Generally, all persons traveling to the US require a visa. The exception is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), which allows certain nationals to stay in the US for up to 90 days without applying for a visa in advance. The Visa Waiver Program can be used for both business and personal purposes, as long as certain conditions are met.
ESTA stands for Electronic System For Travel Authorization and is an electronic travel authorization system. This is absolutely mandatory for every person who wants to travel to the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
The Visa Waiver Program allows visa-free entry for
The ESTA electronic travel authorization system was introduced on August 1, 2008 and has been mandatory since January 12, 2009 for all travelers wishing to enter the US without a visa.
However, visa-free travel to the US is not free of requirements. I.e., not all purposes of stay are permitted within the scope of the Visa Waiver Program. Persons using the VWP may only be in the US for tourism (Tourist Visa Waiver) or limited business activities (Business Visa Waiver).
ATTENTION: Entry by private plane or private ship, on the other hand, is only permitted with a valid US visa (e.g. B-1 / B-2).
The US agency responsible for administering all ESTA applications is the U.S. Customs and Border Protection CBP for short, which reports to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (U.S. Department of Homeland Security) is subordinated.
The ESTA application must be submitted before traveling to the USA, as it will take at least 72 hours for you to receive confirmation.
The application is made via the official ESTA page or also via the app if you already have a newer passport.
Alternatively, agencies, like our sister company, offer a service to the ESTA application an. Here, both your information is checked again and you have a customer service that is personally available to you.
IMPORTANT: As soon as the information on the passport or personal data is no longer up-to-date, a new ESTA application must be filled out. This case occurs, for example, with a new passport.
Currently, 41 countries participate in the visa-free travel program, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
On October 19, 2023, Israel joined as a new participating country. In the process, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was updated, allowing Israeli nationals to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without having to apply for a US visa. Israael will thus become the 41th member of the Visa Waiver Programs.
Nationals of the following countries can use the Visa Waiver Program current use:
(Status: October 2023)
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In order to be a Visa Waiver Program country, strict requirements must be met. Indeed, the Visa Waiver Program is a comprehensive security partnership between the United States and certain countries that allows international travel to the US without a visa while protecting national security.
Member States must therefore comply with the following requirements, with respect to:
This includes an average B visa denial rate in the previous year below 3% or an average B visa denial rate over the last two years below 2% (with none of the years allowed to exceed 2.5%).
The calculation of these Nonimmigrant Visa Rejection rate is based on the Adjusted Visa Refusal Rate which is collected each year by the U.S. Department of State (DOS).
In addition, the issuance of secure travel documents and close cooperation with US law enforcement and counterterrorism authorities is needed.
The US administration under former President Trump had introduced strict security regulations that must be implemented by all Visa Waiver Program member countries in order for them to (continue to) qualify as VWP member countries:
The USA has tightened the entry requirements for the last time in August 2019. Certain groups of people can in principle not (no longer) participate in the visa waiver program:
The aforementioned groups of people must always apply for a visa to enter the USA. The disadvantage is that when applying for a visa for the USA on the one hand. Visa fees and secondly, the application process is more complex and lengthy than obtaining an ESTA travel authorization. In addition to extensive application documents, almost all visa applicants must attend an appointment in person at a US consulate.
Only in individual cases can the persons concerned apply for an exemption (= Waiver) put.
The strict entry requirements have a particular impact on business travelers and tourists who need a B-1 / B-2 visa instead of ESTA or have to check alternative visa categories.
For people who need help with the ESTA application, this can also be booked through an agency. The specialized team of our sister company The American Dream assists USA travelers with the application process for an additional service fee.
VWP travelers need a valid passport (ePassport) according to the current regulations of the US authorities. In any case, please inform yourself about the exact passport regulations on the pages of the U.S. Embassy or the U.S. Consulate.
In general, the passport should be valid for at least six months from the date of departure from the USA.
An exception to this rule is the so-called "Six Month Club" Nationals of certain VWP countries (including Germany, Austria and Switzerland) only need a passport, which "only" needs to be valid for the duration of the planned stay in the USA.
If you want to use the visa waiver program with ESTA, you need a return or onward ticket, which must not end in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean. On the one hand, this proves that a timely departure is planned, and on the other hand, it makes clear that there is no immigration intention on your part.
The U.S. Department of State classified Cuba as a "State Sponsor of Terrorism" (SST) on January 12, 2021. There have been repeated reports in the past of U.S. travelers who had previously been in Cuba and were denied entry with ESTA.
In the fall of 2022, the first official notice was posted on the ESTA website that people who had previously visited Cuba would no longer be allowed to enter the US without a visa. It was unclear for a long time to which travel period and for which group of people this regulation applies.
