Updated: Jan 21, 2024
The ESTA Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 41 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, transit, medical and short study purposes without the need of apply for a visa. The ESTA has made is much easier for travelers in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and many other European, Asian and South American countries to travel the United States. An application form takes 15-20 minutes to complete and authorizations are granted instantly with a 99% approval rate.
An approved ESTA is granted for a period of two years, or date of passport expiry, whichever date comes first. However, this does not mean an individual can stay in the United States for two years. The ESTA can be used for visits of up to 90 days per trailing 12-month period. So, if a traveller has recently received an ESTA and stayed 90 days and then returned to his / her home country, then he / she will likely need to allow 12 months before using their ESTA again. However, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have not set strict requirements for the duration of time an individual must wait between visits to the U.S. Alternatively, the traveller can apply for a U.S. visa if he / she wishes to visit the country again within 12 months of their previous 90 day stay. If a traveler seeks immigration or other U.S. visa information, find legal counsel from a licensed U.S. immigration lawyer. The border guard will determine if a 'reasonable length of time' between stays has occurred. If the border guard suspects a traveler is trying to live in the United States they will not be admitted. Please be aware that these are merely guidelines as the discretion for admission into the U.S. is determined by CBP.
Depending on when a visitor wish to travel to the US, they should strategically time their ESTA application to ensure you are getting the most of your travel and your authorization prior to visiting the United States. Although 72 hours is considering the minimum amount of time before applying for an ESTA, it would be wise to plan in case an applicant is denied and needs to apply instead for a U.S. visa. If your plan is to stay in the U.S. for more than 90 days, they you will need to apply for a U.S. visa. Overstaying on an ESTA will likely result in being banned from the program and possibly result in future refusals at the United States border. Furthermore, overstaying on an ESTA could jeopardize approvals on any future U.S. visa applications.
Visits to nearby countries such as Canada and Mexico or even the Caribbean, without first flying home, will likely count towards the 90-day period stay. CBP border guards are aware of this tactic travelers use to extend their visits in the U.S. and will likely deny entry to individuals using such tactics. If you genuinely wish to visit Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean and wish to stay 90 days in the U.S. as well, plan your itinerary accordingly so that you will not stay more than 90 days in the U.S., as there likely will not be much leniency with overstaying even one day over 90.
Several factors can affect the validity of an ESTA, leading to its early termination. These include:
Passport Expiry: If the passport used for the ESTA application expires, the ESTA also becomes invalid, regardless of the original two-year validity period.
Changes in Circumstances: Significant changes in circumstances, such as acquiring a criminal record or being denied a U.S. visa, can invalidate an ESTA. In such cases, travelers must apply for a new ESTA or a visa, as appropriate.
Revocation by U.S. Authorities: U.S. CBP reserves the right to revoke an ESTA at any time if the holder no longer meets the requirements for visa-free travel under the VWP.
Attempting to travel to the U.S. with an expired or invalid ESTA can result in being denied boarding by the airline or being refused entry by CBP officers at the port of entry. It's crucial for travelers to check the status of their ESTA before planning a trip and to ensure that all information is current and accurate.
Compliance with the terms of the ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program is essential. Violating the conditions, such as overstaying or working without proper authorization, can have serious repercussions. Travelers must adhere to the purpose of their visit as declared in their ESTA application and respect the 90-day limit per entry.
Check ESTA Status Regularly: Keep track of your ESTA's expiration date and the validity of the passport linked to it.
Apply for a New ESTA in Advance: If your ESTA is nearing expiration or your circumstances have changed, apply for a new authorization well before your intended travel date.
Maintain Accurate Information: Update any significant changes in your personal information or circumstances in a new ESTA application.
Plan Your Trips Accordingly: Be mindful of the 90-day limit per visit and plan your trips to the U.S. within this timeframe.
ESTAs cannot be extended nor renewed inside or outside of the United States. The authorization must be obtained before arriving in the United States or its territories. However, if your passport or ESTA expires while you are in the United States, you will not need to apply for a new ESTA for the duration of your max 90-day visit.