What is an ESTA Travel Authorization?

Published on: Jul 16, 2015, Last Edited: Jul 20, 2015 | Tags: Visa Waiver Program, ESTA

In order to travel visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program, the requirements have been improved. This has been implemented so as to reinforce the safety and security with regards to incoming travels that are travelling to the U.S. under the VWP.

This is how the approval process works for travel:

The Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection have made this website available as a secure and public platform with the specific purpose of allowing the public to gather information and initiate the authorization process. You would need to visit the website in order to apply for travel approval.

The following information is required on the platform:

  • Your biographic information, name, contact details, ID number, and so on
  • Travel information
  • Credit card information

Once you’ve entered the required information, your application to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program is processed by the system on the spot. You’ll need to wait a moment for the system’s automated response. This application approval is checked before boarding by the carrier. The carrier will confirm with the United States Customs and Border Protection that you do, indeed, have the approval to travel.

Why are there additional information fields and how are they relevant?

9/11 was the catalyst to many changes within the travel industry and that includes the Visa Waiver Program. Since then the VWP has had to adapt and enhance its security measures in order to effectively screen out security risks even before they travel to the United States. The ESTA was effectively introduced in 2007 with the creation of The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act, which can be attributed to the implementation of recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, the 9/11 Act.

The DHS is confident that the new extra data fields will improve the screening and filtering process.

Who needs to apply for travel authorization?

Each individual who does not have a visa and is planning on travelling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program must have a pre-approved travel authorization, this includes infants. Authorization needs to be obtained before travelling and is required regardless of whether that travel is via air or sea. It is admissible for a third party to submit an application for the Visa Waiver Program traveller.

I’ve got an approved travel authorization; does this ensure my entry into the United States?

An approved travel authorization only allows you to travel to the U.S. it does not guarantee your entry. Admission is determined by an officer, who will inspect you upon your arrival in the United States. The officer will then establish whether you may enter based upon whether you are admissible under the Visa Waiver Program, and U.S. Laws.

Is a travel authorization a visa?

These two documents are not the same and a travel authorization will not be recognized in place of either a non-immigrant or immigrant visa. If you hold a valid visa, you can travel to the U.S. under that visa and there is no need to apply for an additional travel authorization.

 For how long is my travel authorization valid, when does it expire?

Travel authorizations are generally valid for a two-year period. This can change if the authorization is withdrawn for some reason. Your travel authorization will also automatically terminate when your passport expires if such happens before the end of the two-year period of your travel authorization. You can find the expiration date for your travel authorization on the Authorization Approved Screen.

 When is the best time to apply for a travel authorization?

The Department of Homeland Security suggests that a travel authorization be submitted no less than 72 hours before the date of travel. Applications are accepted any time before travelling to the U.S. and their authorization will last for a 2-year period unless the holder’s passport expires before the 2-years are completed.

Can potential travellers apply for a travel authorization, to ESTA, in order to travel to the US on short notice without previously making arranged travel plans?

Absolutely, Pre-arranged travel plans or specific travel plans are not a compulsory part of the application process.


Do participants of the Visa Waiver Program require travel authorization in order to transit the United States to visit another country?


Citizens or Nationals of those countries which partake in the VWP are indeed required to apply through the ESTA, or to obtain a visa, in order to transit the United States. This sort of travel should be specified in the application process by simply answering “yes” at the appropriate question related to travelling in transit.

If the Visa Waiver Program traveller owns more than one passport, is it possible for the traveller to take a trip to the U.S. using a different passport to the one used in the application process?

No, this is not allowed. Each individual travelling on the Visa Waiver Program must travel on the passport they originally used to obtain authorization approval. It’s important to note that if the traveller is in need of a new passport, a new travel authorization application must be submitted to ESTA and a new fee will be charged for each new application. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your passport is current and will last the duration of your planned stay.

Is it still necessary to fill out an I-94W form if I’ve obtained an approved travel authorization through ESTA as a Visa Waiver Program traveller?

No, it’s no longer necessary. With the introduction of the ESTA, the process has been streamlined somewhat, allowing the DHS to do away with the formalities of filling out I-94W forms for Visa Waiver Program travellers. The now paperless process allows many carriers the ability to validate messages and applications directly related to the applicant’s ESTA status. Thus, it stands to reason that I-94W departure coupons are no longer being given to individual’s travelling under the Visa Waiver Program with a previously approved travel authorization.

Why is it imperative for me to obtain a travel authorization under the Visa Waiver Program when travelling to the U.S?

In short, the ESTA is a security upgrade, and therefore no-one can by-pass this measure. It allows the DHS the advantage of deciding ahead of time whether an individual is, in fact, a plausible candidate for travel to the U.S. under the VWP. It still doesn’t determine entry into the United States as entry is only determined by the Customs and Border Protection officer.

The DHS was under obligation to put an electronic travel authorization system into operation, along with other security measures to further advance the protection of the VWP when the 9/11 Act amended Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

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 now:

Apply for ESTA



Apply for ESTA

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.

Apply for ESTA