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Data accuracy considerations when applying for an ESTA

Updated: Jan 21, 2024  | Tags: Mistake on ESTA, ESTA Application

Travelers are gaining more awareness regarding online data collection practices of airlines, hotels, governments and other entities involved in providing travel related services. Many travelers now book hotels and other services using pseudo-names, aliases and other intentionally inaccurate data to gain a greater sense of privacy over their own personal information. However, when it comes to U.S. travel authorizations, such as the ESTA, applicants should be aware that providing inaccurate or false information can lead to delayed or denied processing of their ESTA.

Data accuracy considerations when applying for an ESTA
Data accuracy considerations when applying for an ESTA

Data Validity and Optional Fields

Can I leave mandatory fields blank on an ESTA application?

You will not be able to proceed with an ESTA application if required fields are left blank. You must complete all fields on the form and in the required data format and character limitations dictated by the form validation rules.

What are the optional fields on an ESTA application?

The optional fields on the ESTA application are social media account information and information on your job title. All other fields are required as part of the ESTA application.

Can I enter anonymized or other inaccurate information on my application?

Purposely providing wrong or inaccurate information may not result in a denial of an ESTA application, yet may result in a pending ESTA application that requires additional processing time, which is often up to 72 hours. However, it is likely providing false information will lead to a denied ESTA application.

If Customs and Border Protection (CBP) does not have sufficient information at the time of reviewing your application, it is likely your ESTA application will be denied. You can reapply if you have made a mistake on your ESTA application.

Can I enter ‘Unknown’ for fields where I do not yet have specific information?

Yes, you may put unknown for several fields on the ESTA application where you genuinely do not have the information available. You may use “FNU”, or first name unknown, for any first name fields on the application form. Similarly, you may use “UNKNOWN” for family name, city, National Identification Number, email addresses, U.S. Point of Contact and other fields requesting address information.

You may also use a sequence of zeroes for entering information on numerical fields where you do not yet have the information needed to complete the application, such as the phone number of your U.S. point of contact.

What if I have special characters in my name?

ESTA applicants with special characters in their passport name can make substitutions for the non-American English characters. The machine-readable section of a traveler’s passport will contain the universal names spelling that can be used for an ESTA application. Otherwise, the following character substitutions can be made should the passport holder not have a universal name stated in the machine-readable section of their passport.

  • ß,ß = ss
  • æ = a e
  • ö = oe
  • ü = ue
  • ë = e
  • ä = ae
  • Å = aa
  • ø = oe
  • ñ = n
  • ? = i j

Gender Related Considerations

What do I enter on the ESTA application if my passport does not specify a “male” or “female” gender?

Currently the ESTA application only has fields for “male” and “female” as answers to the gender question. If your passport states your gender with “X”, asterisk or other designation then you are considered to be a transgender passport holder. Transgender ESTA applicants are advised to enter the gender, either male or female, for which they find most related to their personal identity.

Will my ESTA be denied an ESTA if I am transgender?

No, your ESTA will not be denied based on the gender designation in your passport.

What if I provide an answer different to the gender stated on my passport?

If you incorrectly enter a gender which is different than what is stated on your passport, for example entering “male” when your passport states “female” or vice versa, then you will need to reapply for an ESTA.


ESTA applicants should be considerate of select fields on the ESTA form that may cause application mistakes. These mistakes may result in a denied authorization, thus, applicants should ensure they understand all the ESTA questions by taking extra time to complete the application.