The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is responsible for managing and administering the ESTA application form. The form’s purpose is to collect enough information to enable CBP (United States Customs and Border Protection) to cross-check a traveler’s details across a large number of global criminal, no-fly, and terrorism databases.
CBP and DHS are, however, mindful of the time it will take an applicant to complete an ESTA application. Should the ESTA form be too cumbersome and take too much time to fill out, the whole purpose of ESTA being a quick online way to get travel authorization will be undermined. Travelers may find the process so inconvenient that it could actually deter them from traveling to the United States.
The questions on the ESTA form have, therefore, been carefully planned to ensure that they give border authorities the minimum amount of information needed to confirm that a traveler would not pose a considerable risk to public safety in the United States.
ESTA Questions List
Applicant / Passport Information
The first part of the ESTA application form asks the applicant for basic information such as family name and first name. In the same section, the applicant also has to enter information about his or her passport, as well as info about any other nationalities he or she might currently possess, or have possessed in the past. The applicant also has to give details about any documents related to the other nationality.
It is important to note at this stage that the information you provide on your ESTA application should match that on your passport. When entering information in this part of the form, pay particular attention to the passport number since any mistake here will cause your ESTA application to become invalid. Other mistakes that applicants often make include entering their last name in the first name field or vice versa, and only entering their first name in the Given Name field instead of their first name and middle name(s).
Other Citizenship / Nationality
In this section, you have to enter information about past and present nationalities and citizenships. If you have another nationality or citizenship of another country, you have to disclose this fact. You must also say how you obtained that nationality or citizenship (e.g. naturalization, through parents, birth) and enter the country’s name and information on the documents issued.
If you previously possessed nationality or citizenship of any other country, you have to disclose the name of that country. The form does, however, not ask for information about how you acquired that nationality or citizenship because it’s not active any longer.
GE (Global Entry) Membership
The CBP (Customs and Border Protection) also runs the GE (Global Entry) program. The program aims to facilitate expedited security clearance and entry into the U.S. for members. Global Entry members have been pre-approved by Customs and Border protection and are therefore regarded as low-risk applicants.
Members of the GE program are able to enter the U.S. at a number of airports by passing through an automated kiosk. If you are a GE member, you have to enter your membership number on the form. This information is requested on the ESTA form to ensure that GE members will be able to effortlessly enter the U.S. by using their membership credentials and an approved ESTA.
In this part of the form, you are asked to enter certain information about your parents. This includes their first names and last names. For the purposes of this section, parents include any of the following: biological, step-parents, adoptive, or guardians. If, for whatever reason, you don’t know this information you can enter the names of the people who cared for you during childhood. If you never had any caregivers or parents, enter ‘UNKNOWN’ here.
Personal Contact Information
In this part of the ESTA application form, you have to provide your email address, telephone number, and address. Make sure that you enter every part of the address correctly. The first line, for example, is for the street address as well as the house number where you live. It’s unlikely that CBP will use your home address to send any correspondence. They will normally use your email address if they want to communicate with you about something related to your ESTA application.
Social Media Information
This section was added by CBP a few years ago to collect information about an applicant’s social media accounts. There is a dropdown menu where you can choose from options such as YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and more. You can also enter the name of a social media platform that does not appear on the dropdown menu. There is also a field where you are asked to enter your Social Media Identifier. If you have a Twitter account, for example, with the handle @JohnSmith, you should enter this in the Social Media Identifier field.
Customs and Border Protection might use social media information to decide whether or not an applicant that is undergoing additional screening as part of their ESTA application poses a security risk to the United States or not.
ESTA should include the Social Media Identifiers (account names) of every social media account they have had over the last 5 years on any of the platforms listed below:
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram
If you have not been active on any of these platforms over the preceding 5-year period, you can select the option that states that you do not have a social media presence.
It is strongly advise applicants to give truthful answers. US Customs and Border Protection staff will screen your details and if you are found to have entered false information here, your ESTA application may be rejected.
This section of the ESTA application form contains a number of questions about the name of your employer and their contact information. The reason this is requested is that it gives Customs and Border Control a better understanding of your current employment situation, i.e. whether you have a job or not.
Although CBP most likely won’t use this information when deciding whether to deny or approve an ESTA application, border guards could use it to determine the risk of an applicant staying illegally in the U.S. for work purposes. These guards have the right to question travelers at the border about the purpose of their visit to the United States and how genuine their resolve is to return to their country of origin after the visit to the United States.
U.S. Point of Contact Information
ESTA applicants who are visiting the United States for non-transit purposes will have to enter information about their contact in the United States. This includes their telephone number and address. Applicants who do not have a contact person in the United States can enter the details of a hotel or organization. Alternatively, if no information is available for a U.S. contact person, you can enter zeros (e.g. ‘00000’) in number fields and ‘UNKNOWN’ in text fields.
The reason for asking for this information is that it tells CBP where the applicant will most likely be staying during his or her visit to the U.S. and gives contact/location details for that person, business, or organization.
Address While in the U.S.
The information you enter in this part of the form might be the same as what you entered above if, for example, you will be visiting Miami and the only U.S. contact you have at this stage is the hotel where you will be staying.
Business visitors who are visiting the United States to negotiate a deal should, however, enter details of their contact in the first section and in the second section enter information about their hotel or other accommodation they have arranged.
Applicants who have not yet reserved accommodation for their upcoming visit to the U.S. can enter a couple of zeros (e.g. ‘00000’) in numerical fields and ‘UNKNOWN’ in text fields.
Emergency Contact Information Inside or Outside of the U.S.
In case you have a medical emergency and there are no immediate family members, CBP will use the details you provide here to contact your nominated persons. If, however, you do not have anyone to contact in an emergency, you can enter ‘UNKNOWN’ in this field.
The answers you give to these nine ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions will help to determine whether your ESTA application is approved or not. The questions cover various topics and aim to determine whether an applicant should be regarded as a risk because of his or her criminal history, personal health, activities related to terrorism, drug history, U.S. visa and immigration history, desire to work in the U.S., and also his or her travel history to a number of countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Giving a ‘yes’ answer to even one of the nine questions on the ESTA application form will in all likelihood result in your application being rejected. Take extra care, therefore, when filling out this part of the form. If you are asked to give more information about any of the eligibility questions, make sure to answer in a concise but honest manner.
Waiver of Rights
All applicants should fill out the ‘Waiver of Rights’ section. This basically states that you are waiving your rights to ask for a review of any decision made by CBP as well as your rights to appeal against such a decision. Failure to accept this waiver of rights will ensure that your ESTA application is not approved.
In this part of the ESTA application form, you have to certify that you could understand the questions you had to answer and that you answered all of them correctly and truthfully to the best of your belief and knowledge. Completing this section of the form is also compulsory if you want your ESTA application to be approved.
Although at first glance completing an ESTA application might appear like an easy task, there are quite a few considerations that applicants should keep in mind before answering the different questions on the form.
Fortunately, you will be able to review your replies before submitting the form for processing. This gives you time to double-check everything you entered to make sure there are no mistakes that could cause your ESTA application to be rejected. You can regularly check the status of your ESTA application after submission if you are not receiving email notifications.