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Since the Visa Waiver Program exists, you can travel visa-free to America with ESTA. We explain everything you need to know about the convenient ESTA travel authorization for the USA.
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The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows visa-free travel to all 50 states of the USA as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. At present, 40 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, including most countries of the European Union, Switzerland, Great Britain, Australia, Japan, and South Korea.
The abbreviation ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization and refers to a computer-based system for travel to the USA without a visa. The ESTA travel authorization can be applied for by citizens of the countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.
The ESTA travel authorization is valid for two years and allows any number of entries into the USA during this period of validity. ESTA holders are allowed to stay in the United States for a maximum of 90 days at a time for:
Not every traveler to America qualifies for visa-free entry with ESTA. Those who want to apply for the uncomplicated travel authorization for the USA must fulfill some requirements.
The most important requirement for an ESTA travel authorization is citizenship in one of the current 40 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. They are:
|Visa Waiver Program: participating countries|
1 The validity period of an ESTA authorization for travelers from Brunei has been reduced from two years to one year, effective July 6th, 2023.
2 The validity period of an ESTA authorization for Hungarian travelers has been shortened from two years to one year, effective August 1st, 2023. In addition, Hungarians are now only allowed to enter the US once per ESTA and also require a Hungarian birth certificate for the ESTA process.
Citizenship alone does not guarantee approval of an ESTA application. Travelers of all ages – including children – must be in possession of a biometric passport (also known as an electronic passport or e-passport) to qualify for visa-free travel with an ESTA.
The e-passport combines the conventional, paper-based passport with electronic components. It contains a memory chip on which the passport holder's biometric data (fingerprints, facial features) are stored. The biometric data can be used to establish the identity of the traveler.
Biometric passports can be identified by the symbol on the front. However, the memory chip is not visible to the naked eye because it is "hidden" in the passport cover.
For citizens of countries belonging to the Six Month Club, the passport should be valid until the date of departure from the USA. All other travelers need a passport that is valid for at least six months.
As an ESTA traveler, be prepared that you may be asked to present a return ticket at the US border. An onward ticket will also be accepted if it does not go to the neighboring countries of Canada and Mexico, or to the Caribbean – unless your residence is located there.
This is to ensure US officials that you have no intentions of exceeding the maximum allowed ESTA stay of 90 days and remaining in the United States illegally.
In some cases, your ESTA application may be denied even if you are from a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program.
Visa-free entry to the USA with ESTA is usually not possible if:
The ESTA travel authorization can only be applied for online. You can do this directly through the US government's site or seek assistance from experts at a renowned agency like The American Dream, which will thoroughly review your ESTA application before submitting it.
When you submit your ESTA application, you should have the following data and documents ready:
When filling out the ESTA application, some stumbling blocks await you. You should pay particular attention to these points when you enter your data in the online form:
Please enter all first names in the ESTA form exactly as they are documented in your passport. It does not matter whether you use only one or several of your first names. The data must always be identical to the passport.
First and last names containing accents, diacritics, or other special characters are one of the biggest sources of errors in the ESTA application. For example, there is always some confusion as to how to indicate the German umlauts "ä," "ö," and "ü."
What is the correct spelling for the ESTA application? When filling out the online form, you will need to replace letters that do not exist in American English with combinations of letters. Here are some examples:
You should also be particularly careful when entering the correct passport data. For example, there are often typing errors or confusion between "O" and "0" when entering the passport number.
The National Identification Number is the number of the identity document issued by the country of origin. If you do not have a valid document with National Identification Number, you must indicate "UNKNOWN" or "DOES NOT APPLY" in the ESTA application.
It is mandatory to indicate a second citizenship in the ESTA application, even if you do not have a valid second passport. When you don't hold a second passport, you can enter either "DOES NOT APPLY" or "DOES NOT EXIST" in the passport number input field.
Even minor carelessness when filling out the ESTA application – e.g., typos, number errors, or superfluous spaces – can result in you being denied visa-free entry to the USA or even being barred for life from the ESTA program.
However, you can play it safe and get support from a professional agency. The USA experts at The American Dream are familiar with all the pitfalls in the ESTA application, will check your data for completeness and correctness, and will advise you on all questions relating to the ESTA travel authorization.
The entry of social media accounts in the ESTA application is voluntary. You can enter the following platforms in the ESTA form:
Additional platforms can be selected and added to the list via a drop-down menu.
If you decide to include your social media accounts in the ESTA form, it is advisable to "clean them up" before entering the USA. Make sure that no content is publicly visible that could be considered problematic by US border officials, such as posts that are critical of the American government.
The ESTA travel authorization can be applied for not only for individuals but also for groups. A separate ESTA application must still be filled out for each traveler, but you can add more people before paying by clicking on "Add a new application." At the end of the application process, the payment can be made for all travelers together.
If a group ESTA application is submitted, a contact person for the group must be specified. Please make a note of the group ID that will be generated in the next step so that you can make changes to the group application at a later date if necessary.
As of May 2022, the US government charges an ESTA fee of $ 21 per person and application, which you can pay by credit card or PayPal.
