Top questions about applying for or renewing an ESTA

ESTA Contact Info and website for the official FAQs and questions is

ESTA Washington Desk is open during  Eastern TIme -- number in the US  +12023443710  between  7:30 am and 5pm EDT/EST   Another CPB number is 202-325-8000 and that number is available between 9am and 4pm EDT/EST.     Here   is an online form to submit your question as well 





Summary  about the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)


  1. Eligible visitors should apply for ESTA only on the official  United States Department of Homeland Security Website.  Click HERE
  2. Visitors from certain countries who  plan to visit the US for up to 90 days OR are transiting through an United States International  airport for a few hours while connecting to another international flight need an ESTA   There are NO exceptions for International to International  Transit visitors.  
  3. The US does not have an International transit zone airside similar to what is seen at European and Asian AIrports. All  International passengers  arriving into the US have to clear immigration at the first US Port of Entry before they connect to an international flight.
  4. An ESTA is valid for 2 years from the date of approval. The is NO need to reapply unless there is a passport change or a name change.
  5. There is No need to update optional info such as name and address within the USA for a repeat visit after getting and using the ESTA.
  6.  Outside of the ESTA,  An eTA may be needed if the visitor is fying into the US via Canada or flying to Canada after visiting the USA.
  7. There are plenty of reports on TA forums about members making spelling and date mistakes on the  ESTA  application and not checking their info before submitting it.Please  take the time to make sure all the fields are correct and review all the data before submitting to avoid problems.
  8. While a printout of the ESTA is not needed, THe CPB website FAQ says   However, DHS recommends that travelers print out the ESTA application response as a record of their ESTA application number to confirm their ESTA status.
  9. The 90 day visit on an ESTA can be repeated  for the duration of the ESTA as long as the visitor leaves the US after 90 days. Going to a neighboring country such as Canada or Mexico or the Caribean during that time will count towards those 90 days. More details on that are found here 


Who needs an ESTA  ?

Visitors who are citizens of the Visa Waiver Program countries, and are visiting the United States for business or pleasure and want to stay for up to 90 days  OR  are  transiting through the United States to an International Destination  need an ESTA.  The coutries that are under the program are listed HERE

Visitors transiting through or visiting Canada BY AIR need an eTA,  the Canadian Government's equivalent of the ESTA.  Please refer to the Canadian Government  Website for eTA HERE   

Please note that the ESTA is a US government authorization while the eTA is a Canadian Government authorization.  

Under an  ESTA, visitors are allowed to stay in the USA for up to 90 days.  Even if a visitor is spending a few hours in the USA while connecting between two international flights  (for example from London to Costa Rica via Miami or Frankfurt to Panama via Chicago ) the visitor has to clear immigration in the USA and an ESTA is mandatory. 

The ESTA confirms eligibility to travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program & does not automatically grant the visitor the  right of entry.  That is decided by the CPB official at the USA Point of Entry.


Where and when do Eligible Visitors apply for an ESTA  ?

The official site to apply for an ESTA for a price of $14 per application is at the Official Dept of Homland Security Site HERE   There are third party websites that offer a "service" to visitors and charge a higher handling fee.  It is recommended that visitors skip all these websites and use the official one. 

It is best to apply for an ESTA at least 3-4 months prior to one's visit or even earlier and BEFORE one purchases an airline ticket.    That gives the visitor some buffer in case the ESTA is declined and a Visa is needed. 

Can one  apply for an ESTA without having confirmed travel plans? Yes, specific travel plans are not necessary at the time of application, but visitors will need to enter  a U.S. point of contact.

Although specific travel plans are not required, the address where visitors will be staying in the United States is an optional field that one can fill out. If multiple locations are planned, one needs to enter the first address. If a complete address is not known, one can enter the name of the hotel or location of the first city being visited.  


ESTA Validity and Renewal  

An ESTA is valid for 2 years from the date it is approved. There is no reason to renew the ESTA before that 2 year period or to re-apply for one unless  the passport is renewed, there is a name change, or  answers that were a "yes" or  "no" have changed. ( for example  there was a conviction in a court of law since the ESTA was granted ) 

 "Address while staying in the USA"  can be updated every time you use that same ESTA to visit the USA  but it is NOT NEEDED and is optional 

USA point of contact information  CANNOT be updated and that is OK for all the  visits over a 2 year period.  One could have put in Uknown and that is ok if one did not have a contact in the US and that info is still ok for 2 years. 

If one obtained an ESTA as a Transit visitor while passing through the USA to another international destination, there is NO NEED to get a new one for a repeat visit to just the United States.