On the ESTA page is now under the FAQs officially indicated which travelers are affected by the ESTA block.
Travelers who visit Cuba on January 12, 2021 or visited after that date are not eligible to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) using ESTA, but must have a to apply for visa.
As a rule, this will be a B-1 (business) or B-2 (tourist) visa. Please allow sufficient lead time for this.
Visa is also required for travelers who have dual citizenship of a VWP country and Cuba.
IMPORTANT: Until recently, there was no specific query in the ESTA application form about previous trips to Cuba, but this has changed since mid-July 2023 and, following the above-mentioned clarification of the travel period, is causing further irritation.
The previous security query for nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to one of the following countries as of March 01, 2011 - Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan or Syria - has been expanded to include the query for Cuba. Thus, there is no specific query for previous travel to Cuba from the date actually communicated now: January 12, 2021.
If the corresponding ESTA security question is answered with YES after Cuba travel from 2011, it is possible to specify the exact travel dates. Unfortunately, some travelers already reported to us that although the Cuba travel period was specified before January 12, 2021, the ESTA approval was rejected.
OUR RECOMMENDATION: If you receive an ESTA denial even though your Cuba travel occurred prior to the now communicated travel period of January 12, 2021, you have two options:
We strongly advise all travelers against providing false information in the ESTA application form. This applies to both new and existing ESTA authorizations. If an ESTA has been issued and it is later determined that the traveler has been in Cuba on or after January 12, 2021, or has dual citizenship of a VWP country and Cuba, the ESTA will be revoked and entry denied. Misrepresentation or even concealment of prior travel to Cuba may result in deportation and entry bans.
If the ESTA application is approved, the electronic travel authorization is valid for a maximum of two years and for multiple entries from the date the ESTA authorization is obtained or issued (not from the date of first entry).
However, the ESTA authorization may lose its validity before then. According to the US authorities, you must submit a new ESTA application if
This is master data, the change of which has a direct impact on the validity of ESTA.
NOTE: As soon as the message "The time limit has been exceeded" appears when calling up an existing ESTA application, the ESTA application has expired or been reset. In this case, a new ESTA authorization must be applied for.
Since August 1, 2023, there is a limited validity for visa-free travel with ESTA for Hungarian citizens. An ESTA permit for the USA is now valid for a maximum of one year and is valid for one entry only.
Entry with ESTA is currently only valid for affected persons under the following conditions:
Even though the Visa Waiver Program (VWP/ESTA) is mostly used for tourist and private purposes, there are also some professional activities for which you are allowed to travel to the USA with ESTA. There is still a persistent rumor that in the case of an entry via ESTA only tourist purposes of stay would be covered, however, this is not correct. Since the visa waiver program is the exception to a regular B-1 (business) visa or B-2 (tourist) visa, consequently the identical purposes of stay are possible for travelers with ESTA. I.e., in order to check which exact activities are permitted in the USA with ESTA, it is sufficient to look at the B-1 / B-2 regulations.
The following professional activities or services are officially possible with ESTA (among others):
As a rule, therefore, these are classic business trips; employment or payment in the U.S. is not permitted within the scope of visa-free entry.
But attention: Even if employees travel to the USA on behalf of their German employer and continue to be paid from there, this does not mean that all (business) activities on site are automatically permitted.
As an example: An employee with German nationality is to help out for 4 weeks at the US location due to staff shortages there. The employee will continue to be paid from Germany and the contract will also remain with the German company. Due to her citizenship, the employee theoretically qualifies for an entry with ESTA, also the period (less than 90 days) would be covered. However, she is performing an activity in the U.S. that would otherwise be performed locally by U.S. personnel - and for pay. I.e., a US work visa would be mandatory here.
In order to avoid problems, you should find out exactly before your trip and make sure whether your activities are covered by an ESTA or whether you need to apply for a visa. It is well known that the US authorities and especially the border officials are very thorough when questioning people about their reasons for traveling. People who travel very frequently, i.e. with a high frequency with ESTA, coupled with very long periods of stay, are particularly affected by more intensive queries at the border. It is then often assumed that they have taken up work (illegally) or that they will be asked to present a "suitable" visa the next time they enter the country.
Especially in times of pandemic, it has become normal for many professionals to work remotely, from anywhere in the world. This invites to work maybe in sunny/interesting places to combine business and pleasure.
But that is precisely what is not so easy to do in the USA.
It has still not been clearly clarified under immigration law whether, for example, home office work in the USA is permitted for the German employer within the scope of visa-free entry. It is completely irrelevant whether the payment continues to be made from Germany and no active work activity for a US company takes place here.
