Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), introduced in January 2009, requires all international travelers from Visa Waiver Program* (VWP) countries to register in an online database. The online travel authorization is easy to use and available in more than 16 languages. Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel; however, DHS recommends that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel.
Inbound travelers to the United States from VWP countries may be denied boarding by the airlines if they haven’t complied with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization program. All nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP need to receive an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship.
Effective September 8, 2010, all ESTA registration applications or renewals will require a $14.00 fee payment by credit or debit card. Existing ESTA registrations remain valid through their expiration date. For more information, please visit the ESTA page on the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website.
According to the ESTA website, “VWP travelers who have not received an ESTA approval … may be denied boarding. CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] will handle emergencies on a case-by-case basis.” Airlines risk fines if they allow travelers to board without the proper documentation.
International travelers to the United States can go to the ESTA website to fill out an application before entering the country by air or sea. If approved, the authorization is good for two years and can be renewed. Travelers no longer have to fill out an I-94W form before each trip. U.S. officials say ESTA will speed up the process for travelers, enable customs officials to screen passengers in advance and improve security.
Travelers unable to access a U.S. government website may register through travel agents or airline websites.
The ESTA requirement does not affect U.S. citizens returning from overseas, people from VWP countries traveling on a valid U.S. visa or travelers from non-VWP nations.
*The United States Visa Waiver Program countries include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
Learn more about ESTA.