CALL US: +44 (0)20 8004 3492

ESTA Application Denied: Can You Travel to the US?

If your ESTA application has been denied, what are your options to travel to the US?

To travel to the United States, non-US nationals must have relevant permission. This could be in the form of a valid visa or authorization for visa-free travel under ESTA.

ESTA applications are denied when the applicant fails to satisfy the ESTA eligibility requirements. If your application for US travel authorization under ESTA has been decided as “Travel not Authorized”, depending on the reason for the refusal, you may still be able to travel to the US.

In this article, we explain possible next steps if your ESTA has been refused.


Why are ESTA applications refused?

ESTA applications are usually processed straight away, and in most cases a decision is given within 72 hours. If your application hae been returned as ‘travel not authorized’, you will need to understand the grounds for the refusal to determine options.

There can be many reasons why your ESTA application has been rejected, including:

  • You have answered any of the eligibility questions with ‘yes’
  • You have a second nationality from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia
  • You have overstayed your last trip in the US
  • You have travelled to Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia on or after 11 March 2011
  • Information concerning you in the application form does not correspond to that in your passport.
  • You are not a VWP national
  • Your intended period of stay is longer than 90 days
  • You have once lost a passport or reported it as stolen
  • You have provided false information in your ESTA registration
  • You hold a US Green Card
  • You have a police record, in accordance with the seriousness of your offense(s) your trip to the United States can be refused.
  • You have recently been refused a visa under a different nationality passport
  • You have already applied for a US Immigration Visa at a US Embassy
  • There are also other reasons for an ESTA visa refusal, but these are not disclosed by the US authorities

ESTA travel not authorized: what can you do?

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are not required to provide you with the grounds for refusing your ESTA application. Without official grounds for refusal being provided, you will need to examine your application to try and understand the probable cause for denial. Seeking professional advice can help to identify the likely ground(s) for refusal, which will then help inform your next steps and how to address the issue and inform your next steps.

Possible options include:

1. Correcting a mistake

If you had erroneously answered ‘yes’ to one of the eligibility questions, contact CBP to request a correction.

2. Reapplying for ESTA authorization

On examination, it may be that you made a simple mistake when you completed the ESTA form. Look particularly at the information you entered for your:

  • Last name, first name(s)
  • Date of birth
  • Place and country of birth
  • Passport number
  • Country of citizenship

If you had made a simple error in your application form, such as a typographic error, you can wait 10 days and make a new ESTA application. As it will be a brand new application, you will also have to pay the application fee again.

3. Applying for a visa & waiver of inadmissibility

A refused ESTA does not in itself mean you are not eligible to travel to the US – it simply means you are ineligible to travel visa-free under the visa waiver program (VWP).

For example, you would be ineligible if your intended length of stay is over the 90 day VWP limit, or if your reason for visit is not permitted under the Visa Waiver Program, or if you do not have a valid electronic passport from a Visa Waiver country.

In these cases, your next step would be to make an application for the relevant visa at the US Embassy or Consular post in your country of residence. In most cases, this would be a B visa for visitors.

If you are concerned that you will be refused entry to the US under one of the general grounds of inadmissibility, you may need to look at submitting a waiver of inadmissibility to accompany your visa application.

The most common grounds for inadmissibility are:

  • Prior history of criminal activity;
  • Prior periods of unlawful presence in the US potentially subjecting applicants to a 3 year bar (if overstay was a minimum of six months) or a 10 year bar (if overstay was one year or more) from entering the US.

The application process for the waiver of ineligibility can take up to 12 months and requires extensive supporting documentation to support your application. If you are considering this course of action, take legal advice.

Applying for a B visa

To apply for the US B visa for visitors, you will first need to complete form DS-160 on the website of the US Embassy or Consular post where you will be filing your application. For the form to be processed, you will also need to pay the visa application fee ($160 at the time of writing). You should keep a copy of the payment receipt as you will need to refer to this during the application process.

The next stage is to arrange a visa interview at the relevant Embassy or Post.

You will need to prepare for the interview. Consider the questions you will be asked, which will depend on your reason for travel. If you are planning a business trip, you should consider these B-1 questions. If you are planning a leisure vacation, consider these B-2 questions.

You should also prepare your bundle of evidence and documents to support your application, which you should take with you to the interview. Typically these would include your passport, visa-compliant photographs, DS-160 Receipt Confirmation Form, details of your itinerary and accommodation during your stay. Depending on your circumstances and reason for travel, you may need additional documents for the adjudicator to refer to, such as information about any criminal convictions, financial information, proof of employment and residence in your home country.

You will be given a decision on your application at the end of the interview, unless the adjudicator is requesting further evidence.

Issues at the US border

It’s important to note that even if you already have an approved ESTA, you may still be denied entry to the US since customs and border guards have discretionary powers to permit or deny admission to the United States.

All travelers to the US should expect to be subject to additional scrutiny at the port of entry, regardless of whether you have made a successful ESTA application or if, following a refused ESTA application, you have secured a US visa. This could include further questioning and background checks. You may also be detained while these checks are being carried out.

Travelers are advised to carry documentation with them to support their reason for travel and details of their ESTA, visa, and/or or waiver, to present to border officials in the event of any questioning.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.


Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Nita Nicole Upadhye is the Founder & Principal Attorney at NNU Immigration. A recognized leader in the field of US immigration law, Nita successfully acts for individuals and companies from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications.

Need legal advice?

Book a fixed-fee telephone consultation with one of our US immigration attorneys.

Recent articles

Need legal advice?

Book a fixed-fee telephone consultation with one of our US immigration attorneys.

Share on social

Arrange a fixed-fee telephone consultation with one of our US immigration experts.

For advice on any aspect of US immigration, contact our attorneys.