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Should I apply for an ESTA before booking my itinerary?

Updated: Aug 24, 2023  | Tags: ESTA Application, ESTA Questions


Visa waiver eligible U.S. bound travelers can apply for an ESTA before booking transport or hotel accommodation. Exact travel dates and accommodation details are not required at the time of submitting an application, although providing such information may aid in the processing of a traveler’s application.

Should I apply for an ESTA before booking my itinerary?
Should I apply for an ESTA before booking my itinerary?

Advantages of Applying Early for ESTA

Here are a few reasons why you may want to apply for an ESTA earlier than 72 hours prior to your flight.

[1] Uncertainty of Approval

While most ESTA applications are approved quickly, there's always a possibility of delays or denial. Applying before booking your flight and accommodations ensures you won't lose money on non-refundable tickets or reservations if your application is not approved.

[2] Processing Time

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) recommends applying for an ESTA at least 72 hours before your planned departure. However, unforeseen delays can occur, so it's safer to apply well in advance.

[3] Peace of Mind

Having an approved ESTA in hand before making other travel arrangements can provide peace of mind and allow you to better plan your trip.

[4] Possible Further Scrutiny

In some cases, if your ESTA is denied, you may need to apply for a full U.S. visa, which involves a more complicated and time-consuming process. Knowing your ESTA status in advance will give you more time to make alternative plans.

[5] Cost Comparison

Some travelers like to shop around for deals on flights and accommodations. Knowing you have already secured your ESTA can make this process more comfortable.

I haven’t booked accommodation yet, how does this affect my ESTA application?

Only one U.S. accommodation address is required even if an ESTA applicant plans to visit multiple U.S. destinations. Entering the address of a hotel, B&B or other lodging should suffice as a U.S. contact address and place of accommodation, as long as a name of the host or manager is also provided if available.

Otherwise, if an applicant is completely unsure where they will stay during their U.S. visit, they may enter ‘UNKNOWN’ for any text fields and a sequence of zeros ‘0’ for numeric fields.

After your ESTA is processed and approved, you may revisit your application to update the U.S. accommodation address.

I don’t have a U.S. contact, what should I enter?

Applicants can enter ‘UNKNOWN’ for the U.S. point of contact address sections of the ESTA application form and use a sequence of zeros for numerical values. Otherwise, if available, an applicant can provide the contact details of their accommodation or host in the U.S.

Do I need to book a ticket with an airline before applying?

No, ESTA applicants are not required to book a flight prior to applying for an ESTA. An ESTA application can be submitted at any point, even if the traveler has not planned their travel itinerary for the United States.


U.S. visitors may find it difficult to fully commit to their travel plans before obtaining an ESTA or a visa. Fortunately, travelers can still apply for an ESTA prior to purchasing hotel or airfare as they are able to provide address details of potential accommodation locations for their U.S. contact address and their address while in the U.S.

If you hold a passport from a visa waiver eligible country and wish to obtain an ESTA for tourist, business, medical or transit purposes, get started on your application, otherwise, visit the FAQ to learn more about the ESTA

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