Tax and social security issues often play a role in making remote work from the U.S. (for employers outside the U.S.) difficult.
There is no precise regulation on this in U.S. immigration law itself, since globalized work is still virtually excluded from it.
Travelers who plan to work remotely in the USA should find out exactly whether this is possible. As a rule, you must assume that a US work visa or work permit is required.
We advise you on the choice of the appropriate visa category and take over the complete processing for you or your company.
The decisive factor for ESTA validity is not the duration of stay, but rather theTime of entry. For example, if the USA stay is planned from September 10 to 20 and the ESTA application expires on September 15, the current ESTA authorization can still be used for this USA trip (even if the authorization expires during the stay).
The length of time ESTA travelers are allowed to stay in the United States is determined by their residency status, which is determined by CBP officers upon entry. Dates of entry and exit are listed in the online ESTA.I-94 Entry formin the range"View Compliance"apparent.
Incidentally, the validity of the personal ESTA authorization can be checked online at any time. Via the official ESTA website, the ESTA application can be retrieved at any time. We recommend allVisa Waiver Programtravelers to check existing ESTA applications online for validity prior to travel.
The Visa Waiver Program allows travelers a maximum stay of up to 90 days per entry. This is not a legal entitlement: the border officials decide whether and for how long the person may enter the country and note this in the passport. In addition, the respective residence status forVisa Waiver ProgramTravelers online via the electronicI-94 Shaperecorded in the system of the US authorities.
An extension of the stay beyond these 90 days is not possible. An extension of the VWP residency status in the USA on site is basically not permitted, even by short entry and re-exit, e.g. to Mexico or Canada. Travelers to the USA are therefore strongly advised to adhere to the maximum length of stay of 90 days in order to prevent problems the next time they enter the United States.
The Global Entry procedure serves exclusively to accelerate the entry procedure and does not replace an entry and residence permit.
Thus, participants of the Global Entry Program still need a valid U.S. visa or a valid ESTA authorization (if they are traveling visa-free) to enter the U.S. in any case.Global Entry registration is possible with the most common US visas (e.g. B-1 Business Visa or E-Work Visa).
Attention: The use of Global Entry is not possible with all visa categories.
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom.
Important!Since January 21, 2016, nationals of the above countries are not allowed to enter visa-free if they:
Some exceptions apply to travel or presence for official reasons (e.g. as a diplomat or soldier of a VWP country). But VWP nationals who also hold Iranian, Iraqi, Sudanese or Syrian citizenship cannot use this exception and are thus forced to apply for a visa.
ESTA applications can be submitted at any time prior to travel to the USA (even without specific travel dates). We strongly recommend that you apply for an authorization as soon as you start planning your trip, but no later than 72 hours before departure.
Please be sure to keep the application number you received. You will need this number to be able to change any data afterwards.For example, if an applicant's destination address or travel dates change after the permit has been issued, the information can be easily updated on the ESTA website.
Of course, ESTA applications can also be submitted at very short notice, as approval is usually granted within a few seconds. Nevertheless, for the safety of our customers we recommend to apply for an approval as early as possible!
In most cases, the ESTA system determines online almost immediately (within a few seconds) whether the applicant will be allowed entry under the VWP. However, the approval phase can also take up to 72 hours.
The following three responses to the online inquiry are conceivable:
If you receive an "approval is being processed" response, you will need to log back into your application at a later time on the ESTA website and check to see if a final response has been issued.
The airlines or shipping companies have the possibility to check at the check-in on the basis of the passport data of the traveler whether an ESTA authorization is available. A printout of the issued ESTA authorization is therefore usually not mandatory.
A few airlines request a printout of the ESTA approval from travelers in advance. If you want to be sure, you can have a printout of the positive ESTA notice ready on the day of your trip.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) will send a reminder to individuals who have provided their email address in the application and havewhose ESTA travel authorization expires.
The email currently states the following:
ATTENTION! Your travel authorization submitted on (date) via ESTA will expire within the next 30 days. It is not possible to extend or renew a current ESTA. You will need to reapply athttps://esta.cbp.dhs.govif travel to the United States is intended in the near future. If there are 30 or more days left on the old authorization you will receive a warning message during the application process and be asked if you wish to proceed.
All travelers are obliged to check whether they still have a valid ESTA authorization before departure.
No, ESTA is not a visa. It is an application for travel authorization that only travelers who are visa free are allowed to travel to the USA(see FAQ Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program?), put.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) allows the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to determine whether travelers are eligible to enter the United States under the VWP prior to travel.
