Is the ESTA required if crossing the US border by car?

How is crossing the border by car different from flying into the USA?

So, you’re finally heading off on that much awaited and dreamed about summer holiday to the states? Fantastic, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s never been easier for us Brits to get into the USA, thanks to the American ESTA visa waiver programme. If this is your first trip to the states, it can’t hurt to remind you that the USA does not share any borders with their former empire, so the most likely way for you to get there is on an airplane. However, if you are thinking about entering from Canada or Mexico, there are a few things you should know. 

When arriving by plane, you should have already completed your ESTA application (at least 3 days before departure, ideally) ready for you to present upon landing. You can get your ESTA online very easily. You’ll then clear customs and begin your American adventure. 

If you are entering the USA from Mexico or Canada by car, the process is a little different. Be aware that it is not like crossing borders within the EU, and so you may not be used to the procedures, although they are straight forward and similar to air travel.

If you do not already have an ESTA visa waiver, then you will need to obtain an I-94W visa waiver from border control. This costs $6 per person, and grants you 90 days in the USA under the visa waiver program.

You  will have to go through customs with your vehicle, just like in the airport, but the queues can be somewhat longer on the land crossing. Expect around 30 minutes of queues to clear customs, but this can be substantially longer. It’s recommended that you check the border waiting times online when planning your crossing. 

Whilst it is not a requirement that you have your ESTA in advance for a land crossing, it is well worth considering. If you don’t have to go through the process of obtaining an I-94W visa waiver, you’ll be cutting down your wait time considerably, and the ESTA is much simpler to apply for online in advance of your trip. If you’re making a quick trip to Canada or Mexico from the USA, your ESTA visa waiver allows you to come back into the states easily, and it all forms part of your 90 day period. 

Enjoy your road trip!

Travelling to the United States? Do you have your pre-planning checklist in order? Visit our ESTA Guide for more information about obtaining your travel permit. We'd love to hear from you. Send us your comments or questions for travel assistance.

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