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  4. Frequently Asked Questions about the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

Frequently Asked Questions about the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

General Information on the Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is administered by DHS and enables eligible citizens or nationals of designated countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa.

Citizens or nationals of the following countries are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Chile
  • Czech Republic
  • Croatia
  • Denmark
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Republic of Korea
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovakia
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Taiwan**
  • United Kingdom*

**With respect to all references to “country” or “countries” in this document, it should be noted that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, Pub. L. No. 96-8, Section 4(b)(1), provides that “[w]henever the laws of the United States refer or relate to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities, such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with respect to Taiwan.” 22 U.S.C. § 3303(b)(1). Accordingly, all references to “country” or “countries” in the Visa Waiver Program authorizing legislation, Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1187, are read to include Taiwan. This is consistent with the United States’ one-China policy, under which the United States has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan since 1979.

*British citizens only with the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

Travel under the VWP is restricted to travelers possessing passports with specified security features. Visa Waiver Program requirements are:

  • The passport must have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page.
  • The passport must be an electronic passport with a digital chip containing biometric information about the passport owner.

As of April 1, 2016, all travelers must have an e-passport to use the VWP.  An e-Passport, denoted by the symbol e-passport logo, is an enhanced secure passport with an embedded electronic chip. E-Passports are issued by the proper passport issuing authority and must meet international standards for securing and storing information corresponding to the passport and bearer.   

Please check your application with your e-passport on the ESTA website.  If you submitted your email address on more than one ESTA application, the email could be referencing another ESTA application for a previous passport.  The email you received refers to the cancelation of the ESTA application of your non e-passport.  Your ESTA application with your current e-passport should still be valid. 

The ESTA website has been updated and HIV has been removed from the list of communicable diseases. Therefore, an individual who is HIV-positive should not indicate that he or she has a communicable disease of public health significance when applying for an ESTA, based on his or her HIV status alone.

The Immigration and Nationality Act provides that individuals who are determined to have a communicable disease of public health significance are inadmissible to the United States and are prohibited from receiving visas to visit the United States without a waiver. Congress removed this statutory language specifically requiring that HIV be considered a “communicable disease of public health significance,” a list that is established by regulations published by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), through a provision in the Tom Lantos and Henry J. Hyde United States Global Leadership Against HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria Reauthorization Act of 2008, which the President signed on July 30, 2008. On November 2, 2009, HHS published its final rule deleting HIV from the definition of “communicable disease of public health significance."

General Information on ESTA

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that assists in determining eligibility to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk. Upon completion of an ESTA application, a traveler is notified of his or her eligibility to travel to the United States under the VWP.

The “Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007” (9/11 Act) amended Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), requiring that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) implement an electronic travel authorization system and other measures to enhance the security of the VWP. ESTA adds another layer of security that allows DHS to determine, in advance of travel, whether an individual is eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP and whether such travel poses a law enforcement or security risk.

No. An approved ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa when a visa is required under U.S. law. 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. Individuals traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for ESTA.

ESTA is required pursuant to Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, as amended by Section 711 of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. This legislation required DHS to develop and implement an automated system to determine, in advance of travel, the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States and whether such travel poses a law enforcement or security risk.

ESTA enables DHS to evaluate whether individuals are eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP prior to their boarding a U.S.-bound carrier, and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risks. ESTA counterbalances vulnerabilities inherent in visa-free travel by adding a layer of advance scrutiny that enables DHS frontline personnel to focus even more on the small population of potentially dangerous travelers.

The Government of Australia has a program that is similar to ESTA, called the Electronic Travel Authority, in which travelers planning to visit Australia may submit an application electronically through the Electronic Travel Authority website.

ESTA and Data Privacy

Information submitted by applicants through the ESTA website is subject to the same strict privacy provisions and controls that have been established for similar traveler screening programs. Access to such information is limited to those with a professional need to know. The website is operated by the U.S. government and employs technology to prevent unauthorized access to the information entered and viewed. Information is protected and governed by U.S. laws and regulations, including but not limited to the Federal Information Security Management Act.