As a rule, visa holders do not need to apply for ESTA approval.However, the reason of your entry must correspond to the visa category.If not, it is recommended to apply for ESTA approval. As an example: A traveler has a US work visa, but is flying to the USA for purely tourist purposes. Here we recommend to fill out an ESTA authorization in advance to be on the safe side.
The VWP can also be used for business activities ("Business Visa Waiver"), albeit in a very limited scope. For example, for trade fairs or meetings with business partners or customers. All further business entry purposes that correspond to "work" (such as consulting services, etc.) no longer fall under this program, even if the stay should be limited to 90 days. Here must be a US Work Visa be requested in advance.
Not infrequently, the lines between using the VWP and having to apply for a visa are blurred -- because it is not always clear whether the U.S. immigration authorities will consider an activity as "work" or not. The key here is to weigh up on a case-by-case basis, by taking into account all the underlying conditions (such as frequency of entry, purpose and duration of stay), whether a visa-free entry is sufficient or whether a visa is required. In addition, one should not forget that the border official, who will ask questions about your purpose of stay, may understand everything that is not a meeting or participation in trade fairs as work and then deny you entry.
However, we will be happy to advise you on this topic!
A stay of up to a maximum of 90 days at a time per entry is possible. An extension of the residence status in the U.S. is generally not allowed, not even by short entry and re-exit, e.g. to Mexico or Canada.
A so-called change of status to a US visa is generally not possible under the Visa Waiver Program. In the case of higher entry frequencies and longer periods of stay, a change of status to a B-1 Business Visitor Visa be applied for in advance of entry or, if applicable, a US Work Visa.
1. passport information (passport number or expiration date) or personal data (name, place or date of birth) is incorrect or has changed:
The only way to correct this information is to fill out a new ESTA application. If your previous ESTA authorization was granted, you should be able to submit a new application without any problems. To be on the safe side, please close all browser windows or the ESTA website before submitting the new ESTA application.
Ignore possible indications that there is already an ESTA travel authorization in the system and confirm that you actually want to fill out a new application. Once the new ESTA application has been submitted, the old ESTA registration will be deleted.
For the new ESTA application, the fee of 14 US dollars will apply again.
Please print out the new, correct ESTA application for your own safety.
2. your contact details (e.g. e-mail address or postal address) are incorrect or have changed:
If this information changes after the permit has been issued, or if you notice an error, this can easily be updated on the ESTA website by selecting the "Update or Check Status" button.
The validity period of the ESTA registration is not affected by updating your data. There are no additional fees for updating the ESTA application.
Please be sure to keep your application number. You will need this number to be able to change any data afterwards. (In an emergency, it is also possible to update this data without the application number by providing personal data).
3. you incorrectly answered a security question that was critical to your eligibility to enter the U.S. under the VWP and as a result you were not granted ESTA travel authorization:
In any case, if you misunderstood the question or originally thought that an incident from your past was grounds for rejection and have now found out that it is not, you should email United States Customs and Border Protection (U.S. Customs and Border Protection, CBP)get in touch.
A new ESTA authorization must also be requested. Please note that despite a new, approved ESTA permit, there may be difficulties at the border. If, for example, you answered "Yes" to the question about possible criminal records and now ticked "No", the border official could assume that you want to conceal a possible (but existing) criminal offense. The same applies to information about possible infectious diseases, visa refusals, etc. In case of doubt, you should consider applying for a visa at the U.S. consulate if the "yes/no" questions in the initial ESTA application are incorrect, in order to prevent problems upon entry.
VWP travelers who cannot present an ESTA authorization will certainly be denied access to the commercial airplane/ship. The airlines or shipping companies have the possibility to check at the check-in, based on the passport data of the traveler, whether an ESTA authorization is available.
ESTA authorization is not required if you are entering the USA by land (from Canada or Mexico). However, if you are traveling by commercial ship or plane, you will definitely not be allowed to enter the US at the border without ESTA authorization. Don't hope for exceptions, the US border officials enforce this legal rule consistently.
An entry fee of $21 is charged for an ESTA application or updating an existing ESTA application.
The fee is due when applying for the ESTA permit on the Internet. The ESTA application will only be processed after payment has been received. Payment can only be made by credit card (MasterCard, VISA, American Express, Discover) or debit card. However, payment of the application fee can also be made by third parties, e.g. relatives or travel agents, if you do not have your own credit card.
Who is exempt from the fee not affected:
The fee is not charged per entry, but per ESTA authorization. And the ESTA authorization is usually valid for two years, unless the passport expires earlier.
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