How long does it take to obtain an ESTA?

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How long does it take to obtain an ESTA?

Understanding the Visa Waiver Program

Twenty two European countries, including the United Kingdom, participate in the Visa Waiver Program that uses the ESTA system (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Citizens from these countries can enter American territory without being required to hold a visa. This was implemented to efficiently filter travellers visiting the United States, facilitate immigration control in the airports and decongest the services of American embassies. Individually granted, the completion of the electronic form, the ESTA, is obligatory for travellers, whatever their age.

It should be noted that citizens from the twenty two countries are not automatically entitled to ESTA authorization, refusals can happen. In this case the only alternative is to apply for a standard visa from an American Embassy. It is recommended that travellers respect these time periods in order to avoid any travel delays. In effect since 12 January 2009, the ESTA application form is fairly easy to complete but should be done so with careful attention.


The ESTA form is in three parts:

  • One concerns the traveller’s identity and passport.
  • One relates to antecedents relating to the law.
  • And the last concerns the applicant’s travel intentions.


ESTA authorization is not applicable for visitors who enter American territory via land borders with Mexico or Canada.


The time required for an ESTA application

A margin of 72 hours is more prudent for the information processing, even though the majority of applications are granted just a few minutes after submission. It is important to know that a 10 day delay is required after a first visa refusal to renew the latter, on condition that the application requirements are respected. The time saved by travellers is therefore considerable. Although it is not necessary to print the ESTA authorization it is recommended to do so due to the important information it contains.


Two copies are recommended:

  • The first, the traveller keeps close to them during their travel.
  • The second should be kept safely for any future trips to the United States.


A new passport or modifications to the identification details (name and type) require a renewal of the ESTA authorization.


The information that should be entered on the ESTA application

All the information required should be entered exactly as marked in the passport or on the flight ticket. Having these at hand to consult is strongly recommended to avoid mistakes. An ESTA application form should therefore show the last name and the first name(s) as shown on the passport. Married women need to choose between their maiden name or their married name if both appear on the passport.

The flight ticket should show one or the other but the name chosen should be used to complete the ESTA application form. Under no circumstances should the word ‘spouse’ or an abbreviation be used. The American authorities guarantee the confidentiality of the information supplied; the traveller therefore has nothing to worry about on this issue.


When is it recommended to apply for your ESTA?

As previously stated, the time required to obtain your ESTA authorisation response is only 72 hours maximum after the submission of your file. However, this does not mean that you should leave it until the last few days to organise your visit to the USA.

In fact, different situations can require far more time than these 72 hours and, to ensure that your travel plans continue unimpeded, it is extremely important to take these situations into account. Here are the cases whereby you will need more time:  

  • Your ESTA has been refused as it was incorrectly completed: If you receive a refusal from the American authorities for your ESTA application who have examined your file and you discover that you have made mistakes or wrongly answered one or several of the questions in the form then you have the opportunity to reapply but on condition that you respect the minimum delay of 10 days between the refusal date and the date of the new application. 
  • Your ESTA has been refused as you do not fulfil the necessary conditions: In this case it may still be possible for you to continue with your visit to the USA by applying for a traditional visa. This procedure is completed through the Embassy, not online, so it is often longer and can take a few months.

In order to prepare for any possible obstacles along the way and be sure that your visit to the United States can proceed according to plan we highly recommend that you proceed with your ESTA authorisation application a few months before your departure date.  In this way you can continue with your plans calmly and benefit fully from your visit.