ESTA application data remains active for the period that ESTA is valid, which is generally two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first. DHS will then maintain this information for an additional year after which it will be archived for 12 years to allow retrieval for law enforcement, national security or investigatory purposes. Once the information is archived, the number of officials with access to it is further limited. This retention is consistent both with CBP’s border search authority and with the border security mission mandated for CBP by Congress. Data linked to active law enforcement lookout records, CBP matches to enforcement activities, and/or investigations or cases, including applications for ESTA that are denied, will remain accessible for the life of the law enforcement activities to which they are related.

ESTA has allowed for the automation of the paper I–94W form in the air and sea environment. In those instances where a VWP traveler is admitted using the automated process, the corresponding admission record will be maintained in accordance with the retention schedule for I–94W, which is 75 years. I–94W and I–94 data are maintained for this period of time in order to ensure that the information related to a particular admission to the United States is available for providing any applicable benefits related to immigration or other enforcement purposes.

The information collected by and maintained in ESTA may be used by other components of DHS on a need-to-know basis consistent with the component’s mission.

Under current agreements between DHS and the Department of State (DOS), information submitted during an ESTA application may be shared with DOS consular officers to help them determine whether a visa should be issued to an applicant after an ESTA application has been denied.

Information may be shared with appropriate federal, state, local, tribal and foreign governmental agencies or multilateral governmental organizations responsible for investigating or prosecuting the violations of, or for enforcing or implementing, a statute, rule, regulation, order or license, or where DHS believes information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws. Additionally, information may be shared when DHS reasonably believes such use is to assist in anti-terrorism efforts or intelligence gathering related to national or international security or transnational crime. All sharing will remain consistent with the Privacy Act System of Records Notice, which was published in the Federal Register on June 10, 2008, and is available on the DHS website.

While carriers will not receive the ESTA application information that travelers provide to DHS, they will receive confirmation of a passenger’s ESTA status via the Advance Passenger Information System, indicating whether ESTA is required and whether authorization has been granted.

DHS uses the application data to screen the individual before granting authorization to travel to the United States under the VWP. As part of this screening process, information that identifies suspected or known violators of the law and other persons of concern will be provided to the appropriate law enforcement, national security and/or counterterrorism agency.

Who Needs to Apply for ESTA

All eligible nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under VWP are required to receive an authorization through ESTA prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or vessel. The term "United States" refers to the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands of the United States, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Accompanied and unaccompanied children, regardless of age, are also required to obtain an independent ESTA approval. A third party, such as a relative or travel agent, is permitted to submit an ESTA application on behalf of a VWP traveler.

Yes. Eligible nationals or citizens of countries that participate in the VWP require either an ESTA or a visa to transit the United States. If a traveler is only planning to transit through the United States en route to another country, when he or she completes the ESTA application, the traveler should enter the words "In Transit" and his or her final destination in the address lines under the heading “Address While In The United States.”

No. ESTA is required only for citizens or nationals of VWP countries.

ESTA Implementation Timeline

As of January 12, 2009, all VWP travelers are required to obtain a travel authorization via ESTA prior to traveling to the United States under the VWP.

At anytime, but preferably as soon as a VWP traveler begins to plan a trip to visit the United States. Travelers may file ESTA applications through the ESTA website.

VWP travelers who have not received an ESTA approval may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing, or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry.

All VWP travelers arriving by U.S.-bound airplane or vessel, regardless of their country of origination or port of embarkation, require an approved ESTA.

While CBP recommends that you apply at least 72 hours before travel, you may apply anytime prior to boarding. In most cases, a response is received within seconds of submitting an application.

VWP travelers, who travel without an approved ESTA, may be denied boarding. CBP will handle emergencies on a case-by-case basis.

How to Apply for an ESTA

ESTA is a web-based system. In order to apply for an ESTA, go to the ESTA website, follow the instructions to answer all of the required questions and submit an application for travel authorization.

Yes. The website is operated by the U.S. government and employs technology to prevent unauthorized access to the information entered and viewed. Information submitted by applicants through the ESTA website is subject to the same strict controls that have been established for similar traveler screening programs as governed by U.S. laws and regulations, including but not limited to the Federal Information Security Management Act. Access to such information is limited to those with a professional need to know.

