This article provides a list of considerations travelers should take into account when entering the United States from Canada or Mexico.
If I am currently in Mexico or Canada, and I would like to drive to the United States, will I have to apply for an ESTA authorization?
If you have citizenship from a country that forms part of the VWP (Visa Waiver Program) and you want to enter the United States from Canada or Mexico, you will need to apply an ESTA. From October 1st 2022, VWP travelers entering the U.S. by land will be required to obtain an ESTA.
– First entry through a land border if you have a valid ESTA. In this case, if you are a VWP traveler you will need an approved ESTA. You will enter the country in accordance to the land-border crossing procedures at the relevant land border crossing. Your ESTA will be validated to ensure you are approved to enter the U.S. under the VWP.
– First entry through a land border if you do not have a valid ESTA. Should you not have an approved ESTA authorization, you will be required to complete an ESTA application and obtain approval. If your ESTA is not approved, you will not be able to cross the land border. ESTA application processing can take up to 72 hours to receive a decision.
– If you have a valid stamp in your passport from an earlier entry into the United States. If you want to re-enter the United States after traveling to Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days, there is no need to fill out a paper I-94W form. Your ESTA will be checked again upon arrival.
Note: Citizens from Visa Waiver Program countries do not have to apply for an ESTA if they travel on one of the ferries between Victoria, BC or Vancouver and Washington State because these are regarded as land border crossings.
If I am not eligible for an ESTA, do I need to complete an I-94?
Yes, travelers who are not eligible or an ESTA will need to obtain a U.S. visa to enter the country via land, sea or air.
Why did CBP switch from a paper I-94W to an ESTA?
With the introduction of the ESTA program, the Department of Homeland Security was able to waive the requirement that travelers from VWP countries should fill out a I-94W form before they will be allowed to enter the U.S. Since then, CBP has switched to paperless processing for travelers from these countries, provided that they are in possession of an approved ESTA and they arrive by land, sea or air.
The majority of carriers are able to receive and validate messages related to a visitor’s ESTA status as part of his or her boarding status. This is why CBP has integrated the ESTA requirement for arrivals by land.
When should a traveler apply for a visa and not for an ESTA?
Travelers to the United States have to apply for a non-immigrant visa before embarking on a journey to the country under any of the following circumstances:
- If they were denied an ESTA, or are ineligible to apply for an ESTA.
- If their planned visit to the U.S. will be longer than 90 days.
- If they plan to arrive in the U.S. on board a non-signatory airline.
- If there is any reason to believe that they might not be admissible into the United States in terms of the Immigration and Nationality Act § 212(a). In that case, they should submit an application for a non-immigrant visa before commencing their journey to the U.S.
- If their trip to the United States is not related to short-stay for business or tourism purposes.
Will I get an email notification when my ESTA is close to expiration?
An expiration notice will be sent to the email address you entered on the application form when your ESTA is approaching expiration. This email will advise you to visit the official ESTA site and submit a new application.
Generally speaking, your approved ESTA will be valid for more than one entry into the United States over a period of two years. There are, however, exceptions to this general rule. If your passport will, for example, expire before the end of the 2-year period, the approved ESTA will expire with it and you will have to apply again.
My ESTA application was unsuccessful. How can I find out why?
The ESTA program was developed by the Department of Homeland Security specifically to make sure that those applicants whose visit would be regarded as a security or law enforcement risk, or who do not qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, will not be granted a travel authorization. Although there is a link from the ESTA website to the TRIP Travel Redress Inquiry Program run by the Department of Homeland Security, it can not be guaranteed that an applicant whose ESTA application has been rejected will get a refund or any other form of redress.
It is also important to be aware that consulates and embassies will not be able to provide the reason for an ESTA being rejected or fix the problem that caused the rejection. Consulates and embassies will, however, be in a position to consider an application for a non-immigrant visa. If this application is successful, it will be the only other way for someone who wants to travel to the United States and who had his or her ESTA application rejected to still get authorization to visit the US.