How long does an ESTA last?

An ESTA travel authorization is issued with validity of up to 2 years. During this period, the holder can travel to the US for an unlimited number number of trips, each lasting up to 90 days at the most. An ESTA authorization can neither be altered nor extended. If your ESTA application is expiring, or if any of the personal information becomes outdated, you must apply for a new ESTA.

Which factors can influence the validity?

Usually, an ESTA will last for 2 years at a time. However, certain circumstances may cause your ESTA to expire earlier:

  • If your passport expires, or if you choose to renew your passport for any other reason, your existing ESTA becomes invalid concurrently with your passport.
  • If any of the personal information becomes outdated, such as:
    • First and/or last name
    • Gender
    • Nationality
    • Residency
  • If you are no longer able to answer the background questions negatively.
  • If your application was filled out incorrectly.
  • If you stay longer in the US than the allowed 90 days.
  • If you do not meet the requirements for traveling on an ESTA (e.g. if you intend to study, work or perform journalistic activities in the US).

Each trip may only last for 90 consecutive days

While an ESTA is valid for up to 2 years, during which you may make an unlimited number of trips to the US, each individual trip may only last up to 90 consecutive days. Furthermore, an ESTA is only valid for purposes such as tourism, business (such as meetings and conferences), transiting to a third country, and visiting friends and family. However, it is not valid for studying, working, or other activities that require a special visa.

Visiting Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean

If you plan on visiting several destinations in North America, such as Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean, a somewhat unintuitive rule applies: time spent in those countries also count towards the 90 day limit. That means that the moment you enter the US, the 90 day period begins, even if you are initially just transiting to one of the neighboring countries.

For example: If a traveler arrives in the US in transit to Canada, then spends 30 days in Canada, and then arrives in the US, the traveler now only has 60 days left before he must leave the US.

You have to wait a while between each trip to the US

You cannot return to the US again immediately after completing a trip. While there is no predetermined minimum waiting period between each trip, it is up to each border agent to make an individual assessment of whether any travelers are intending to continuously stay in the US. If the border agent determines that you are trying to stay in the US for more than the allowed time by doing a so-called “visa run”, they may render your ESTA void and send you home. It is thus recommended that you stay outside the US for an appropriate amount of time before returning, even if their is no specific rule regarding when you can return.

Your ESTA authorization is tied to your passport

The validity of your ESTA authorization rests on your passport. For example, if you have more than one passport, you can only travel to the US on the one you provided in your ESTA application. Similarly, if you have renewed your passport, you also cannot keep using your ESTA authorization.

In these situations, you must apply for a new ESTA authorization with the exact travel document that you will be using for boarding your flight and entering the US, or you may be denied boarding or entry. If your passport is about to expire, you should first apply for a new passport, and then subsequently apply for a new ESTA.

Other reasons your ESTA may expire early

Incorrect Information

If for whatever reason it is determined that
your ESTA application was filled out with either incorrect or incomplete information, your ESTA authorization may become invalid. Your application may have been approved, as not all data can be verified in advance, but in fact turn out to be invalid when boarding your flight. In such a situation, the only remedy is to apply anew with the correct information.

Outdated Information

Changes in your personal life, even some information that one would not normally consider to be relevant with regard to traveling, may in fact affect the validity of your ESTA. Any changes to any of the following information may render your ESTA invalid and necessitate that you file for a new ESTA authorization:

  • If you take receipt of a new passport or travel document.
  • If you change your first and/or last name.
  • If you change your gender.
  • If you change your nationality.
  • If you change your country of residency.
  • If you are no longer in a position to answer the background questions negatively. However, not all changes affect the validity of your ESTA. Changes mentioned below will not typically affect the validity of your ESTA authorization:
  • If you move within your country of residency.
  • If you have a new contact person.
  • If you change the address in the US where you will be staying.
  • If you desire to travel to the US for a different purpose, e.g. transit instead of tourism.

Always double check your application before going to the US

In short, there are a lot of complicating factors that may change the validity of your ESTA, so one cannot always simply assume that the stated 2 years validity are always in effect. Always ensure that the personal information and passport details you provided are up to date before traveling to the US on an existing ESTA authorization.

Similarly, the 90 day allowance can be more complicated than it seems, due to the rule regarding trips to neighboring countries. It is thus recommended that one carefully plans and reviews ones itinerary, to ensure that one does not inadvertently overstay the 90 day limit due to time spent in either Canada, the Caribbean or Mexico.