Those who wish to travel to the US on an ESTA authorization must meet a number of requirements. While most casual travelers will most likely not have any problems meeting them, we still highly recommend that you take the time to check that you are eligible before you apply.
The purpose of your trip
Any of the following purposes are valid for traveling on an ESTA:
- Tourism or leisure travel to the US.
- Visiting with friends and family.
- Receiving medical treatment.
- Participating in business conferences.
- Attending business meetings.
- Visiting clients and suppliers.
- Transit to a third country.
However, the following purposes does not make the traveler eligible for traveling with an ESTA authorization:
- Working for an American employer.
- Studying at an American university or other educational institution.
- Founding or investing in a company in America.
- Engaging in journalistic activities.
If you are intending to perform any of the above-mentioned activities, you will most likely require a dedicated visa from your American embassy in lieu of an ESTA authorization. Note that with regard to working in the US, you may work while in the US provide that your employer is not based in the US, since that makes it a business trip. However, in order to work directly for an American company in the US, you must first obtain a work visa.
Requirements for your trip
You must take the following requirements into account when organizing your trip to the US when you are traveling on an ESTA:
- Your passport must be valid for your entire stay in the US.
- The 90 day allowance, which limits the length of your stay to no more than 90 days, also applies to detours to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Thus your combined trip to North America may not last more than 90 days.
- Upon arrival, a border agent may ask for proof of onward travel. That means you must be able to present either a transit or a return ticket.
- When you are traveling on an ESTA, you are ineligible to apply for any US visa or residency permits after you have arrived in the country.
- You cannot travel on an ESTA if you are arriving via either a private plane or a private boat.
- In order to apply for an ESTA with an emergency passport, it must be an biometric/ePassport, i.e. one with a digital chip containing the passport holders information.
Requirements for the traveler
Only certain travelers are eligible to apply for an ESTA. In order to be eligible, a traveler must meet the following criteria:
- The traveler must be from a Visa Waiver Program country, such as the EU and EEA countries, Australia, Chile, Japan, Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan.
- If the travelers has traveled to any of the following countries on or after March 1, 2011: Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen, or has ever been a national of either of those countries.
- If the traveler has any of the physical or psychological medical conditions detailed in the eligibility questions.
- If the traveler has ever been arrested for any crime that resulted in serious injury or property damage.
- If the traveler has ever violated laws concerning the possession, distribution or use of drugs.
- If the traveler has ever disregarded the rules of the ESTA or visa in the past, e.g. by overstaying.
In order to submit your application, you must consent to the following agreements:
- That the US CBP are entitled to collect biometric information, including fingerprints and other data.
- That you wont pose any threat to the public health, public order or law enforcement.
- Will not and have never engaged in sabotage, espionage, terrorism or genocide.
- That you understand that being granted an ESTA travel authorization is not a final approval for entry into the US. The final decision will be made by a border agent upon arrival.
Is anyone exempt from these requirements?
Those traveling on either an American or Canadian passport, those traveling on a visa, as well as travelers who are residents in the US, are all exempt from the requirements listed above. Those who enter the US via a land border do not require an ESTA but may still choose to apply for one. However, some of the requirements mentioned above may still apply to them. Residents of Visa Waiver countries with non-VWP passports are not eligible for an ESTA and must instead apply for a visa through an embassy.