You can commence the process of applying for an ESTA visa anytime, however, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends that you apply at least 72 hours before your intended travel time.
How long does it take to get your ESTA authorized?
It is possible to have your ESTA application approved in under a minute but sometimes it may take up to 72 hours to determine the status of some applications.
You’d be better off applying way ahead of your departure or even before you start making concrete travel plans in case your application is denied and you have to apply for a visa. Getting an appointment at the U.S. embassy may take up to six weeks.
What if you have to make an emergency trip?
ESTA has been designed to accommodate last minute and emergency travellers so if you have to make an impromptu trip, you’ll be able to obtain the travel authorization needed to enter the U.S. in no time.
What if you don’t obtain your ESTA authorization before reaching the U.S.?
Many carriers refuse to let travellers without an ESTA authorization get through boarding at the point of departure. If you do board a plane and arrive in the USA without an authorised ESTA visa, you might not get past the Customs and Border Protection officers and may end up being detained or sent back home. Note that the CBP handles emergencies on a case-by-case basis.
If for some reason, you are not able to apply for an ESTA and are turned back at the airport in your home country, you can apply on the spot through the official CBP website and your application may be authorized on time.
What if you don’t have access to internet and you need to apply for ESTA?
If you are not able to commence your ESTA application yourself, you can have a third party who may be a friend, relative, or travel agent, complete the application for you. The third party may also pay for the application on your behalf. Note that you will be held responsible for all answers provided on your behalf.
What information are you required to provide to complete your ESTA application?
In your ESTA application form, you are required to provide the following information in English:
- Your full name as it appears in your in passport
- Your date of birth
- Your passport information
In addition to the above, you will be required to answer a number of questions concerning:
- Your history of arrests and convictions, if any.
- Your history of communicable diseases, if any.
- Your history of deportation or visa revocations, if any.
Remember you must only provide correct information because if your application is found to contain false information, your will be denied ESTA authorization and could be barred from entering the United States.
What is the next step after completing your application?
Once you have provided correct information for all fields and answered all questions as required during the application process, you should submit the application. Next, note your registration number as this is what you’ll use to check your application status and update your information later.
You’ll have to complete payment before the application is submitted to be processed. You may pay with a debit or credit card from MasterCard, VISA, American Express, or Discover. You will be given a 7 day window to complete payment after which you’ll have to start a new application.
After payment has been confirmed, your application will be processed and your ESTA status will be determined within a timeframe ranging from some seconds to a maximum of 72 hours. Once your status is determined, you may find yourself in any of the following categories:
- Authorization Approved
- Authorization Pending
- Travel Not Authorized
An ‘Authorization Approved’ response means you have been granted permission to travel to the United States. Note that an approved ESTA does not ensure admission into the United States as that is the prerogative of the CBP officers at the point of entry.
An ‘Authorization Pending’ response means you may have to check back in 72 hours to see the final response.
A ‘Travel Not Authorized’ response means you are not eligible for an ESTA visa. If your ESTA application is denied, it doesn’t mean you cannot enter the USA as you can still book an appointment with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate office for a visa application.
Why was your application not authorized?
While the DHS, U.S. embassy or consulate won’t tell you why your application was rejected, here are a number of reasons that could have made you receive the ‘Travel Not Authorized’ response:
- You were previously denied entry into the United States.
- You replied ‘yes’ to one of the VWP eligibility questions.
- You have overstayed in the U.S. while visiting in the past.
- You have previously worked in the U.S. while you entered the country as a visitor.
When would you need to apply for a new ESTA?
Once your ESTA has been approved, it will remain valid for two years, unless your passport expires before the two year term, in which case your ESTA will be invalidated. You will be required to apply for a new ESTA if:
- You change your name
- You change your gender
- You are issued a new passport
- Your country of citizenship changes
- The circumstances that informed your previous answers to any of the ESTA queries requiring a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer have changed. This could mean you have been arrested since you last applied for an ESTA, or you have contracted a communicable disease.
Note that for every new application, you must pay the applicable fees.