Travelers entering the U.S. by land will soon need an ESTA

Published on: Apr 11, 2022, Last Edited: Apr 11, 2022 | Tags: ESTA Application Pending, Border Security, ESTA Requirements

On April 7th 2022, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) revised the requirements for Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers entering the United States by land.

When will ESTA be required for Visa Waiver Program travelers entering by land?

Starting October 1st 2022, all travelers entering the United States by air, sea and now land, will need to be in possession of an approved ESTA prior to be allowing entry across the border. In years prior, ESTA was only required for VWP travelers entering the United States by air or sea.

What is ESTA?

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It is a system used by CBP to pre-screen travelers before they are allowed to enter the United States. The goal of ESTA is to improve security and safety of all travelers. It is important to note that ESTA is not a visa.

What are the ESTA benefits?

An approved ESTA can be used for tourism, business or transit purposes to the U.S. of up 90 days per visit. The validity period of an ESTA is two years, or until the date of passport expiry, whichever comes first. The ESTA can be used for multiple entries, so here is no need to reapply if you have an existing approved ESTA. Every eligible VWP traveler will need an approved ESTA, regardless of age.

There are also a number of additional requirements for potential ESTA applicants, including passport and citizenship requirements as well as having a clear background when it comes to immigration and criminal history.

When should I apply for an ESTA?

All travelers are advised to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours prior to arrival to the United States. There are some important distinctions to note based on the method of travel:

  • If arriving by air or sea, you will not be allowed to board your flight or ship without an approved ESTA. Thus, if your ESTA is denied last-minute you may be put into a difficult situation with rescheduling flights and the rest of your travel itinerary.
  • If arriving by land, you can drive to the U.S. border, but won’t be allowed to cross until your ESTA is approved. Thus, you can better plan your entry into the United States if you allow your ESTA application a full 72 hours to process. However, if your ESTA application has been denied, you won’t be able to enter the United States without a visa, which may take several weeks to obtain.

Is the I-94 being canceled?

No, the I-94 will still be a requirement for visitors arriving by land. The change does not result in the removal of the I-94 fee (currently $6) nor the digital form, which travelers will still need to complete before crossing the border by land. CBP has a mobile application, called CBP One™, that travelers can use to log their entry via land up to seven days in advance. The app is available for free on both the Apple Store and Google Play. The app also provides travel history logs and serves as proof of obtaining an I-94 when crossing into the United States by land. The benefit of using the app is the convenience, however, travelers can still apply for a digital I-94 using CPB’s website if they don’t wish to download an application on their mobile devices.

What if I’ve been denied an ESTA, can I still enter the United States by land?

Yes, you can still enter the United States by land if you have been denied an ESTA. However, you will need to apply for a United States visa that best reflects the purpose of your visit. You will also still need to obtain an I-94, which is more a form for travel compliance rather than another visa or travel authorization application.

Conclusion

This change in requirements provides CBP with a more efficient data collection method for VWP travelers entering the United States by land. The additional burden caused to travelers is foreseen to be minimal. Applying for an ESTA online and submitting a digital I-94 form before arrival at the border will save time for both travelers and CBP.

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ESTA is a mandatory travel authorization for travelers visiting the United States either by Sea or Air for tourism, transit or business visits under 90 days.

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