Since you’re here, you probably already know that you need an ESTA.
Yes, it’s annoying and nobody loves travel bureaucracy. But, it has to be done. And just the fact that you’re reading this article means you’re already making the process easier for yourself!
Read on to familiarize yourself with the ESTA questions of 2020 that you will be asked, and why, so that you can be prepared when the time comes.
Table of Content
So, What is an ESTA?
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is a necessary document for nationals of countries within the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) who want to travel to the United States. It permits travel without the need to go through the full-on process of applying for an actual visa which saves everyone a lot of time and money.
It is valid for 2 years or until your passport expires – whichever comes first, which means that you can travel to the U.S. for multiple 90 day trips during that 2 year period.
There a few exceptions, for example:
- If you have dual citizenship with, or have spent time in Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, North Korea , Libya or Yemen (since March 1st, 2011),
- if you’re planning to be in the U.S. for more than 90 days,
- if your reasons for travel include any study, paid work or sporting events, or
- if you’re travelling overland.
Check out these exceptions in more detail here.
In general though, if you’re from a VWP country, an ESTA is designed to make travel to the U.S. an easier and simpler process.
It provides just enough information for the Department of Homeland Security to ascertain whether you would be a risk to U.S. public safety, whether your travels are honest, or if you have the intention of staying or working illegally.
Most people will have no trouble with this, and the process is indeed much more simple than applying for a visa!
Most ESTA applications are approved in around 20 minutes.
However, to be safe, it is recommended that you apply at least 72 hours before you travel to avoid any last minute stress. You will not be allowed to board your flight without a valid ESTA!
PLANNING A TRIP TO THE USA?
It is best to apply for the ESTA today, before you make any travel arrangements.Apply for USA ESTA
What ESTA Questions will I be Asked?
That’s a good question, I’m glad you asked!
Luckily for you, you’re in the right place.
The broad categories of questions in the ESTA questionnaire include:
- Your Passport Details
- Your Birth Date, Birth Place and Birth Country
- Any Additional Citizenships
- Your Parents’ Names
- Your Contact Details
- Your Work Details
- Travel Details
- Emergency Contact Details
- Eligibility Questions
Let’s Go Into These in a Little More Detail!
Provided you fulfil the basic requirements of eligibility, the most common reason for an ESTA being denied is due to mistakes made during the application process.
So, be really careful to double and triple check for any typos or incomplete fields in any of the ESTA questions. It’s especially important that your name is typed exactly as it appears in your passport.
Your Passport Details
This includes your full name, including any middle names, your gender as listed on your passport, and your passport number.
The date that your passport was issued, its expiry date and the country in which it was issued also need to be listed.
Your Birth Date, Birth Place and Birth Country
Also within the same category of passport details comes your date of birth, the city you were born in and your country of birth.
Any Additional Citizenships
If you have dual citizenship with another country besides the country of your passport, you also need to declare this. This is because the U.S. does not give ESTAs to people with dual nationality with Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Syria, Sudan, North Korea, Libya or Yemen.
You also need to declare whether you have ever been issued any kind of national identity card from a country other than the country on the passport with which you are applying.
If you are currently, or have at any time in the past been a national of another country, you will be asked how you came to be a national of that country.
You will also be asked whether you are a member of the CBP Global Entry Program. If you are, you will need to provide the Membership or PASS ID number. Members of this program can pass through immigration via an automated kiosk at certain airports in the U.S.
Your Parents’ Names
Your parents’ full names, as listed on their passports need to be entered.
If you don’t know this information, you can enter “UNKNOWN”.
Your Contact Details
This section requires your residential address in your home country.
It consists of two address lines, city, state/province/region, and country.
It also calls for a telephone number and email address which is used for communicating with you over the outcome of your ESTA.
You will also need to state your marital status - whether you are single, married, or living with someone.
Your Work Details
This section requires information surrounding your employment. It calls for details of either your current or most recent employer.
These details include your job title, name of your employer, address and telephone number.
This information is partly to ensure that you intend to leave the USA at the end of your 90 day entitlement in order to return to your employment. If you don’t have current employment, you may need to provide proof of onward travel or a return ticket at immigration.
Your Travel Details
This question asks you whether your ESTA is for transit purposes en route to another destination or not. If your ESTA is for transit purposes, you will be required to state the county of onward travel.
You are also required to provide some contact details for your stay while you are in the U.S. Usually this consists of a hotel address and phone number.
There are two quite similar questions: point of contact in the U.S. and address while in the U.S. In most cases you can use the same information in both fields.
You will also be asked from which airport or city you will embark upon your journey.
Emergency Contact Details
Here you are required to provide contact details for your next of kin. This includes full name, address and telephone number.
These questions are designed to effectively profile you based on your likelihood to pose any threat to U.S. security and public safety. These are the questions that provide the Department of Homeland Security with the information they need for either approving or denying your ESTA.
They come in the form of Yes/No boxes and are as follows:
1. Do you have a physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict; or do you currently have any of the following diseases (communicable diseases are specified pursuant to section 361(b) of the Public Health Service Act): Cholera, Diphtheria, Tuberculosis infectious, Plague, Smallpox, Yellow Fever, Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers, including Ebola, Lassa, Marburg, Crimean-Congo, Severe acute respiratory illnesses capable of transmission to other persons and likely to cause mortality?
This question exists for two reasons. Firstly, the most obvious, is to prevent the spread of contagious disease within the country.
Secondly, the U.S. is likely to deny access to people with mental health disorders or communicable diseases due to the burden that could result on the U.S. health system.
