Published on: Jul 07, 2017, Last Edited: Mar 11, 2020
The ESTA Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 39 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism, business, transit, medical and short study purposes without the need of apply for a visa. The ESTA has made is much easier for travelers in the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and many other European, Asian and South American countries to travel the United States. An application form takes 10-15 minutes to complete and authorizations are granted instantly with a 99% approval rate.
An approved ESTA is granted for a period of two years, or date of passport expiry, whichever date comes first. However, this does not mean an individual can stay in the United States for two years. The ESTA can be used for visits of up to 90 days per trailing 12-month period. So, if a traveller has recently received an ESTA and stayed 90 days and then returned to his / her home country, then he / she will likely need to allow 12 months before using their ESTA again. However, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have not set strict requirements for the duration of time an individual must wait between visits to the U.S. Alternatively, the traveller can apply for a U.S. visa if he / she wishes to visit the country again within 12 months of their previous 90 day stay. If a traveler seeks immigration or other U.S. visa information, find legal counsel from a licensed U.S. immigration lawyer. The border guard will determine if a 'reasonable length of time' between stays has occurred. If the border guard suspects a traveler is trying to live in the United States they will not be admitted. Please be aware that these are merely guidelines as the discretion for admission into the U.S. is determined by CBP.
Depending on when a visitor wish to travel to the US, they should strategically time their ESTA application to ensure you are getting the most of your travel and your authorization prior to visiting the United States. Although 72 hours is considering the minimum amount of time before applying for an ESTA, it would be wise to plan in case an applicant is denied and needs to apply instead for a U.S. visa. If your plan is to stay in the U.S. for more than 90 days, they you will need to apply for a U.S. visa. Overstaying on an ESTA will likely result in being banned from the program and possibly result in future refusals at the United States border. Furthermore, overstaying on an ESTA could jeopardize approvals on any future U.S. visa applications.
Visits to nearby countries such as Canada and Mexico or even the Caribbean, without first flying home, will likely count towards the 90-day period stay. CBP border guards are aware of this tactic travelers use to extend their visits in the U.S. and will likely deny entry to individuals using such tactics. If you genuinely wish to visit Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean and wish to stay 90 days in the U.S. as well, plan your itinerary accordingly so that you will not stay more than 90 days in the U.S., as there likely will not be much leniency with overstaying even one day over 90.
ESTAs cannot be extended nor renewed inside or outside of the United States. The authorization must be obtained before arriving in the United States or its territories. However, if your passport or ESTA expires while you are in the United States, you will not need to apply for a new ESTA for the duration of your max 90-day visit.
If you hold a passport from a visa waiver country such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or other Western European 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