You have to enter the information required by the US Customs and Border Protection Agency (CBP) in the official ESTA application. The whole process can be completed online and you can get a decision within minutes – unless the authorities require additional information or documentation.
According to the US Customs and Border Protection, visitors who want to transit at an airport in that country while on their way to another country are viewed as (short- term) immigrants to the US.
ESTA also plays an important role in stopping suspicious individuals from using the US as a stopover when traveling to another country. The US has in the past been the target of more than one terror attack that caused loss of life. The US government responded to this by strengthening its security measures and requiring an ESTA from people who are on their way to another destination forms part of its response.
So don’t forget to apply for an ESTA well before the start of your trip.
What about my baby and preschool kids? Do they also require an ESTA?
The normal rules for who should apply for an ESTA also apply to all transit passengers, irrespective of their age. That means that you will have to apply for every member of your travel group who wants to transit via the US. Even infants and preschool kids must have an ESTA.
Since it could take a few days before you get confirmation of the screening results after submitting an ESTA application, the best option is to apply as early as possible, preferably the moment you decide to use the US to transit or transfer on your way to another country.
If you fail to apply for an ESTA for every member of your group before the time, you might not be allowed to board your flight or enter the United States. This is why we recommend that you check all destinations, flight numbers, and airports where you plan to transit well before your planned departure.
What is the difference between transfer, transit, and stopover/layover?
Visitors who want to use the US as a transfer destination typically do so in the following cases: transfer, transit, and stopover or layover. The differences between these terms are explained below.
This term refers to when someone changes flights. The difference between transfer and transit mainly comes down to whether or not you will use the same or a different plane to continue to your final destination. If you will continue your journey on a different plane, the term transfer is used by the authorities.
During a transfer you might, for example, have to move to another part of the airport or even to another terminal. In certain instances, you might even require a new boarding pass before boarding the new plane.
The term transit refers to a stop while you are on your way somewhere else. It is mainly used to describe a situation where the plane has to land at a US airport on its way to somewhere else to refill food and fuel supplies. The same aircraft then continues its journey to the next destination.
In the majority of cases, the aircraft stays in the airport for an hour or two while passengers either remain inside the plane or are asked to move to the airport’s transit room.
During a transit, the plane’s interior will typically be cleaned. If you are asked to go to the transit section, you should therefore make sure that you remove all your belongings that are stowed in the seat pockets or around your feet and place them in an overhead compartment. Also make sure to take important documents like your passport and expensive items such as your camera with you.
During transit, you will typically receive a transit card from airport staff. Make sure you don’t lose this.
Stopover or layover
These terms refer to when your plane remains at a particular airport for 24 hours or more while on its way to another destination. Both terms are used in British and American English.
Although the term stopover might sometimes be used when referring to a stay of shorter than 24 hours, it normally refers to one of more than 24 hours.
What are the different types of US Transit Visas?
If you are not from one of the countries that belong to the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) you of course can’t apply for an ESTA. Below we discuss the different types of Transit Visas you could apply for if you plan to transit via the US on your way somewhere else. The C1 is the most common option.
General Transit Visa (C1)
This is the recommended transit visa if you are a non-American citizen who will be passing through that country en route to your final destination.
This is a transit visa aimed at non-American citizens who are on their way to the UN (United Nations) headquarters in the city of New York. This is also the correct visa for officials of the UN who are transiting via the US on the way to another destination. You can only apply for this visa once a petition or request has been delivered to the nearest United States embassy by the United Nations or a similar foreign mission.
This is the appropriate visa for officials of foreign governments who are on a layover in the United States while traveling to their end destination. The purpose of their trip has to be for work-related or governmental activities.
Steps to be followed when submitting a US transit visa application
- Submit form DS-160 online to start the pre-screening process – This is to confirm that you qualify for the visa. The process is fully online and required from everyone who applies for a non-immigrant visa at the office of the US Consulate/Embassy General, including preschool kids and infants. In the case of the latter, the application must be submitted by a parent or family representative if they are planning to live together in the United States as a family.
- Pay the relevant application fee for a US transit visa – This is currently $185. Make a note of the payment reference onscreen and check you received confirmation via email as you will need this reference again. The fee for a C2 or C3 visa might differ and there could be other costs involved.
- Arrange an interview at the offices of the US Consulate/Embassy General – After making the required payment, continue by scheduling this interview – but contact them before the time because there might not be interview facilities in the city or country you currently are in.
- Prepare the necessary documents ahead of the interview – When booking the embassy appointment, you will be requested to prepare and bring a number of documents to your scheduled appointment. You will also select the method you prefer to receive your passport once your application has been processed.
- Attend appointment – On the scheduled date and time, you will need to attend the interview with a US consular official at the offices of the US Consulate/Embassy General. You will be asked a number of questions regarding the nature of your short visit to the United States, even though it is for transit purposes. The interview should last no longer than 60 minutes, however, additional time may be needed if security lines are long to enter the U.S. embassy.
After completing the steps above, you will usually receive your approved visa inside your passport within 3-5 business via the method you selected on the application form.