ESTA Application

Are you planning a trip to the USA and want to avoid the time-consuming process of applying for a visa? Then you should definitely check if you qualify to travel visa-free to the USA with an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program.

ESTA

The official travel authorization for your trip to the USA!

What is ESTA?

ESTA is a travel authorization issued under the US Visa Waiver Program and stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. This online travel authorization was mandated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on November 7th, 2008 for people traveling from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries to the USA. This regulation is directly associated with the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security introduced ESTA to strengthen security in the USA.


Under the Commission Act, the United States implemented a registration system for visa-free travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP = 90 days). An ESTA for the USA can only be applied for online.

ESTA requirements

People traveling to the USA who are citizens of countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) need to apply for an ESTA. Those from eligible VWP countries need an ESTA to travel to the USA for vacation or business trips lasting a maximum of 90 days, for transit flights through the USA or for entering the USA via ship or land.

Citizens of the following countries are eligible to apply for ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program:

COUNTRIES ELIGIBLE FOR ESTA:
Andorra Lichtenstein
Australia           Lithuania
Austria       Luxembourg
Belgium     Malta
Brunei                      Monaco
Chile             Netherlands
Czech Republik New Zealand
Dennmark       Norway
Estonia Portugal
Finland San Marino
France Singapore

Germany

Slovakia
Greece Slovenia
Hungary South Korea
Iceland Spain
Ireland Sweden
Italy Switzerland
Japan Taiwan
Latvia United Kingdom

If your country is not listed, you must apply for a visa.

Furthermore, all ESTA applicants are required to have a biometric passport for the entirety of their stay – even children! Children’s passports are not valid unless they are electronic (ePassport).

Those registered for expediated clearance under the Global Entry Program are also required to have a valid ESTA for traveling to the USA visa-free.

Children are also required to have a valid ESTA for traveling to the USA. Families can apply for all members with the ESTA group application. 

Who cannot apply for ESTA?

The following groups of people are excluded from traveling visa-free to the USA with an ESTA:

  • Citizens of VWP countries who have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, since March 2011. Exceptions only for diplomats and military personnel.
  • Citizens of VWP countries who are also dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Syria.
  • People who have already been denied entry (at the border) to the USA or have been deported out of the United States;
  • People who have committed certain offences or have been arrested or previously convicted of a crime (each case should be individually reviewed);
  • People who have already broken USA entry requirements (e.g. overstay);
  • People who suffer from a communicable disease
  • People who are traveling to the USA to take up employment or study.

 If any of the above-mentioned reasons apply to you, then you must apply for a US visa to travel to the USA. Individuals can in certain cases apply for a waiver.

Do I need an ESTA if I have a valid visa?

Whether an ESTA is required for entering the USA depends on what kind of valid visa you have and if it matches the purpose of your stay in the USA. Applying for an ESTA, for example, when you have a valid B2 visa is unnecessary because in both cases, you are traveling to the USA as a tourist. The purpose is therefore the same.

On the other hand, people who have been issued a US work visa like the E1 or E2 and want to travel to the USA as tourists. Despite a valid E1 or E2 visa, the visa holder must apply for an ESTA because the purpose of their stay is different.    

As stated on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website:

Quote

"Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued."

 

Can I use ESTA for business trips?

Yes, ESTA can be used to travel to the USA for business as long as you do not stay in the USA longer than 90 days and you do not work for a US company. Business trips that are allowed under the Visa Waiver Program include participating in:

  • Conferences
  • Meetings
  • Consultations
  • Job fairs

You may have problems entering the USA again if you stay longer than 90 days or work/take up employment.

With an ESTA, you can take a business trip to the USA for up to 90 days!

ESTA to enter by land

An ESTA is not necessarily required when entering the USA by land from Mexico or Canada. We would still highly recommend applying for an ESTA before entering the USA.

It is required, however, to have a copy of your I-94 when entering the USA by land. The I-94 can be completed either at the border or accessed online and printed out beforehand. Please be aware that the I-94 is only valid for 7 days!

Where can I apply for an ESTA?

You can apply for an ESTA to travel to the USA on, inter alia, the official website of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ESTA can only be applied for and submitted online. There is no American ESTA agency or anything similar. 

If you do not have access to the internet, then you can ask a friend, family member or a third party to complete your application. 

In most cases you can apply for an ESTA with the same travel agency that booked your flights to the USA. Most agencies charge a fee for this extra service.

Applying for an ESTA can only be done online!

When do I need to apply for an ESTA?

There is no official deadline from the US authorities for applying for an ESTA. It is, though, highly recommended to apply for an ESTA at least 3 days before your departure to the USA. This is to ensure that by the time you enter the USA, you will be traveling with a valid ESTA. You should be able to show proof of a valid ESTA when checking-in to your flight at the latest.

You should apply for your ESTA at least 72 hours before your flight to the USA.

