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ESTA application tips – be authorised for visa-free US travel

Tips for fast ESTA application approval

Complete the ESTA application correctly for a smooth trip to the US


The ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is the document required to enter the United States under the visa waiver program (VWP). To ensure the fast processing and authorisation, care should be taken that the responses on this visa waiver application are entered correctly. Some common mistakes can be easily overlooked when completing the ESTA application. An incorrect response on the ESTA form may create delays while travelling or result in denial from the visa waiver program, which then requires a visa to enter the US. Being aware of important recommendations for completing the ESTA application can facilitate a successful trip to the US.

How soon should I apply for ESTA before I travel?

While most documents are authorized within 24 hours or less, sometimes it may take longer. The application for the visa waiver program should be submitted at least 72 hours before travelling. Applicants should apply much sooner if they anticipate there might be an issue getting their authorization approved. Then, if the document is not approved, there is sufficient time to contact a US embassy to apply for a visa. 

Can I have the application mailed to a physical address or complete the application in person?
ESTA is an electronic document that may only be applied for by submitting an online application. The payment must also be submitted online. A third party may assist an applicant in completing the online application process. Once approved for travel, the electronic document will be sent to the email address used to apply. It is recommended that a hard copy be printed and carried with the passport while traveling. 
 
To complete the application process, the following resources are needed:
•    Computer with internet access
•    Valid email address
•    Credit or debit card
•    Printer to print out the travel authorization document
 

How do I know if I am a member of the CBP Global Entry Program?

To become a member of the CBP Global Entry Program, an individual must create an account, pay a fee, submit the application, attend an in-person interview, and then be authorized. If the applicant has not completed this process, then select “no” for this application question.

What type of passport do I need to apply for a visa waiver travel authorization?

A valid machine-readable electronic passport issued by a country that participates in the visa waiver program, such as the UK, is required for approval to travel. It is not possible to be authorized to travel with a temporary paper passport—the actual passport must be in hand to apply. A one-year passport, as well as the child’s five-year passport are both eligible for the visa waiver program. If the passport is damaged, it is recommended to replace it before applying for ESTA. 

What do I enter under employment if I am retired, self-employed, a homemaker, or student?

Although the applicant may not be traditionally employed, this question applies to other types of work as well. If retired, self-employed, a homemaker, or student, enter “yes” to the employment question on the application. Complete as much of the additional employment information as possible. If any of the details are uncertain, “unknown” may be entered. For example, if the applicant is retired, enter the details of the previous employer, and under “Job Title” enter “retired”. 

I am not sure if the correct response is “yes” or “no” for an application question

It can be difficult in certain situations to know how to respond to one of the security questions on the application. In these cases, read the question very carefully and choose the most accurate response for the applicant’s situation. For additional recommendations regarding a specific circumstance, contact a US embassy or consulate for assistance. 

What do I enter as the UK country of citizenship and issuing country type on the application?
There are six options available regarding the United Kingdom country of citizenship type and the issuing country type on the application. The two responses should be identical on an individual’s application. 
 
The selections on the application must match the passport type. Here is a break down to help with deciding what to select:
•    UK-British Citizen (GBR), British Citizen
•    UK-British DTC (GBD), British Overseas Territories Citizens
•    UK-British National (O) (GBN), British National Overseas
•    UK-British Overseas (GBO), British Overseas Citizen
•    UK-British Subject (GBS), British subject without citizenship
•    UK-Protected Person (GBP), British Protected Person
 

What if I do not have all the information asked for in the application?

Most of the information is required to be completed to grant travel approval. However, if certain information is unknown on the ESTA application, it is acceptable to enter “unknown” or “N/A” on the following entries:
•    Additional passport or national identity card number 
•    City of birth
•    Parent’s name 
•    Emergency contact
•    Travel information US point of contact 


Do I need to apply for a new ESTA for every visit to the United States?

The visa waiver travel authorization is valid for two years, or until the passport expires—whichever occurs the soonest. The same ESTA may be used for multiple trips to the US. Each trip must be 90 days or less. There is no set amount of time required between trips, and entry to the US is always at the discretion of the US Border Patrol agents encountered.

To learn about visa-free travel visit our complete guide to ESTA.

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.