Important checks to confirm if you may need a new ESTA form
It may be every traveller’s nightmare to arrive at the airport only to discover that their travel documentation is not valid or sufficient for a departing flight. Confirming that your existing visa-free US travel authorisation is suitable for an upcoming USA trip may be the most important step for success with the Visa Waiver Programme (VWP). Visa-free travel with ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) is convenient and fast when compared with the traditional tourist visa. However, careful planning is required to confirm if an existing document is valid or if it is necessary to apply for a new authorisation.
Why a non-expired travel document may not be acceptable for an upcoming USA trip
The primary reason a visa-free travel document may appear valid but is not acceptable for a USA trip is because critical data on the document has changed. When critical information on the document is no longer correct, it is necessary to submit a new ESTA online application to travel. This information includes the applicant name and gender, all passport information including passport number, issuing country, and validity dates, and the “yes/no” responses to the security information questions. Attempting to travel with an existing document where the critical data is not correct can result in denied boarding of the aircraft or non-approval for the VWP.
If non-critical information on the document has changed, can the travel approval still be utilised?
Some information can be updated on an existing travel document. This includes the applicant email address and the USA destination address. Other non-critical data, like the employment information and home address are not required to be updated if the new locations are still within the same country.
What if an error is discovered on the application?
If an error is discovered on an authorised application within any data besides the non-critical information, then a new travel request must be submitted. Even a small typo could prevent travel until a new document is issued. This example highlights why it is strongly recommended the application is carefully reviewed by a specialist.
Early expiration of a travel document
While several reasons exist for a travel document to not be valid for an upcoming trip, most of these possibilities can be checked for and avoided. It takes a proactive traveller to make sure their approval authorisation is in good form and suitable for their next USA trip. The simplest check is the expiration date on the ESTA authorisation. Once it is past this date, the travel authorisation is no longer usable. However, the travel approval can expire before the date presented on the document. It is the applicant’s responsibility to check the current validity, as there may be no notification of early expiration. In general, early expiration occurs because the data in the travel document is continuously checked in the US Customs and Border Protection security databases. If the applicant overstays the allotted 90-day limit in the USA, commits a crime, or there is another reason the individual is longer eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme, then the document will automatically expire.
Additionally, if a traveller attempts to enter the USA during a travel suspension (such as the suspension issued by Presidential Proclamation in March 2020) and the individual is not exempt from the proclamation, then in addition to being denied entry to the USA, the travel document will automatically expire.
How do I know if my visa-free travel approval is still valid?
The expiration date of the ESTA authorisation is located on the right side of the document. However, as detailed above, certain circumstances can make the electronic document expire earlier and without the individual’s knowledge. To confirm if a travel document is currently valid, the applicant should contact the website where the online request was originally submitted. Here (LINK) on our website, there are three convenient ways to communicate with a live Visa Waiver Programme expert about an existing travel document:
When confirming the validity of a document, the following information should be available:
How many times can the same ESTA travel document be used?
While a single trip to the USA through the VWP has a 90-day limit, there is no extent to the number of trips that can be taken during the two-year validity of a document. Although multiple trips are possible using the same travel approval, it is up to US Customs and Border Protection to determine if reentry is allowed. UK citizens can demonstrate their USA trip is in fact temporary by carrying supplementary paperwork such as verification of permanent employment or home ownership outside of the United States.
Can my infant travel with me to the USA under my travel authorisation?
A travel authorisation is linked to one passport and may only be used for a single individual. It is not possible for an infant to enter the USA under their parent’s travel approval certificate. Travellers of all ages are required to have a biometric passport and corresponding travel document.
My visa-free travel application was not approved, should I submit a new request?
When a travel document is not approved for USA travel, most likely any subsequent request will receive the same result. Either the applicant is not eligible for the ESTA Visa Waiver Programme, or there is a critical error on the form. To find out why an application is not approved for travel, a US Embassy or Consulate should be contacted. In doing so, either a correction is made so the not approved status is lifted, or the applicant can confirm that a tourist visa is required and begin the process of obtaining one.
Find peace of mind for ESTA travel from the UK
British-American inventor, Mr. Benjamin Franklin, once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The value of careful confirmation of a travel document’s eligibility and a prompt new application submission when necessary are simple steps that can prevent dealing with issues and delays from an ineligible travel document.
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.