Not necessarily. An ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the United States under the VWP. In the same way that a valid visa does not constitute a determination of admissibility, an approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admissibility to the United States at a port of entry. In all cases, CBP officers make admissibility determinations at U.S. ports of entry or pre-clearance facilities.

No. Each VWP traveler must have an approved ESTA for the passport he or she plans to use for travel to the United States. If travelers acquire a new passport, they must submit a new ESTA application for their new passport.

The applicant should choose the country of their nationality, not the physical location where the passport was issued. For example, if you have a Japanese passport issued in the United States, choose Japan.

ESTA does not currently have a gender X to choose from on the application. It is suggested that the traveler choose whichever choice they feel most comfortable with. ESTA will not be denied solely on the gender chosen on the application.

ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to traveling to the United States under the VWP, and in most cases, ESTA provides an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel under the VWP. However, DHS recommends and encourages VWP travelers to submit ESTA applications through the ESTA website as soon as the traveler begins to plan a visit to the U.S. VWP travelers are not required to have specific plans to travel to the United States before they apply for an ESTA, but if the information is available applicants are encouraged to provide their destination addresses and itineraries. Each approved ESTA application generally is valid for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever comes first. A new travel authorization is required if: (1) the traveler is issued a new passport; (2) the traveler changes his or her name; (3) the traveler changes his or her gender; (4) the traveler’s country of citizenship changes; or (5) the circumstances underlying the traveler’s previous responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a “yes” or “no” response have changed. The associated fee will be charged for each new application submitted.

In most cases, ESTA provides an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel under the VWP. There are three types of responses to an ESTA application: Authorization Approved, Authorization Pending and Travel Not Authorized. Applicants who receive an approval are authorized to travel to the United States under the VWP. Applicants who receive an Authorization Pending response will need to check the website for updates within 72 hours to receive a final response. Applicants whose ESTA applications are denied will be referred to the Travel Information web site for information on how to apply for a visa to travel to the United States.

Each approved ESTA application generally is valid for two years and allows for multiple visits to the United States within that period without having to apply for another ESTA approval. Travelers whose passports will expire in less than two years will receive an ESTA valid until the passport’s expiration date.

A new travel authorization is required if: (1) the traveler is issued a new passport; (2) the traveler changes his or her name; (3) the traveler changes his or her gender; (4) the traveler’s country of citizenship changes; or (5) the circumstances underlying the traveler’s previous responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a “yes” or “no” response have changed. The associated fee will be charged for each new application submitted.

No. Use of a private service to apply for travel authorization via ESTA will not expedite approval. Third party websites that provide information about ESTA submit ESTA applications for VWP travelers are not endorsed by, associated with, or affiliated in any way with DHS or the U.S. government.

Yes. VWP travelers are not required to have specific plans to travel to the United States before they apply for an ESTA. If a traveler’s destination in the United States is unknown when he or she completes the ESTA application, the traveler should enter “Unknown.” Travelers may update this information when their plans are finalized, but they will not be required to update their destination addresses or itineraries should they change after their ESTA application has been approved. DHS recommends that ESTA applications be submitted as early as possible, as soon as, or even before travel is planned. ESTA will accept applications from last-minute and emergency travelers – those VWP travelers who arrive at the airport without an approved ESTA.

A third party, such as a relative or travel agent, may submit an ESTA application on behalf of the traveler. A third party may also pay the associated fees on behalf of the traveler. The traveler is still responsible under the law for the answers submitted on his or her behalf.

The traveler must provide, in English, biographical data including name, birth date and passport information. The traveler also must answer VWP eligibility questions regarding communicable diseases, arrests and convictions for certain crimes, past history of visa revocation or deportation and other questions. The traveler will also need their credit card information to pay the associated fees in order to complete the ESTA application.

Information for the ESTA application must be entered in English. The computer used to submit the ESTA application should be configured for the U.S. English language with a suitable English font for keyboard input.

If the computer’s operating system is Microsoft Windows 95 or higher, please refer to the Conversation Exchange website for computer configuration.