 

Since the end of 2018 real-time approvals are no longer available! Therefore, you should apply for ESTA no later than 72 hours prior to departure. We recommend, however, applying for an ESTA as early as possible. Ideally, you should apply for your ESTA 6-8 weeks before your planned trip to the United States so that you have enough time to apply for a US visa if your ESTA is denied.

Due to the risk of having an ESTA application denied, we recommend first planning your US trip (booking flights, hotels etc.) after your ESTA has been authorized. If you do not have families or friends in the USA, you can give the address of the hotel you plan to stay at in the USA.

How long does it take to complete an ESTA?

In general, it does not take long to fill out an ESTA application. If you already know where you will be staying in the USA and have your passport information on-hand, then it will only take about 20-30 minutes to complete the application thoroughly. Make sure you take the time to review all given data before submitting the application. 

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection has updated the official ESTA website and starting from April 2018, it is possible to upload a picture of your machine-readable passport. By doing so, the biographic information saved in the Machine Readable Zone (MRZ) will be automatically entered into the ESTA form.

image machine readable zone of passport

The Machine Readable Zone (marked in red) of your passport must fit in the photo completely so that your data can be read correctly.

 

If you apply for an ESTA over your mobile phone, it is possible to take a picture of your passport with your phone while applying. Your biographic information will be automatically entered, and you will not have to type all your data in. The photo will be accepted in the following formats if applying with a PC:

  • Gif
  • Png
  • Jpg
  • Jpeg

In both cases, it is important that the Machine Readable Zone can be seen in the photo completely so that all the data is uploaded correctly. The following data will be uploaded:

  • Last name
  • First name
  • Sex
  • Passport number
  • Issuing authority
  • Citizenship
  • Date of birth
  • Date of expiration
Image of passport upload

Double-check all information entered in the form and make sure your data is correctly submitted to the US authorities. Source: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/

 

You are not required to upload a photo of your passport. Uploading a photo is purely optional – you can continue to enter in your data as usual. If you do choose to use the new photo upload method, then you should carefully check that all your data has been entered in the form correctly. Depending on the quality of the photo, it is possible for data to be uploaded incorrectly.

What information does ESTA require?

The following information must be given in the ESTA application for traveling to the USA:

  • Personal data
  • Passport details
  • Destination details
  • Contact person in the USA
  • Information about your current employer
  • Emergency contact person

Furthermore, you must also truthfully answer several questions about security, the purpose of your trip and your past, such as if you intend to take up employment in the USA or if you have ever been denied a US visa or entry to the United States.

A biometric passport that is valid for the length of your stay is required for an ESTA application.


You are required to give all citizenships for which you have a passport in the ESTA application. If you fail to include one of your citizenships, you risk having your ESTA denied.

The form must be completed in full. Only giving any social media data in the ESTA application is voluntary. Leaving this optional field blank has no effect on the authorization or denial of your ESTA. If you do not know, for example, the address of your hotel in the USA, then you can update it once you know where you will be staying.

 

Passport for your ESTA application

You are required to have a valid biometric passport when traveling to the USA. You will be asked for it not only in the ESTA application, but also when you land on American soil.

An express passport is working as well. These are official passports that are simply processed quicker (ca. 4 days).

A valid biometric passport is essential for ESTA! Later, you will need your passport number to check the status of your ESTA.


If your passport was not accepted while submitting your ESTA application, then you should double-check that you have correctly entered your passport number. Take note that the letter “O” and the number “0” are easily confused.

The passport number may also not work if you have recently applied for a new passport. It could be, that the federal government has not yet authorized your new passport number because it has not yet been fully processed. In this case, apply for your ESTA once you have your new passport in your hands.

Please be aware that children’s passports must be biometric. If your child’s passport is not electronic, then you will need to apply for a biometric one.

How long your passport must be valid for an ESTA depends on the country of your citizenship. As a general rule, your passport must be valid for at least another 6 months after departing the USA. That means it must be valid for the entire length of your stay in the USA plus an additional 6 months.

The majority of people traveling visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program are in the so-called “Six-Month Club”. Travelers from, for example Germany, Spain or Kosovo, are required to have a passport that is only valid for their intended period of stay in the USA with an ESTA.

Do I have to print my ESTA application?

You are not required to print your ESTA application and bring it with you to the USA, but we highly recommend it. There are advantages to having your authorized ESTA printed out and with you while traveling:

  • If you happen to have made a mistake in your ESTA application, it is easier to spot when your ESTA has been printed than having to log in to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to check your data.
  • In general, the airlines have the necessary software to electronically check if you are traveling with an ESTA. In case of a technical failure, it is always better to have your ESTA printed and on-hand.
  • Printing your ESTA can help you answer questions asked by the border officer. The answers you give to the border officer should be the same as those in your ESTA.
  • If you plan to travel to the USA again, you can easily check the validity of your ESTA on the printed documents.

Be on the safe side: Keep track of your ESTA more easily by printing it!

