How Long Does An ESTA Last?

ESTA is not indefinite. Travelers to the US under the Visa Waiver Program must ensure their ESTA authorization is valid and that they continue to meet the conditions for visa-free travel.

With ESTA authorization, visitors are permitted to travel to the US without first having to secure a visa. A number of strict rules apply, however, as to the length of permitted stay, who is eligible to travel visa-free and limiting permissible activities during the period of stay. In this article, we look at some key questions about travelling with ESTA, including who is eligible and how long ESTA lasts.

Traveling with ESTA authorization

Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) citizens of 38 partner countries are permitted to travel to the United States without a visa for the purposes of tourism and business for up to 90 days. To qualify for the VWP, travellers must first obtain authorization to travel to the US under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

To apply for visa-free travel under the VWP you must obtain authorisation to enter the United States using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization prior to boarding a US bound air or sea carrier. This is known as an ESTA.

ESTA is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the VWP, and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

How long does an ESTA last?

ESTA authorization lasts for two years, unless your passport expires sooner. Importantly – this does not mean you can stay in the US for two years.

There is a difference between the period of stay and ESTA validity.

ESTA permits visits of up to 90 days. You cannot stay for longer with an ESTA whether you are on holiday or visiting for business. In the event that you plan to stay longer, you will need to apply for a suitable visa, such as a B visitor visa that will allow you to stay for up to six months or a relevant US work visa if you will be carrying out gainful employment during your stay.

Though the period of stay authorised is 90 days, once granted you are permitted to travel with ESTA as many times as you like provided your ESTA remains valid.

You only need to reapply for ESTA after its validity has expired, i.e. usually at the end of the two year period.

That said, you are likely to attract attention at the border if you are travelling to the US frequently as a visitor under ESTA and staying up to the 90 day maximum each time. Remember that ESTA permits travel for tourism or business-related activities only. Any impression of potential residence could result in refused entry.

How can I check if my ESTA is still valid?

To ascertain whether or not any existing ESTA is valid, you can visit the ESTA website to check the status of your authorisation and its validity period. You will, however, need the original application number to do this.

If you didn’t write this down or print out your original authorisation confirmation, you may retrieve the application number through the ESTA website by clicking Retrieve Application Number and entering your name, date of birth, passport number and passport issuing country.

The date of the email confirmation sent to you when you were initially granted an ESTA will also correspond to the start date of your ESTA validity period. Assuming your passport was, at that stage, valid for a period of two years, you can easily calculate the expiry date. The validity period will run from the date that the ESTA is issued, not from the date of your first trip.

When will I require a new ESTA?

As previously indicated, if your ESTA application is approved but your passport is due to expire in less than two years, you will receive an ESTA valid until the passport’s expiration date. However, if your ESTA expires while in the United States it will not affect the date you need to leave by.

A new ESTA authorization will also be required in the following circumstances:

  • You are issued a new passport
  • You change your name
  • You change your gender
  • Your country of citizenship changes
  • Your circumstances change, for example, you are convicted of a crime or you develop a serious communicable illness

In some cases, any changes in personal details may simply require you to update your existing ESTA approval, without having to reapply for authorisation.

Does an ESTA guarantee entry into the United States?

ESTA technically only grants permission for you to board a carrier for travel to the United States under the VWP. In the same way that a valid visa does not guarantee admission to the United States, an approved ESTA does not guarantee entry, rather it only establishes that you are eligible to travel there.

Only a US Customs and Border Protection officer at the point of entry can decide whether you are actually permitted entry into the country. This decision is completely at their discretion, so it is always worth carrying with you any documentation in support of your reason for travel so that you can prove your intentions and avoid being refused entry. Taking advice if you have concerns can help ensure you have relevant documents with you in the event you are questioned at the border.

ESTA eligibility

You should be eligible for ESTA if you are a citizen of one of the 38 partner countries under the VWP, and you have a valid electronic and machine-readable passport, commonly referred to as an e-passport.

Please note, however, if you are a dual national of Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, or you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia or Yemen since 1 March 2011, albeit with limited exceptions, you will not be eligible for an ESTA.

Even if you are a citizen of one of the 38 VWP partner countries possessing a valid e-passport, you may still be denied ESTA approval if you are deemed to pose a threat to the welfare, health, safety or security of the United States.

You will also be denied an ESTA if you have failed to comply with the conditions of any previous admission under the Visa Waiver Program.

As such, you will be unable to travel visa-free under ESTA if:

  • You have been arrested, even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction, or you have a criminal record.
  • You have been denied entry to or deported from the U.S, or you have previously overstayed on the VWP.
  • You have a serious communicable illness.

ESTA denied?

In the event that your application for an ESTA is denied, but you still intend to travel to the United States, you will need to apply instead for a visitor or other suitable type of visa from your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate and a waiver of inadmissibility to support your application.

The denial of travel authorisation under an ESTA only prohibits travel under the VWP, and is not a final determination of eligibility for a visa to travel to the U.S. However, a visa application can take several weeks or months to process and may significantly delay your travel plans.

NNU Immigration specialize in advising travellers on their options to travel where they have a criminal record. For advice on how this complex web of rules applies to your circumstances and ability to travel, speak to our London-based US immigration attorneys.

Do you have a query about entering the USA with a criminal record? Book a fixed fee telephone consultation with a US immigration attorney >>

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