Benefits

The old I-94 system for entry into the USA is decades old and an important reason behind the changeover is to bring the program into the 21st century, automate the procedure and get rid of the paper. Currently there is no fee involved. There are also other obvious benefits for visitors in that once ESTA is fully implemented you will no longer have to fill in an I-94 form every time you enter the US. It also means that travellers will know before they leave their country of origin / arrival in the US, that they should be OK for entry (but not guaranteed). Leaving the green departure record accidentally on departure in the traveller’s passport also becomes a problem of the past.

US Government Legislation

This new system has been mandated by US Government legislation, following 9/11 and is very much based on a similar system called ETA that has been working successfully in Australia for some years.

Action

ESTA applications should be made at least 72 hours before departure and you can do so directly from the ESTA site. Submit an ESTA application.


ESTA Supplementary Information

Travel Procedure

Once your details are entered into ESTA, you will then be given an application number, even if you have not provided address and flight information. Once approved and, if preferred, this can then be printed out but you must make note of the approval number for future reference (to update information for further visits, for instance). However it is not mandatory to print the approval to show to the Customs Border Protection (CBP) officer upon entry into the USA. Each family member travelling is required to complete an ESTA application.

Who can complete ESTA?

Third party entry of data into ESTA is permitted but the third party must be completely certain as to the accuracy of such entries. Any inaccuracies will be taken up with you - NOT the third party. Therefore to ensure data accuracy, you must have complete confidence in the person you have asked to complete your application. The system does not track whether the ESTA has been submitted by you or a third party and you remain totally responsible for your own records

Multiple Visits

Updating ESTA data for repeat visits within the 2 year ESTA duration is recommended but may not be mandatory. I.e. Upon entry into the USA, the CBP officer will also have your APIS data on screen at the same time as the ESTA data and therefore the CBP may query why the two sets of data do not match and seek an explanation. Updating ESTA with new arrival and 1st night’s stay data will save time at the point of entry as it will mean fewer questions.

Risk Assessment

When ESTA processes an application, it is checking its databases for security risk names and any individuals on theses databases will be refused an authority to travel. If an authorisation is held pending, this is primarily because some information in the application appears to be incorrect, e.g. passport number etc. Usually, a response will be posted within 12 hours but it may take up to 72 hours.

APIS and ESTA

If you have travelled to the USA before you will know that additional information is already required relating to your stay – this is called APIS (Advance Passenger Information System). As ESTA & APIS data cover two different requirements and are run by two different government departments, both systems have to run separately. At some point the two may be merged so that duplicate information does not have to be provided but currently there is no planned date for such a change.

ESTA Refusals

These are expected to be minimal and it is not expected that ESTA will create additional refusals over current levels.

Emergency Travel

As advised above, ESTA applications can be made at any time ahead of travel but should be made at least 72 hours before departure. However the 72 hour limit is an advisory point by which time your application should have been registered but this is not necessarily the cut off point. For example, it will still be possible for you to submit an ESTA application right up to departure at the airport before check-in and on the majority of occasions you should still receive your authorisation in seconds. Nevertheless if ESTA approval is not given, then travel to the USA will not be permitted and therefore it is highly advisable, wherever possible, you submit applications and get ESTA approval outside the 72 hour deadline, to avoid such refusals.