If the computer is using a non-Windows operating system, refer to the documentation or help information provided by the operating system vendor.

No. DHS communicates a traveler’s ESTA status to the carriers. However, DHS recommends that travelers print out the ESTA application response as a record of their ESTA application number to confirm their ESTA status.

You may call the CBP Info Center at (202) 325-8000 or 1-877-227-5511. The CBP Info Center will only be able to answer general questions regarding ESTA. If you need to know why an ESTA application has been denied or you have specific questions regarding your ESTA application, you must file a request with the DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

ESTA Fee and the Travel Promotion Act of 2009

Yes, beginning September 8, 2010, there is a fee required by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (Section 9 of the United States Capitol Police Administrative Technical Corrections Act of 2009, Pub. L. No. 111-145). The fee is comprised of two parts:

  1. Processing Charge -- All applicants requesting an electronic travel authorization are charged for the processing of the application. The fee is $4.00.
  2. Authorization charge -- If your application is approved and you receive authorization to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, an additional $10.00 will be charged to your credit card. If your electronic travel authorization is denied, you are only charged for the processing of your application.

CBP is not responsible for any additional fees that may be charged by your credit card company for the transaction.

All payment for electronic travel authorization applications must be made by credit card or debit card. The ESTA system currently accepts only the following credit/debit cards: MasterCard, VISA, American Express, and Discover. You may also have a third party, such as a relative or travel agent, pay the associated fees for each application. Your application will not be submitted for processing until all payment information is received.

At this time, payment is required through the following credit cards: MasterCard, VISA, American Express, and Discover. Payments can also be made with a debit card that holds the VISA or MasterCard symbol. Please check with your bank on compatibility of your debit card. We are continuing to explore other payment measures for the future.

No. The fee will only be required for new registrations on or after September 8, 2010. Travelers who renew their ESTA after September 8, 2010 will need to pay the same fees for a renewal.

Yes. Pay.gov uses 128-bit SSL encryption to protect your transaction information while you're logged in to Pay.gov. In addition, any account numbers you set up in your profile are encrypted before being stored in our database. When you access your profile, any account numbers you have entered will be masked on-screen; each account number in your profile will be displayed as a group of asterisks followed by the last four digits of the account number.

According to the Senate Report of the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 (Senate Report 111-025), the purpose of the Travel Promotion Act is to increase international travel to all areas of the United States, communicate United States travel policies overseas, and make entry procedures into the United States more efficient and welcoming.

The Travel Promotion Act was sponsored by Senators Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) John Ensign (R-Nev.) and Reps. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) in the 111th Congress and signed into law by the President on March 4, 2010.

Fifty-six countries charge entry and/or exit fees. These fees range from $14 to $100, with an average of $26.77. However, these fees are largely unseen because they are included in the taxes and fees attached to airline tickets.

The Department of Homeland Security worked with the travel and tourism industry to inform international travelers that the original ESTA program online application form was free. DHS and industry will continue to promote the official U.S. government ESTA website and discourage travelers from using the third-party organizations to complete the easy ESTA application. This will increase the likelihood that VWP travelers will know where to find the correct internet address for the official U.S. government ESTA website and that the only ESTA fees required will be those collected during the online application process.

Updating Your ESTA

Yes, a new travel authorization via ESTA is required when: (1) the traveler is issued a new passport; (2) the traveler changes his or her name; (3) the traveler changes his or her gender; (4) the traveler’s country of citizenship changes; or (5) the circumstances underlying the traveler’s previous responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a “yes” or “no” response have changed.

ESTA approvals are typically granted for a two–year period or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever is sooner. ESTA provides validity dates upon approval of the application. Therefore, a traveler must apply for a new ESTA when the prior ESTA approval or passport expires. The associated fee will be charged for each new application submitted.

If a traveler’s passport information changes, the individual is required to apply for a new travel authorization through ESTA. A new travel authorization is required if (1) the traveler is issued a new passport; (2) the traveler changes his or her name; (3) the traveler changes his or her gender; (4) the traveler’s country of citizenship changes; or (5) the circumstances underlying the traveler’s previous responses to any of the ESTA application questions requiring a “yes” or “no” response have changed. The associated fee will be charged for each new application submitted.

