Is ESTA a 100% Guarantee for Entry to the USA?

Approved for Entry

There is a lot of confusion that surrounds the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). One of the biggest sources of confusion is that if you are coming from a Visa Waiver Program country one of the tenets of the VWP is that you can travel to the USA without securing a visa. Of course, it is confusing when you are supposed to be able to travel with just a valid passport but you have to take that additional step of also getting a travel authorization.

The ESTA is NOT a visa so the US is not really in breach of any agreements that are outlined in the VWP. The confusion comes in when people look at the ESTA as the same powerful document that a visa is. A visa is a different document that takes far more vetting to get approved than the ESTA does. The ESTA is more of an additional checking process to make sure of your personal eligibility to travel to the US.


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Does ESTA Guarantee Entry Into The USA

The ESTA authorization is an approval for travel not for entry, although you cannot enter the USA without an approval. Yes, it is confusing. When you fill out the application you will encounter questions about your health, resident history, travel plans, police record and other personal information. Each step of the application is geared toward vetting you for travel to the USA.

Without the approval you will not be able to board any form of transport to the USA, you may be denied at the airport and kept from boarding any ship that is headed to the US or any of its territories. The United States has instituted this additional step to keep the borders safer by NOT allowing potential threats to get on a plane or ship that is headed to the US.

Your valid e-passport from a member country is what guarantees you entry into the US, the ESTA is simply an additional layer of security for those that do hold a valid passport as a citizen of a member country.

So, does ESTA guarantee entry into the US? No, not always and therefore it should not be taken as a guarantee at any time. Because even if your ESTA application has been approved, when traveling to the US, you might still encounter a situation, when you are held at the airport and not allowed entry into the US.

This might be due to several factors which include:

  • Problems with documentation or the official paperwork
  • Criminal history or any suspicion a malicious intent of the visit
  • A previous denial to travel to US or use it for transit

A common issue related to the paperwork, which means it can be solved if you cooperate with the officials.

This is why it is important to understand the difference between securing a Visa and traveling to the US as a member of one of the VWP countries.

The Difference

When you apply for a visa it can be for:

  • Work
  • School
  • Extended staying time

When you use the VWP privilege and apply for the ESTA:

  • You can visit for up to 90 days
  • You can conduct business but not work for anyone
  • You can travel anywhere in the US or the territories without a visa

The real difference is that a visa can take months to get approved, the ESTA takes about 24 hours. In countries that are not part of the VWP travelers are required to apply for a visa. Visa applications are often denied. The ESTA is typically approved.

In both cases, there is never a 100% guarantee that you will be able to enter the US or its territories but there is a very high probability that you will not be stopped from entering. The ESTA shores up the probability that you will pass through the border without any problems.

The Process

The ESTA process starts with finding a trusted source to file the ESTA. The right source will have the experience as a travel advisor to review your information and help to detect some of the common errors that often keep applications from approval. You can access the application right here!

There are a few steps involved with the application process and you can make it go much easier by having the following documents on hand:

  • E-passport that is valid, it is strongly recommended that your passport remains valid throughout the duration of your trip to avoid issues.
  • Personal information, like addresses and health history.
  • Keep in mind that every person that you are traveling with will have to file their own application, there are no “joint approvals” available.

When you are filling out the application do be sure that you answer all of the questions honestly BUT do know that many people answer what they believe, to be honest answers but they are not correct. Having a service that will review your application for some of the most common errors can help you to avoid the denial.

If you do not have the “new” e-passport you will need to get one. Anyone that uses the ESTA under the VWP has to have an e-passport.

Crossing into the US

You will need the ESTA on two occasions, boarding your transportation to the US and entering the US. Once you receive your approval via email you will want to print it out and put it with the rest of your documents. If you have managed to board without a travel authorization and make it to the border, you will be stopped, possibly detained and even possibly turned away and sent back to where you came from.

It is far easier to apply right online, get the approval and keep it with your passport.

Can I Be Denied for the ESTA?

Denials are rare and when there are denials it is usually because a question has been answered honestly but inaccurately. A little help can go a long way in ensuring that you are not denied.


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Is an Approval a Guarantee?

Ultimately the ESTA approval is not a guarantee but it is likely the closest thing you can get to one for the US. It cannot be used in lieu of a visa if you are trying to go to the US to work and it cannot be used in lieu of a visa if you are trying to go to the US for school but it is the only way you can get into the US without a visa from a VWP country.

Once you have the approval you can consider yourself vetted to the US government standards and the document should be more than enough to help you effortlessly cross through the customs checkpoint. As long as you are honest during the application process, your passport is an e-passport and valid you should not have a thing to worry about.

Using the right source for your ESTA application is the first step in ensuring that you can easily get your approval and avoid any delays. Go HERE for more information.