What is Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system the U.S. Custom and Border Protection (BCP) uses to determine the eligibility of visitors traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). It is used to screen travelers with law enforcement for potential security risk.

Who is required to submit an electronic travel authorization?

Foreign nationals who are eligible to travel to the U.S. for pleasure or business under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for 90 days or less must obtain electronic travel authorization from the BCP. Travelers without this authorization are not allowed to board plane or ship.

How does it work?

Visitors traveling under the VWP first log on to BCP secure website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/ and enter their biographical data including passport information. They will also answer a series of yes or no questions pertaining to health, criminal, terrorist activities and other grounds that would allow BCP to make a preliminary determination if certain foreign nationals are inadmissible.

Is there a fee for the application?

Yes, there are two fees. As of September 8, 2010 there is a processing fee of $4.00 and an additional $10.00 if the authorization has been approved. If the electronic travel authorization is not approved, the applicant is only charged $4.00 for the processing of application.

How do I pay for the application?

Payment can be made by credit card or debit card via BCP secure website.

How long does it take for the ESTA to process my application?

It usually takes a minute or two, depending on ones internet connection speed. In some instances it may take up to 72 hours.

How long is the authorization valid for?

Once approved, the authorization is usually good for 2 years, or until the date your passport expires, whichever comes first. Visitors can travel to the U.S. repeatedly during the validity of the authorization without the need of reapplying for authorization.

If my authorization is approved, does it mean that I am guaranteed admission to the U.S.?

No. The approval only allows travelers to board a plane or ship to travel to the U.S. without visas. The BCP officers at the port of entry or pre-flight inspection will make a determination of whether or not someone is admissible.

I have a valid H-1B visa and I am from one of the VWP countries. Do I still need to apply for authorization?

No. Foreign nationals who have visas issued by US Consulate can travel to the U.S., and are not required to apply for authorization via the ESTA website.

What if my application for travel authorization is denied? Are there any other options available?

If your application is denied, you will need to apply for a visitors visa at the U.S. embassy or consulate if you still want to travel to the U.S. If you believe that the decision is incorrect, you may go to the DHS/TRIP Web site (http://www.dhs.gov/trip) and file a redress request through the DHS Travel Redress Inquiry Program.