In other words there is no reason to update any ESTA information at all for the 2 year period

A visitor can stay in the US for up to 90 days. If the visitor enters the US and then heads to Canada or Mexico or the Caribean within that 90 day period all those days in the neighboring countries do count towards those 90 days.  Do read this page in detail. Do not circumvent that 90 day period by flying to a neighboring country.  That 90 day period is not reset.    Info HERE 



Filling in the ESTA Application

Please double check each field to make sure there are no spelling mistakes or wrong info such as incorrect birthdate  or wrong passport number. 

Before submititng the ESTA there is a chance to  REVIEW the Application.  This would be a good place to REVIEW and make sure there are NO MISTAKKES. (TA members including the authors of this article  all make Mistakes and could have changed the spelling of Mistakkes to Mistakes had the authors paid more attention  :-)  ) 

The USA Department of Homeland Security would like to get the background information on the visitor.  There are no trick questions.  Be honest and answer the question to the best of one's ability. 

If you are in transit, please select 'yes' to the 'Is your travel to the U.S. occurring in transit to another country?' question in the Travel Information section.   

The ESTA application  has a sample passport image and shows the details that need to be filled in -- info such as given name and surname and middle name.  It is best to provide all the names as shown on  the passport.  

"Known by other names" -- If one's name is Robert and is called Bob , it is best to add that info  This would be a good section to fill in any maiden names.If your DW calls you Honey Boo Boo, don't think the US government wants to know that.  If your parents called  you Babs, when you were a toddler, again not something Uncle Sam would like to know.

"City of Birth" -- That is basically the village or town or area where the visitor was born.   If your passport lists the city or town, village, hamlet, province,  you can state that. If not please type in the place you were born in.   Again it is not a trick question.  Please do NOT overthink the questions asked on the ESTA form.  

"Parents' Names"   forenames and family names.  This is NOT a trick question.  Please post your parents' current first name and last name.  It is not asking for a maiden surname or family name before marriage or between marriages or before first, second, third or last marriages.    If you are Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge,  Windsor would suffice as family name 

Contact information in the United States Is needed and cannot be updated for the duration of Visa.  Contact info in the US can be a hotel or organization if you don't know a person.  It can also be marked as UNKNOWN if you do not have a contact and you can put in DOES NOT APPLY for any of the address question for Contact info in the US> 

Address while staying in the USA  Please remember this is optional information and one can put in the first hotel one is staying in or skip that info.  There is NO need to update this optional info everytime one visits the USA.

If one is a holder of passport from multiple countries, that information is mandatory.  If there are  additional passports, enter the most recent passport information, even if that passport is expired. If a dual citizen but does not have a passport from another country, select the country from the drop down list and do not enter anything in the Passport Number field.

Special Characters in your name

Below are some common substitutions in the American English alphabet for unique European letters. You may also refer to the machine readable portion of your passport (with the chevrons <<< >>>) for the universal spelling of your name.

  • ß,ß = ss
  • æ = a e
  • ö = oe
  • ü = ue
  • ë = e
  • ä = ae
  • Å = aa
  • ø = oe
  • ñ = n
  • ? = i j


There is a question about health that requires a mandatory  YES/NO Answer about health.  PLEASE DO NOT OVERTHINK AND ANSWER this with a YES Unless you have a serious issue.  

The US is worried about serious contagious diseases and mental health and pyschiatric issues  and drug related issues and not about some personal health problems you may have.  

Common Cold or Fever or a personal health issue such as diabetes or heart condition etc are NOT Health issues the US Govt cares about when they ask you to answer this question   Please do NOT  answer yes if you have had surgery or a  serious illness  such as Cancer.  

Here is the question and the explanation as to what the US is specifically looking for  


Under United States law communicable diseases of public health significance include:

  • Chancroid
  • Gonorrhea
  • Granuloma inguinale
  • Leprosy, infectious
  • Lymphogranuloma venereum
  • Syphilis, infectious stage
  • Active Tuberculosis

Physical or Mental Disorders 
With regard to physical or mental disorders, answer "Yes" to this question if:

  • You currently have a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder that may pose or has posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others; or
  • You had a physical or mental disorder and a history of behavior associated with the disorder that has posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others and the behavior is likely to recur or lead to other harmful behavior. Answer "No" if:
    • You currently have no physical or mental disorders; or
    • You have or had a physical or mental disorder without associated behavior that may pose or has posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare of that of others; or
    • You currently have a physical or mental disorder with associated behavior, but that behavior has not posed, does not currently pose nor will pose a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others; or
    • You had a physical or mental disorder with associated behavior that posed a threat to your property, safety or welfare or that of others, but that behavior is unlikely to recur.