Note that while HIV used to be considered a communicable disease, it has now been removed and people with HIV will not be prevented from travelling. Furthermore, common colds and seasonal flu are not considered severe acute respiratory illnesses, so even if you’re sick at the time of application, you should answer ‘no’ to this question.
2. Have you ever been arrested or convicted for a crime that resulted in serious damage to property, or serious harm to another person or government authority?
This question exists to prevent people from entering the country who are likely to commit a crime during their visit.
However, the question leaves some room for interpretation due to its use of the word ‘serious’. Consequently, if you’ve been convicted of a misdemeanour that didn’t result in serious damage or harm, you could answer ‘no’ to this question.
However, ESTA officials can check police records from European countries and if they consider your crime to be serious enough, and for you to have lied in your application, you will be denied entry and likely denied in the future as well.
3. Have you ever violated any law related to possessing, using, or distributing illegal drugs?
This question, and the following two questions, exist for similar reasons as above, however, they are more straightforward.
4. Do you seek to engage in or have you ever engaged in terrorist activities, espionage, sabotage, or genocide?
5. Have you ever committed fraud or misrepresented yourself or others to obtain, or assist others to obtain, a visa or entry into the United States?
6. Are you currently seeking employment in the United States or were you previously employed in the United States without prior permission from the U.S. government?
Only travellers with the correct work visa may be permitted to work in the U.S. Consequently, this question will disqualify anyone looking to work temporarily during the 90 day period of the Visa Waiver Program, or anyone who has worked illegally in the country in the past.
7. Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa you applied for with your current or previous passport, or have you ever been refused admission to the United States or withdrawn your application for admission at a U.S. port of entry?
Note that this question refers only to visas and not ESTA applications. Even if you have had a previous ESTA application denied, you should answer ‘no’ to this question provided you have not been denied a visa, been refused entry or withdrawn a visa application in the past.
If you have withdrawn a visa application, you will likely be considered suspicious due to the assumption that your withdrawal was likely out of fear of being denied.
8. Have you ever stayed in the United States longer than the admission period granted to you by the U.S. government?
If you have ever overstayed a visa or ESTA deadline, you will likely be refused entry based on an ESTA application and will need to apply for a visa instead.
However, there is no guarantee that applying for a visa will be successful, as overstaying is considered a serious offence in the U.S.
9. Have you travelled to, or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, North Korea or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011?
These countries are deemed a security risk to the U.S. and consequently anyone with associations to these countries will likely be denied an ESTA.
In summary, these questions are pretty strict so if you answer YES to any of them, you will most likely not be permitted to enter the U.S.
If you fail to answer any of the questions truthfully, you will also likely be refused future applications.
The Optional Social Media Question
This question is a fairly recent addition to the ESTA Questionnaire, and it’s an interesting one.
It’s actually been quite controversial due to the potential privacy issues it raised.
The question consists of a drop-down list where you can select which options apply to you. These are: ASKfm, Facebook, Flickr, GitHub, Google+, Instagram, JustPaste.it, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Twitter, Vine, VKontakte (VK), YouTube, and ‘Other’.
You are then asked to provide your username for each of the profiles that you hold.
The main reason for this question is for extra terrorism detection, as social media has been used in relation to coordinating terrorist attacks in the past. If your social media platforms demonstrate any link or your sympathizing with any terrorist groups, you could be denied entry to the U.S.
However, the fact that this question is optional, and the extra time it would take each individual to answer the question if they have multiple accounts, does make you wonder how many people would bother and consequently how effective this strategy is.
While the Department of Homeland Security has confirmed that they will not refuse entry to someone based on them not providing their social media details, many people will choose to answer it to be on the safe side and avoid extra questioning from immigration.
If you do choose to answer this question, your details are kept on record for 3 years and then stored in archives for an extra 12 years. During this time, law enforcement agencies can access it and share it with other countries as they see fit.
Nevertheless, the question is there, so now that you are armed with this information, you can choose whether or not you answer it!
PLANNING A TRIP TO THE USA?
It is in your best interest to apply for an ESTA right away!Apply for USA ESTA
The Final Steps
Once all of the ESTA questions are completed, you will be asked to sign a waiver which means you can’t appeal any decisions made surrounding your ESTA application.
You will also need to declare that all of the information you provided is true and correct to the best of your knowledge and belief. Not signing this will guarantee your ESTA being denied.
You will receive an email confirmation of your ESTA status upon completion of your application.
On the day of travel, you will need to make sure that you are travelling with the same e-passport with which you applied for your ESTA. It’s a good idea to have a record of your ESTA confirmation, but the airline should have automatic access to this.
If you’ve already applied for an ESTA and want to check its status, you can do that here.
How do I apply for an ESTA?
So now that the ESTA questions are out of the way, how do you actually apply for an ESTA?
Good news! It’s very easy! Simply follow the instructions on this page. But, be sure to get this all completed at least 72 hours before you travel to avoid any inconvenient or stressful delays.
Will an ESTA guarantee entry?
Even with a valid ESTA, there is still the chance that you could be denied entry to the U.S. The border officials have the right to turn people away based on their attitude even if everything in their application is ok.
For this reason, it’s important to be calm and respectful while answering any questions.
As most people are denied due to making mistakes in their ESTA form questions, most can reapply again being careful not to make the same mistake. However, if there is a legitimate reason for your ESTA being denied, applying again will likely not change the outcome.
You may need to look into options for a Visa application that requires more information but will be able to communicate your situation better to U.S. Security. If this is the case, U.S. officials will interview you with more detailed questions in order to ascertain whether you should be allowed in the country.
So, to sum it all up, the ESTA application questions are not too taxing and can be completed fairly quickly. But they need to be completed accurately and truthfully, and at least 72 hours before your departure! Oh, and don’t forget your e-passport!