It’s not often that people experience problems with the ESTA website but when it happens, it’s extremely frustrating – particularly for travelers who are on a tight schedule. One has to accept, however, that any online system will experience technical glitches from time to time, particularly if it supports such a large number of users. Having said that: the ESTA system has an impressive uptime history of more than 99%.
CBP (Custom and Border Protection) usually carries out vital updates and maintenance tasks on the ESTA website during weekends, most often on Saturday mornings (GMT) when it’s around midnight in the United States.
While this work is carried out, the website would typically be unavailable for anything between 1 and 10 hours. The unfortunate reality is that during these outages it’s not possible for individuals who want to travel to the United States to get prior authorization and they might be forced to postpone their journey.
What should someone who is busy with an ESTA application do if he or she experiences problems?
If you experience technical problems or have other issues with the ESTA website, the following might help:
- Clear browsing data (browser cache). In Google Chrome you have to click on the three vertical dots in the top right corner of the screen, select More Tools, and then choose Clear Browsing Data. Your particular browser might be different.
- Now open the ESTA website again
- Try to send in your application one more time
If the steps listed above fail to work and there is no indication on the ESTA website when it will be up and running again, try switching to a different browser. If all else fails you can also try switching to another computer – perhaps in a different location, e.g. your work – as long as the internet connection is stable and secure.
Another option is to try sending the application from a mobile device such as your smartphone or tablet. You will need a strong signal and a 3G, 4G, or 5G connection. If none of the above works, your last resort is to contact your cruise operator or airline to assist you with the application.
Why do they have to update the ESTA website so often?
There are many reasons why ESTA might have to update their website from time to time. Examples include:
Planned updates: These are typically announced a few weeks before they will be implemented.
Unplanned Outages: These happen much less frequently but when they do happen they are typically unannounced.
Updates are vital to make sure that the ESTA website is always running on the latest technology. This ensures that storing applicants’ data, payment processes, data checks, and similar functions are able to support the needs of travelers from across the world.
Another reason is to address any possible security issues related to travelers who want to visit the United States. An example is adding more fields on the application form to get information about an applicant’s previous visits to territories outside the United States. A second example is adding more fields on the payment page to help with credit card verification.
What options do I have if I can’t wait for the ESTA website to start working again before submitting my application?
Individuals who can not, or do not want to, wait for the ESTA website to come back online can send their application via a third party. When they do this their data is stored and will be transmitted to the official system as soon as the ESTA website is up and running again. Please note that one typically has to pay additional fees to the third party for such a service.
How can I make sure that website issues will not interfere with my application?
If you want to make sure that issues with the ESTA website will not affect your application, your best option is to apply as early as possible. ESTA website issues are by their very nature often unpredictable. This is why applicants are advised to send their application to ESTA a couple of weeks before they plan to travel to the United States.
It is quite common for new applications to be classified as ‘Pending’. In this case, it may take as long as 72 hours for the application to be processed and a decision to be made. If you can not afford to experience unnecessary delays, therefore, you should never leave an ESTA application until less than 72 hours before your departure to the United States.
Last, but definitely not least, travelers should never postpone applying for their ESTA until the very last moment. Even if someone applies for an ESTA exactly 72 hours before his or her departure to the United States they are taking a huge risk of being disappointed.
Travelers who really want to make sure there are no issues with their ESTA application should submit it as early as possible – preferably the moment they have an exact date for their departure to the United States. There is no reason you can’t send in an ESTA application weeks or even months before the time. By submitting the application long before your departure to the US you will ensure that, should your application be rejected, you will still have enough time to apply for a U.S. visa.