You can also complete your online form via esta-application.com and have it thoroughly checked and submitted by the USA experts of The American Dream. Depending on the service package you choose, you will pay a fee starting at € 49.90.
Besides credit cards and PayPal, you can use other payment methods on esta-application.com, like direct debit, giropay, eps, IDeal, paydirekt, GiroCode, and Sofortüberweisung.
To guarantee that you receive your ESTA in time for your travel to the USA, you should not submit your application too late. As soon as you know your travel dates, you can fill out the ESTA application and submit it. As a general rule:
If your ESTA application is rejected by the American authorities, visa-free entry to the USA is unfortunately not possible for you, and you must apply for a visa.
Applying for a US visa is more complicated, more expensive, and takes more time than the ESTA form. The experts from the US Visa Service Team will be happy to advise you on this.
Usually, you will receive feedback within 12 hours and after 72 hours at the latest on whether your ESTA application has been approved or not.
Basically, your ESTA status can be:
Do you want to change the information of a valid ESTA afterwards? Actually, you can update your deposited accommodation address in the USA or your email address. You can either do this yourself on the official ESTA website or get assistance from the USA experts of The American Dream. For all other updates, you will need to submit a new ESTA application.
Most ESTA travel authorizations are valid for two years from the date of application and allow you to travel to the USA for a maximum period of 90 days. Multiple entries and exits are possible within the two-year validity of the ESTA.
An extension of the stay in the USA with ESTA beyond the intended 90 days is not permitted. We strongly recommend all travelers not to exceed the maximum length of stay to avoid problems during the next entry.
The validity period of an ESTA authorization for travelers from Brunei and Hungary has been shortened from two years to one year. Hungarian travelers are also now only allowed to enter the US once per ESTA and require a Hungarian birth certificate for the ESTA process.
Inform yourself about six to eight weeks before departure whether your ESTA approval is still valid or whether a new application must be submitted. This way, you will still have enough time to obtain a new ESTA or a suitable US visa, if necessary.
You can easily check the ESTA validity on the official ESTA website under the menu item "CHECK ESTA STATUS." For this, you need either your application number, which you received after paying for your ESTA application or a combination of your passport number and date of birth.
An ESTA becomes invalid if you are facing significant life changes such as a change of name (e.g., marriage, divorce, or adoption), gender, or citizenship.
Furthermore, your ESTA is tied to your passport and automatically expires when your passport expires – even if the two-year ESTA validity has not yet been reached!
In some instances, you may even need a US visa instead of an ESTA. This may be the case, for example, if you are convicted of a crime, entered a country considered high-risk, or contracted a contagious disease that is difficult to treat.
Generally, an ESTA authorization cannot be extended. The only exceptions allowed by the USCIS are urgent and unforeseeable cases, e.g., flight cancellations due to severe weather conditions or strikes and serious medical reasons that make it impossible to fly back and leave the USA within the allowed 90 days.
The decision on whether to allow an exception is taken by the responsible authority. The corresponding application can only be filed at a USCIS Service Center. Be sure to keep all supporting documentation (e.g., airline confirmation of flight cancellation) so that you can present it to US officials in the event of any follow-up questions.
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Your ESTA application has been denied if your status has changed to “Travel Not Authorized.” This may be due to several reasons, based on which you should decide on your further action.
A rejection of the ESTA application can have very different reasons. These include:
A rejected ESTA application does not immediately mean an entry ban for the USA, but mostly only that you have to apply for a visa for USA travel in the future. In rare cases, you might even be able to have your ESTA status reset and submit a new application. However, this is only possible if your application contains only very minor errors that are clearly due to carelessness in data entry and you go into direct dialogue with your ESTA customer service representative or the contact person on the part of the US government. However, do not get your hopes up too high after an ESTA rejection: In most cases, a visa will be necessary.
If you do not qualify for ESTA (anymore), you cannot use the visa-free entry to the USA. In this case, you still have the option of applying for a US visa. Inform yourself in advance about the right visa for your upcoming trip or contact the expert team of the US Visa Service.
Do you have any other questions about ESTA? You will definitely find the answer in our FAQ.
Even if you have a valid ESTA travel authorization, it does not guarantee that you will be allowed to cross the US border. It is important to remember that US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has the final say on who is allowed to enter the United States.
If the US border official is suspicious of you, for example, because you do not have a valid return or onward ticket, he may refuse to allow you to enter the country. In this case, you must accept CBP's decision for the time being. It is only after you have returned to your home country that you can contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and request information and assistance through the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.
There are no rules on how long you must stay outside the USA after an ESTA stay before you are allowed to re-enter. However, it is recommended that the intervals are not too short. Otherwise, the officials at the border may suspect you of immigration intentions and deny you entry. To be on the safe side, the rule of thumb is that you should spend more time outside the United States than inside.
Yes, you must apply for a separate ESTA for each child or baby you plan to travel to the US with. Furthermore, children and babies also need a biometric passport. There is no discount on the ESTA fee, the full price must be paid for children as well.
Yes, if you have a transfer at a US airport, you will need to apply for an ESTA authorization for it.
Yes, as of October 2022, travelers who cross the US border by land must also obtain an ESTA authorization.