Drug Abusers and Drug Addicts 
Under United States law persons may not be admissible if they have been determined to be a drug abuser or drug addict.





Fixing Mistakes  

The Official CPB Website  FAQ offer this suggestion

"The Web site will allow applicants to review and correct their data prior to submitting the application, including reconfirming the passport number. Prior to submitting an application with the required payment information, you can correct all application data fields except the passport number and passport issuing country.

 If an applicant made a mistake on their passport or biographical information he or she will need to submit a new application. The associated fee will be charged for each new application submitted. Any other mistakes may be corrected or updated by clicking “Check Individual Status” under “Check ESTA Status”.

If the traveler made a mistake in answering the eligibility questions, please click here     The GENERAL FEEDBACK IS THAT THE CBP EMAIL is backlogged so it is best to either call or apply again for an ESTA after 24 hours with the correct info.


PLEASE DOUBLE CHECK ALL ANSWERS before submititng your ESTA application  


What if the ESTA is denied ?  

"If a traveler is denied ESTA authorization and his or her circumstances have not changed, a new application will also be denied. A traveler who is not eligible for ESTA is not eligible for travel under the Visa Waiver Program and should apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Reapplying with false information in order to qualify for a travel authorization will make the traveler permanently ineligible for travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program."


Reapplying for an ESTA if it is denied ?

One can reapply for an ESTA if it is denied but one must wait 10 days and circumstances must have changed.  Reapplying with false information may result in the traveler being inellgible for travel under the VWP.  If the ESTA was denied because of a mistake, please wait 24 hours before applying again.  

Checking ESTA Status  


"When you apply for ESTA, in order to get your authorization status, (and proof that your application was successfully submitted) you must click “Pay Now” after you receive your application number. The CPB will not send you a separate email or other verification that you have applied for ESTA or whether your application was approved. That final “Pay Now” page provides the only notification you will receive.

If you received approval and did not print out or write down your application number, which is needed in order to update your application or check your status, you may retrieve the application number through the ESTA website by clicking “Check Individual Status” under “Check ESTA Status” and then selecting “I Do NOT Know the Application Number.” You will then need to enter the applicant's name, date of birth, passport number and passport issuing country."



Special Rules for Nationals who have visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen


NEW Rules in 2016 for certain visitors who have  Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or beenpresent in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions).  OR Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria as well as Somalia and Yemen.


Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):




Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).


Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen. 

This information is from the DHS Website

Travelers who are known to fall into the dual national category noted above will receive notice via email on or about January 21, 2016 that their current ESTA is no longer valid.

The Act also requires that all VWP travelers use an electronic passport for travel to the United States by April 1, 2016. Finally, the Act includes other changes to the VWP to promote enhanced information sharing of terrorism and criminal data, and use of INTERPOL databases and notices for border screening purposes.

The vast majority of VWP eligible travelers will not be affected by the legislation.

When will travelers who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria be notified?

CBP is working on implementing that as soon as possible, and will notify those affected directly.

How will CBP inform travelers their ESTAs were revoked? What email/contact information will CBP use?

Travelers who have their ESTAs revoked will be contacted via the email address they provided as part of the ESTA application.  Any traveler who receives notification that they are no longer eligible to participate in the VWP may still travel to the United States with a valid nonimmigrant visa issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  The new law does not ban travel or admission to the United States with a valid visa.

Is CBP revoking all valid ESTAs?

No, CBP will only revoke ESTAs for a relatively small number of individuals who are known to no longer be eligible for travel under the VWP due to the new restrictions.  Restrictions for travel under the VWP will still apply to those with travel to Iran, Iraq, Syria and Sudan on or after March 1, 2011.

What do affected travelers need to do if they received a revocation email?

If an affected individual does not have imminent travel plans to the United States there is no immediate action that needs to take place. The DHS recommends that affected travelers apply for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa well in advance of desired travel to minimize the chance of delays.  For those with imminent travel plans, U.S. Embassies and Consulates are prepared to process nonimmigrant visa applications, as well as expedite visa interview appointments for those with urgent business, medical, or humanitarian travel.

What should travelers do if they did not receive a revocation email, but have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since March 2011? Can they still travel under the VWP?

The DHS recommends that affected travelers apply for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa well in advance of desired travel to minimize the chance of delays.