How to successfully apply for ESTA before going to the USA under the new Visa Waiver Program

Are you heading over to the United States? Make sure you visit the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website in view of the new Visa Waiver Program's electronic application system. (Credit to BW reader Lam for giving us the heads up)

As of yesterday, the United States government will be implementing this system for those who wish to visit the United States. You need to apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before your departure, whether by air or by sea. You can apply in advance as well through their website.

You'll be required to fill out a simple form, and approval is almost instantaneous. Be ready with your passport and travel info. Applying for ESTA is free of charge, and it is good for 2 years, so you don't have to keep doing this once you've been approved.

In order to enjoy visa-less travel to US, you must meet these conditions:

* You are a citizen or a national of a country which enjoys the Visa Waiver Program (UK is one of these countries.)
* You don't have a visitor's visa.
* Your travel is less than 3 months or 90 days.
* Your US travel plans are geared towards business or leisure.
* You must have a machine-readable passport. (This type of passport contains two lines and chevrons below the personal information page.) If your passport was renewed before October 26, 2005, your old passport needs to have a digital ID picture or an electronic chip.

If you want to stay in the US for more than 3 months or plan to arrive via a non-signatory carrier, you need to apply for the Visa Waiver Program.

Here are 4 steps to follow for a successful application:

Step 1: Complete your application. Besides knowing basic information (your full name, birth date, gender, country of origin and citizenship, telephone number, e-mail address, passport information), you will also need your travel schedule. This means your airline carrier code, flight number, and city where you will be boarding. It's recommended that you reserve a flight before you spend the money in the unlikely case that the application fails for any reason. There are approximately seven security questions regarding your health status, conviction status, etc. Note: if you plan to visit US with an infant/child, you must apply for him or her as well.

Step 2: Submit your application. Make sure your information is accurate, especially your name! It would help to print a copy of the application at this stage because if you have already submitted your application, you cannot print the application anymore. However, ESTA points out that it is not necessary. Worthwhile having a copy though, in my opinion, even though I've been told that all data is stored on their system electronically upon approval, and is not necessary. But better safe than sorry.

Step 3: Keep your Application Number. You will be given an application number. It is important that you jot this down. You need this to check your application status on the website (other info needed for this include your passport number and birth date.)

Step 4: Wait for the response to your application. In most events, the ESTA Application Status will be sent immediately. It might reach a maximum of 3 days for other cases. You might receive any of the 3 status:

Authorization Approved. This doesn't guarantee automatic admission to US. An officer for Customs and Border Protection at the port of entry will have the final say, and you still have to fill in other forms and answer questions.
Travel Not Authorized. If you get this, you will need to obtain a visa from the Department of State. You can visit for more info. But don't fret, as you are only prohibited under the bylaws of the Visa waiver program.
Authorization pending. Your application is under review, as an immediate determination cannot be employed. This might last up to 3 days. You can recheck your status as often as you want via the ESTA website.

Share your thoughts below.


  • SJT
    So can you use this system to 'test the water' to see if you are eligible for the VWP?
  • mzk90
    The specific travel info is optional, so you can apply without any plans to travel to the US. I did and got approved.
  • Mike H.
    Yawn 'o' rama
  • chrisg
    I have a 9yr old passport that is machine readable but does not have a chip or digital ID. I entered the US with this under the old system in 2007... and at the time it said it had to be machine readable..
  • Kevin
    The US Consulate in London was saying on BBC Breakfast the other day that you don't need to do it 72 hours ahead. On the BBC News website it says you could apply when you're in the cafe at the airport if you wanted to but they'd rather you do it in advance. It also said that most applications are accepted within 4 seconds. Chrisg: I think you'd better get yourself a new passport, I think they also can stop you travelling to the US if your passport only has something like 6 months left on it. Also if you get it now it should put off having to get an ID card when they come out for a bit.
  • chrisg
    Grrrrrrrrr. What a waste - it doesnt run out until November as well.
  • chrisg
    (oh, and the text is wrong, you need a chip/digital photo if your passport was issued after 2006 not before 2005)
  • SJT
    @chrisg - that's fine. You can enter the US on a UK 10yr machine readable passport as late as you want, as long as you leave by the passport expiry date. The 6 month rule doesn't apply to UK citizens. I went to the US 2 weeks before my machine readable passport expired (issued, 10/98) and was fine. I kept being reminded that I needed to renew my passport soon!
  • End
    That sounds great. Btw, thanks for a great blog!
  • Watch E.
    Wow amazing. I really love studying these articles
  • Zoe
    is the 72 hours working hours? or saturdays and sundays are included?!
  • nat
    This doesn’t guarantee automatic admission to US. An officer for Customs and Border Protection at the port of entry will have the final say, and you still have to fill in other forms and answer questions. what other forms?
  • Brigida C.
    What are your thoughts on Consumer Credit Counseling?
  • Angela B.
    I want to travel with my 21 months babay to the US next September. I have a visa on my UK passport, does she needs one or I can apply for the Visa Waiver for her?
  • Yasser A.
    an absolute farce for us to fill these out as it is a flawed system. It sees your name and dependant on only this information will decline you, thus meaning you have to pay extra just to apply for a visa. I have been to the USA 2 times, one prior to this scheme and the other in March 2012 via road from Canada. Despite this information, it still declines me via the ESTA. How many other people have been declined like me??
  • V.
    I've been browsing on-line more than three hours nowadays, but I never found any interesting article like yours. It's lovely value enough for me. In my view, if all website owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet might be a lot more helpful than ever before.
  • Henry
    Applying for ESTA is not free anymore, as mentioned in this article. It now cost $14 (roughly £10 GBP ) per person

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