The ESTA website provides applicants with the data submitted prior to submission so the applicant may review and make corrections if necessary. In addition, the ESTA website requires the applicant to reaffirm the passport number, family name and country of citizenship prior to submission. For corrections:

Any data entered may be corrected prior to submitting the application.

  • After the application is submitted, data such as email address, telephone number, and “Travel Information” such as the Carrier Name and flight number, and address while in the United States may be corrected or updated using the ESTA update function.

  • Mistakes made in answering any of the VWP eligibility questions A – G may be changed depending on the question. Contact the CBP ESTA Office at (202) 344-3710.

The ESTA website has extensive guidance available through the online “Help” function. Additionally, a third party, such as a relative or travel agent, may submit an ESTA application on behalf of a VWP traveler.

If an ESTA expires before the traveler leaves the United States, the traveler is not required to apply for another ESTA. However, the traveler will need to apply for a new ESTA for future travel.

If a traveler loses, forgets, or does not have access to his or her application number or travel status, he or she may retrieve the application number, beginning September 8, 2010, through the ESTA website by entering the applicants name, date of birth, passport number and passport issuing country.

If applicants enter the wrong Passport Issuance Date or Passport Expiration Date and they realize the mistake only after having submitted the ESTA application they will need to re-apply for a new travel authorization. The old application will be automatically cancelled. The associated fee will be charged for each new application submitted.

The ESTA website will prompt applicants to review the data submitted for the overall application prior to submission. The applicant will be able to print out the entire application and their ESTA status upon completion of the application. Once the browser is closed, the applicant will only be able to print out their ESTA status by retrieving their application. It will not be possible to print the entire application once the browser is closed. DHS recommends that travelers print out the ESTA application response to record their ESTA application number and to confirm their ESTA status.

ESTA and the I-94W

The implementation of the ESTA program allows DHS to eliminate the requirement that VWP travelers complete an I-94W prior to being admitted to the United States. CBP has transitioned to paperless processing for VWP travelers arriving by air or sea who have obtained an ESTA authorization. Most travelers entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program who have an approved ESTA will no longer need to fill out the I-94W form, nor will a green I-94W departure card be placed in their passport. The I-94W form will still be required at the land border.

ESTA and U.S. Visas

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. Individuals traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for an ESTA authorization.

If you already have a B1/B2 or any other valid visa and you are traveling for the purpose in which it was issued, you do not need to apply for an ESTA authorization.

ESTA Denials

The ESTA is designed to screen each traveler for law enforcement or security risks. The vast majority of travelers will receive an approved ESTA authorization.

If an ESTA application is denied and the traveler wishes to continue with the trip, the traveler will be required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Visit the State Department website for more about visa application procedures.

Unless the circumstances have changed, the traveler will not qualify for an ESTA and will need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. If you misunderstood the question, or thought something in your background was a reason to be denied and found out later that it was not, we advise you to contact us so we can review your answer. Please go to help.cbp.gov to send an email by clicking on “Ask a Question.” In your email, please explain why you selected "yes" to that question, and ask for clarification on next steps.

DHS has carefully developed the ESTA program to ensure that only those individuals who are ineligible to travel to the United States under the VWP or those whose travel would pose a law enforcement or security risk are refused an ESTA. While the ESTA website provides a link to the DHS Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) website, there are no guarantees that a request for redress through DHS TRIP will resolve the VWP ineligibility that caused an applicant’s ESTA application to be denied.

U.S. Embassies and Consulates are not able to provide details about ESTA denials or resolve the issue that caused the ESTA denial. Embassies and Consulates will process an application for a non-immigrant visa, which, if approved, will be the only way that a traveler whose ESTA application has been denied would be authorized to travel to the U.S.

Unfortunately, the Department of State is unable to guarantee next-day appointments because of varying demand for visas. As a result, we encourage travelers to apply for an ESTA far in advance of the proposed travel. Information about the appointment process is available at the nearest consular section or at the Travel Information website.

Last Modified: June 15, 2022