Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA): An introduction for first-time visitors from abroad

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA): An introduction for first-time visitors from abroad

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA): An introduction for first-time visitors from abroad


Editor’s note: This is the first post from our newest OI contributor, James. We look forward to featuring his writing and Orlando experience on OrlandoInformer.com. If you are interested in learning how you can contribute your own stories and insight, click here.



The Electronic System for Travel Authorization — it strikes fear into the heart of many a foreign Orlando visitor. Alas, the entire system is designed to be quick, easy to use and hassle free.  But if you still need some general guidance or are just interested in what non American passport holders have to do before they can even board a plane or a boat to sunny Florida then read on…..


ESTA – the background

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was brought into force after the events of September 11 2001 in a bid to identify and pre-screen those who wish to travel to the USA via Air or Sea under the Visa Waver Program (VWP). (Although interestingly enough, travelling by land from Canada or Mexico does not at this time require an ESTA.)

The scheme is open to nationals of 36 countries and the website and the form are very simple to fill in and according to the information at the bottom should take you around 20 minutes.

A valid ESTA is required for every passenger that is travelling, Regardless of age (yes, even babies). And in the case of children it’s often best to let an adult fill in the form to stop there being any mistakes as any mistake will lead to you have to start all over again!


ESTA – the requirements

The basic requirements are as follows. You can only use the ESTA if your nationality is listed under the VWP as shown on the website and you have a machine readable passport. You can only visit the USA for a total period of 90 days per visit. This can either be for business or pleasure and you must not currently have a visitor’s visa for the USA. You also must have return or an onward ticket booked.

The Form leads you through a series of questions designed to show if you are eligible for travel under the ESTA scheme.  These questions include

  • Do you have a communicable disease; physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict?
  • Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude? (A wonderful phrase which we don’t see in the UK.)
  • Have you ever been arrested or convicted for violation related to a controlled substance; or been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or been a controlled substance trafficker?
  • Are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?
  • Are you seeking to work in the U.S.; or have you ever been excluded and deported; or been previously removed from the United States; or procured or attempted to procure a visa or entry into the U.S. by fraud or misrepresentation?
  • Have you ever detained, retained, or withheld custody of a child from a U.S. citizen granted custody of the child?
  • Have you ever asserted immunity from prosecution?

You need your passports, your contact details for both home and away, a pen and a bit of paper (to jot down any messages) and a valid payment card. MasterCard, VISA, American Express, and Discover are accepted — JCB, Diners Club and Maestro are the only common ones which are not right now.

You can also (optionally) place or update details of the method of travel you are using to enter the USA and the location you are staying for your first night in the USA. For those of you that do not have accommodation or transport booked this can be updated at any time prior to arriving.


ESTA – important reminders

It is important to note 3 major points:

  1. Completion of the ESTA paperwork does not automatically mean that you are allowed into the United States. It is merely an authorization to board the Aircraft or Boat. The Department for Homeland Security (DHS) has the right to refuse you entry upon your arrival in the USA.
  2. As of September 2010 there is now a charge of 14 United States Dollars which must be paid when applying for an ESTA. If you are refused you get 10 Dollars back. You must at that point contact your local American Embassy or the state department website in order to check what steps are to be undertaken to gain an American tourist visa. It does not mean that you are unable to enter the United States at all just that you are eligible under the VWP
  3. Please, please, please be aware of sites which attempt to charge more than this 14 dollar fee and if you are in any doubt or unsure  please only use the official ESTA website.



The advice on this page was written to the best of the author’s knowledge. As this ESTA stuff involves some pretty serious issues, it is still totally your responsibility to verify all information with an official source. This page is meant to be a friendly introduction, that’s it. We’re sure you understand!

Official website for ESTA: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov


[sws_author_bio user=”jshort” size=”105″ authorposts=”More OI posts by James” name_format=”About the author”] [/sws_author_bio]

Taylor Strickland Taylor Strickland is the Owner & Publisher at Orlando Informer, the internationally awarded independent resource for guests visiting Orlando. In this position, he leads the website's overall direction and day-to-day operations, working with a team of writers, editors, developers, and producers.

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TwigmanJames Shortkaz Recent comment authors
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Not sure if I seen this in your info James, but the ESTA is valid for 2 years but if you require a new passport within that time then you need another ESTA. This is happening to us this year after purchasing 4 estas last summer.

James Short
James Short

Yep I was sure I’d put those points in ,  it appears I may have missed those two key points out. Thanks for the catch Kaz !

Your ESTA is valid for two years or until the expiration date on your passport , whichever is sooner.

The same also applies if you apply for a ESTA and subsequently lose your passport as each ESTA is tied directly to one passport.


Another quick point – I discovered this handy little guide today which may help you in finding out whether you are eligible to travel under the VWP program. http://london.usembassy.gov/root/visa-wizard/pages/index.html

Happy Planning