The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) makes it possible for passport holders of the 39 different Visa Waiver Program countries that participate in the initiative to travel to the United States for tourism, short study, medical, transit, and business purposes without having to first apply for a visa. The ESTA makes it easy for citizens of the UK, Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, and a number of other countries in Europe, South America, and Asia to travel to the USA. The application form typically takes no longer than 10 to 15 minutes to fill out and a decision is made virtually immediately. Around 99% of applications are approved. This article covers topics regarding the conditions that determine the duration of an ESTA.
For how long is an ESTA approval valid?
An ESTA approval is valid for a 2-year period, or until the applicant’s passport expires, whichever happens first. This does, however, not mean that someone with an approved ESTA can remain in the U.S. for a period of two years. It is only valid for one 90-day visit at a time. After that, there is usually a 12-month waiting period before the next visit can take place. Someone who, therefore, applied for and was issued an ESTA and went on to visit the US for 90 days will have to wait 12 months before he or she can enter the country with their ESTA again.
It has to be noted at this stage that CBP (Custom and Border Protection) has until now not applied the 12-month rule very strictly. There is also a fairly easy alternative: someone with an approved ESTA who spent 90 days in the US and who would like to visit the country again before the 12-month waiting period has expired, can simply apply for a U.S. visa.
Any traveler who needs information about immigrating to the US or about visa-related matters is advised to seek legal advice from a licensed U.S. immigration lawyer.
It is important to note that the CBP can exercise their discretion when deciding who is admitted into the U.S. and who not. The border guard will decide whether or not a ‘reasonable length of time’ has elapsed between stays. Should the border guard suspect that an individual is attempting to enter the U.S. in order to live there, such a traveler will not be allowed entry.
When is the best time to submit an ESTA application?
Someone who wants to travel to the United States should strategically plan the timing of their ESTA application to make sure they get the most of their visit to the country and allow enough time for any possible delays in getting authorization for visiting the U.S.
Although the absolute minimum period that should be allowed for an ESTA application to be approved is 72 hours, it is advisable to send in your application as early as you possibly can in case it is denied and you have to apply for a United States visa instead.
Travelers who intend to remain in the United States for longer than 90 days will have to apply for a U.S. visa from the start, since stays of this duration are not possible with an ESTA.
It is very important to take note of the following: A traveler who overstays his or her ESTA will most likely be banned from the Visa Waiver Program. He or she might also be refused entry at a U.S. border post in the future. Apart from that, overstaying your ESTA might make it very difficult or even impossible to get a U.S. visa in the future.
Can I extend my stay in the U.S. by traveling to other countries in the region?
Visits to other countries in the region such as Mexico, Canada, or even the Caribbean, without first returning to your home country, will very likely be regarded as part of your 90-day U.S. stay by CBP border guards. They are aware that travelers use this tactic to make their 90-day visits last much longer and using such tactics will most likely just result in the traveler being denied when he or she tries to enter the U.S. again.
People who genuinely want to combine a visit to Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean with a 90-day stay in the United States might be best off if they planned their itinerary in such a way that they do not have to return to the U.S. since it’s highly unlikely they will get any leniency if they overstay by even a single day.
Is it possible to renew an ESTA in the United States?
No. An ESTA can not be extended outside or inside the borders of the U.S. The ESTA application has to be submitted before a traveler arrives in the U.S. or one of its territories. If someone’s ESTA or passport, however, expires while he or she is in the country, they do not have to submit a new ESTA application before the end of the 90-day period.