedure for passengers including ESTA-approved travelers. And the self-service kiosks at the passport control areas alleviate much of the que time.


"Automated Passport Control can significantly reduce wait times at CBP inspection areas." -



Understanding APC for eligible Visa Waiver Program travelers arriving in the United States

ESTA authorized passengers along with other international travelers arriving from foreign countries into the USA are subject to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) traveler entry processing protocols at security inspection areas. Part of this is passport control, done at the APC self-services kiosks. This is where each passenger inputs their passport and biographic data including 1-94 declarations information prior to being interviewed by CBP agents.


How does Automated Passport Control work?

The US Customs and Border Protection website answers this succinctly, “Instead of filling out a paper Customs declaration form, eligible passengers can proceed directly to the APC kiosks in the passport control area. Travelers are prompted to scan their passport, take a photograph using the kiosk, and answer a series of CBP inspection related questions verifying biographic and flight information. Once passengers have completed the series of questions, a receipt will be issued. Travelers then bring their passport and receipt to a CBP Officer to finalize their inspection for entry into the United States. The kiosks allow people residing at the same address to be processed together.” Additionally, the CPB website states that the Automated Passport Control system is secure, free to use, and time saving. All most welcome by travelers the beginning of an adventure in the USA.


APC steps - navigating Automated Passport Control

As passengers arriving on international flights deplane and proceed toward US Customs check in areas, they will be assisted by the Custom agents (CBP agents) who will direct arriving passengers toward the self-service kiosk area. When travelers like those with the ESTA USA reach the kiosk, they may choose their preferred language and begin the check-in procedure. The APC system requires input of visa type, such as an approved ESTA as part of the Visa Waiver Program for US travel. Biometric data is then collected via passenger fingerprints and photos. Next, replacing the standard paper I-94 Customs declaration, each passenger will enter their data into the computer system via electronic check boxes. Easy, right? After answering some prompted questions and inputting brief information, the process is completed, and a receipt is generated. Passengers will then gather their receipt and proceed to the Customs inspection area.


Are Global Entry the Automated Passport Control kiosks one in the same? 

Actually, these are separate programs. Upon signing in at an APC kiosk each traveler with Global Entry will need to choose one of the two valid entry systems, APC or Global Entry. There is no need for passengers to check in with both systems, in fact it can cause issues with a passenger’s Global Entry benefits to attempt to do so.

ESTA USA travelers from eligible VWP countries arrive at any of dozens of international airports located throughout the United States based upon their unique travel plans. Whether exploring the 24-hour excitement of “Gotham City,” New York, heading to California’s wine country region near San Francisco, or planning an adventure to “the happiest place on earth,” Disney World, US airports offering APC are located throughout the United States.


List of US airports with convenient Automated Passport Control self-service kiosks:

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS)
Boston Logan International Airport (BOS)
Charlotte Douglas International Airport (CLT)
Chicago Midway International Airport (MDW)
Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW)
Denver International Airport (DEN)
Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL)
Honolulu International Airport (HNL)
Houston George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH)
Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (LAS)
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
Miami International Airport (MIA)
Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC)
Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP)
Nassau Lynden Pindling International Airport (NAS)
New York - John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR)
Oakland International Airport (OAK)
Orlando International Airport (MCO)
Philadelphia International Airport (PHL)
Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT)
Portland International Airport (PDX)
Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU)
Reno International Airport (RNO)
Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC)
San Diego International Airport (SAN)
San Francisco International Airport (SFO)
Seattle Sea-Tac Airport (SEA)
Tampa International Airport (TPA)
William P. Hobby International Airport (HOU)

Ready to learn more about APC and ESTA-approved travel to the US?

To learn about eligibility and authorization for the Visa Waiver Program, (LINK) which offers visa-free travel to the US for up to 90 days, you can explore our ESTA Learning Center here. Are you ready to complete the ESTA application now? Proceed to the ESTA Application.