ESTA visa waiver: what are the security questions?

Learn about ESTA application security questions

What do the ESTA security questions mean exactly?


United Kingdom citizens can travel visa-free to the United States by applying for the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). In addition to entering passport, citizenship, and travel information, this online application system asks 9 security questions that require a “Yes” or “No” response to determine if the applicant is eligible for US travel through the US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP).

Taking time to carefully respond to each question correctly can prevent denial from the VWP and delays while travelling. The required information, including the security question responses on the ESTA visa waiver application are cross-referenced with a series of global security databases. Participation in the ESTA VWP contributes to border security and the prevention of identity fraud and terrorism. 


Thorough review of the ESTA application US eligibility questions can help applicants choose the correct response

They ESTA application security questions are:

1. "Do you have a physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict; or do you currently have any of the following diseases (communicable diseases are specified pursuant to section 361(b) of the Public Health Service Act): Cholera, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis, infectious, Plague, Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers, including Ebola, Lassa, Marburg, Crimean-Cong. Severe acute respiratory illnesses capable of transmission to other persons and likely to cause mortality." 

Some applicants may be uncertain how to respond appropriately to this eligibility question, considering that according to the World Health Organization 1 in 7 people worldwide have a mental or substance abuse disorder. The correct response to this question depends on whether the applicant has a disorder, addiction, or disease that may pose a threat to the welfare or safety of other individuals, themselves, or to property. A “No” response is correct if the applicant has a physical/mental disorder or disease, but it does not now nor will in the future pose a threat to the safety and wellbeing of anyone or anything.

2. "Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?

Careful response to this application question is necessary as the completed visa waiver form may be cross-checked in the Police National Computer (PNC) systems. When deciding how to correctly answer this question, the key word to consider is “serious.” In general, a “Yes” response is required if the maximum sentence given for the crime was more than 1 year and the actual sentence served was more than 6 months.
The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency adheres to the guidelines set forth by the Federal Juvenile Delinquency Act. These standards determine if an applicant is eligible for visa-free US travel based on crimes committed while a juvenile.  Under the following parameters, which do not apply to narcotics cases, an individual may enter “No” for this security question if:

•    The applicant was under age 15 when the crime was committed
•    The applicant was between ages 15-17 when the crime was committed unless the crime was a violent felony act (an act of moral turpitude), and the child was tried as an adult
•    While a juvenile, there is only one crime committed of moral turpitude and more than 5 years have already passed

If the applicant is convicted of more than one crime of moral turpitude as a juvenile, the individual is not eligible for travel under the US Visa Waiver Programme. For case-by-case assistance in determining if a visa or ESTA United States is required for travel, applicants may contact CBP by calling the phone number listed at the end of this article.

3.  "Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?"

A “Yes” response is required if the applicant committed a crime in relation to having, using, or distributing an illegal drug. Applicants may consult with CBP regarding their specific situation for this eligibility question.

4. "Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?" 
Engaging or seeking to take part in any of the activities listed in this question result in ineligibility from the Visa Waiver Programme for the safety of travellers and the people of the United States.

5. "Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?"

A “Yes” response to this question is necessary if false information was ever entered on a US visa or visa waiver application, or if false information was ever given to gain entry to the US.

6. "Are you currently seeking employment in the United States or were you previously employed in the United States without prior permission from the US government?"

Visitors may enter the US with the ESTA travel authorisation for purposes including tourism, vacation, business trips, short-term medical treatment, or for transit. Non-US travellers are not permitted to work in the United States unless they have obtained the appropriate work visa. A “Yes” response should be entered if the applicant has ever Illegally worked in the US, or illegally sought, or is seeking to gain US employment.

7. 'Have you ever been denied a US visa you applied for with your current or previous passport, or have you ever been refused admission to the United States or withdrawn your application for admission at a US port of entry?"

Applicants are required to respond “Yes” if they were ever denied entry to the United States or were denied a visa. Once denied a US visa, the applicant may no longer be eligible for the VWP.

8. "Have you ever stayed in the United States longer than the admission period granted to you by the US government?" 

If a traveller stayed longer than the 90-day limit with ESTA, or greater than the terms permitted by a US visa, the correct response is “Yes.” Due to extenuating circumstances, some individuals may need to contact CBP for assistance with determining the correct response to this eligibility question.

9. "Have you travelled to, or been present in Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011?"

If the applicant was present in a travel alert country listed in this question on or after March 1, 2011, “Yes” is the required response. There are limited exceptions to this requirement, such as travel for diplomatic purposes. CBP may assist with determining valid exceptions.


Personal assistance with ESTA eligibility questions

This article provided general guidelines for determining the correct responses to the ESTA Visa US application eligibility questions. Individual circumstances may require additional clarification. To speak directly with CBP and the US Department of Homeland Security for personalized assistance regarding eligibility for the VWP, their Information Center may be reached by callers outside of the United States at 00+1+202-325-8000 and from within the United States by calling 877-227-5511 between Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m., Eastern Time Zone. Additional assistance is available by contacting a nearby US Embassy or Consulate to receive guidance for determining if it is acceptable to apply for the waiver or if a visa will be required to enter the US. 

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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