Why do I need an ESTA if arriving by land?

Category: ESTA Processing | 0

Until October 2022, the United States used two types of I-94 forms to control the entry of non-American citizens into the country by land. The first type was known as the Form I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Record and was specifically intended for travelers from countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

The second type is for non-American travelers who are from a country that does not belong to the Visa Waiver Program. This one is known as the I-94 Arrival-Departure Record.

What type of information had to be supplied on the I-94W form?

The I-94W form used until the end of September 2022 had similar questions and requested much the same info as the new electronic ESTA application. Still, the latter is more efficient than the old paper format. That is one of the reasons why CBP chose to retire the paper form last year and replace it with an ESTA.

Important changes announced in October 2022

According to a very prominent notice in red on the CBP.gov website, as of October 1, 2002, all travelers who are from a country that is a member of the VWP Visa Waiver Program and who want to enter the US by land will need to apply for and get an approved ESTA (Electronic Travel Authorization) before they are allowed to enter the United States at a land border post.

The CBP urges travelers to submit such an application at the very least three days before they expect to arrive at one of the country’s land ports of entry.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (more commonly referred to as the VWP) makes it possible for qualifying citizens of the 40 countries that belong to the program to visit the US for tourism or business purposes without a visa. These people are allowed to stay in the US for a maximum of 90 days without needing a visa.

It is important to be aware that if you enter the US under the VWP, you will typically not be allowed to extend your stay or modify your status after you arrive in the US.

Anyone who stays in the US longer than the maximum period of 90 days will lose his or her eligibility to visit the United States under the VWP and could also become liable to other penalties under United States law.

Someone who is not a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program country does not qualify for an ESTA and will need a visa or other type of travel document.

How the VWP program works

Most travelers from VWP countries arrive in the US via a commercial flight or a sea carrier. A smaller number arrive via a land border crossing. Those who do arrive by land often do so via a US/Canada border crossing, although many visitors also enter the US via the Mexican border.

In the future, VWP-eligible travelers who enter the U.S. by land, air, or sea will have to get an approved ESTA or a U.S. visa.

What about someone from a non-VWP country who wants to enter the US by land?

From now on, those from non-VWP countries will have to submit an electronic I-94 application so the authorities can keep track of when they arrived in the United States and when they left again. They must complete these I-94 applications electronically – the paper option has been discontinued.


In the rest of this article, we will take a closer look at the rules that apply to individuals who want to enter or leave the United States by land and at the complications that might arise when someone mixes land travel with sea or air travel.

What will happen if I try to cross the US/Canada border overland without an ESTA?

As we mentioned earlier, from the beginning of October 2022, all travelers who are citizens of a country that is a member of the Visa Waiver Program and who want to enter the United States from Canada or Mexico at a land border post must have a valid ESTA. There are no longer any paper-based I-94W forms available.

What is the situation if I already have an approved ESTA?

Travelers from a VWP country with an approved ESTA will find the new entry process more streamlined since they will no longer need to fill out an I-94W form when they arrive at the border crossing. Completing an ESTA application online takes less time than filling out a paper form. However, you must remember that it can take 72 hours or longer before an ESTA application is approved, so your best option is to submit the ESTA application a few days before you embark on a trip to the US border.

How does it work if I want to leave the United States by land?

Travelers who are leaving the United States by land will, from now on, have their details captured electronically, i.e., there will no longer be a paper stub. The new electronic records contain all the data that, until last year, used to be collected via a printed form.

What if I leave the United States by sea or air?

If you arrive in the US by land from Mexico or Canada and then depart by air or sea, the new electronic departure record will contain all the important information related to your departure.

How will I be able to prove that I didn’t overstay my old I-94W or I-94?

Customs and Border Patrol advises applicants to check their I-94 data online to ensure it is correct by visiting the following URL: https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home.

To make 100% sure that you can prove your case should a dispute arise, you must always keep the following records until you have left the United States:

  • Your original boarding pass showing when you left the United States.
  • Photocopies of your passport pages containing the arrival and departure stamps of your trip to the United States.
  • Pay slips that prove that you had an income when you visited the US.
  • Credit card or bank statements that show you made payments outside the United States after you left.
  • School attendance records or transcripts can also help to prove that you left the US when you say you did.

Does using the VWP (Visa Waiver Program) come with any disadvantages?

You should consider the following conditions before deciding to apply for an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program:

  • You have no appeal right if you are denied entry into the US. You can, however, still apply for a visa
  • If you enter the US under an ESTA, you can not extend it later

The bottom line

Travelers from VWP countries who want to enter the US from Mexico or Canada via a land border post must now apply for an ESTA. Paper-based I-94W forms are no longer accepted. You must apply for an ESTA at least 72 hours before your intended arrival at the border post.