 

The US authorities will not send your ESTA to you in a separate e-mail. Your ESTA can only be accessed by logging in online. Here you can print copies at any time.

ESTA fees

On September 8th, 2010, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security introduced an ESTA application fee of 14 USD. Travelers entering the USA under the Visa Waiver Program must pay for every ESTA application they submit.

The cost of an ESTA is per application and not per entry into the USA. ESTA for children, students, retirees, etc. are all the same. The US authorities do not give discounts here.

Every person traveling to the USA must pay $14 for an ESTA – even children.

Even though the ESTA is handled by a US authority, you don’t necessarily have to pay in US-Dollars. The fee can be paid in country’s currency and the rate of exchange will be automatically calculated. The price is dependent on the rate of currency exchange at the time of paying. 

The following is how the ESTA fee is calculated:

  • $4 processing charge
  • $10 authorization charge

If your ESTA is denied, then you will only be charged the $4 processing charge and will not have to pay the $10 authorization charge.

Do I have to pay to change my ESTA?

Travelers who occasionally have to make changes to their existing ESTA – e.g. change of address in the USA – do not have to pay a fee to do so. Updating your ESTA is free of charge! If you, however, need to make changes to your passport details (number or dates) or your personal details (name, birthday, place of birth), you will be required to apply for a new ESTA. If your previous ESTA was authorized, you shouldn’t have any problems with applying for a new one.

If you get a new passport, then your old ESTA automatically expires and you will need to apply and pay for a new one.


If you apply for a new ESTA you have to pay the administration fee of $14. If your previous one is still valid, then simply ignore the message that you already have a valid ESTA. Simply confirm that you want to apply for a new ESTA. As soon as it is authorized, your old ESTA will be deleted.

ESTA payment methods

You will be required to pay for your ESTA application online. Your ESTA application will not be processed until you have paid the fees. On the official U.S. Customs and Border Control website, payments can only be made with credit card or PayPal. If you do not have the option to pay online with either a credit card or PayPal, then you may have a travel agency, friend, family member or third party make the payment.

The following payment methods are available if you apply for an ESTA with ESTA-Online:

  • Credit card
  • PayPal

One payment can be made for all fees for a group application.

ESTA for children

Children traveling to the USA with their parents must apply for an ESTA too, even if America is only a transit stop. They cannot travel to the USA under their parent’s passports as they are considered individual people and must have their own passports and their own valid authorization to be in the USA. 

Parents as well as third parties can apply children for an ESTA.


A passport for children is only valid for an ESTA if it is a biometric ePass. That means the passport must be electronically readable so that the border control officer can read it. The passport must also be valid for the child’s length of stay.

Parents or a third party, like a travel agency or an ESTA agency, must complete and submit the ESTA application for all children under the age of 18. Children usually do not complete the question about employers and usually enter only passport information, their address, information about their parents and a US address.

Picture of two happy kids waving the American flag on a bench.

Children have to also apply for an ESTA before traveling to the USA!

 

The cost for applying for an ESTA is the same for adults and children. Furthermore, an ESTA is valid for two years for both adults and children.

ESTA for groups

Every person traveling to the USA needs to have a valid ESTA – even children! If you are planning your next trip through America with families or friends, then you can save time by using the ESTA group application on the official website of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Families can easily complete the ESTA group application.


When completing a group application, there will be one contact person for the group who is responsible for organizing and paying for the applications. Make sure to note your Group ID number. You will need this to access your application at a later point. Each individual application will be checked by the proper authorities. 

An ESTA group application is not required but it makes applying for ESTA easier for families and groups.


To avoid any travel stress, we highly recommend giving yourself enough time to complete the ESTA group application. As soon as you have collected all the personal data and travel details of every applicant, you can start applying for an ESTA. Ideally, you should apply for an ESTA two months ahead of time or one week before departing at the latest.

ESTA for transit

Even if you only have a layover and never leave the airport, you are required to have an ESTA. People traveling through the USA are considered visitors of the United States by the US authorities and must have, therefore, a valid US visa or an ESTA travel authorization.

ESTA is even required for people who have a layover in the USA and never leave the airport.


Airlines are required to inform the U.S. Department of Homeland Security of their passengers’ traveling status. If you cannot show that you are in the USA with a valid ESTA, then you will not make your connecting flight.

The ESTA application for people in transit is practically the same. The only difference is that you do not need to include a contact person in the USA and a US address.

Can I apply for an ESTA with previous convictions?

There are many factors that come into play when applying for an ESTA with a previous conviction. That is why having a conviction does not fundamentally lead to your ESTA application being denied. It is of upmost importance, however, to be truthful in your ESTA application and list all previous convictions. If a US border officer finds inconsistencies in your application, they may refuse you entry into the USA.

Whether or not an ESTA application will be denied depends on the type of crime you committed. For example, if it was only a small traffic offense that happened long ago, the chance that your ESTA will be authorized is very high. On the other hand, felons or repeat offenders, e.g. murderers or rapists will be denied entry into the USA.