USA lengthens ESTA processing times: no more instant approvals

USA lengthens ESTA processing times: no more instant approvals

Business travellers and tourists heading to the United States under the visa-waiver program will now need to apply for their US ESTA at least 72 hours before travel or risk being offloaded from their flight, with the US Government no longer granting “real-time” ESTA approvals.

Although most passengers would apply for their ESTA well ahead of their flight, sometimes, busy business travellers or holidaymakers simply forget, or don’t realise their previous ESTA had expired, and so could previously apply at the airport, get speedy ESTA approval and board their flight as normal.

Under these changes, effective immediately, “arriving at the airport without a previously approved ESTA will likely result in being denied boarding,” says the US Customs and Border Protection agency.

ESTA, the US Government’s Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, is a compulsory online clearance for Australian passport holders – and many others – travelling to the United States for business or pleasure under the visa-waiver program: that is, without a prearranged US visa.

Passengers approved to travel by the ESTA system receive a two-year authorisation covering multiple trips for business, tourism or both, at a one-off cost of US$14, payable by credit card during the application process.

Travellers would only need to apply for a new ESTA if their previous approval has expired or they’ll be using a new passport to enter the United States, as each ESTA is linked to a passport, not to the traveller themselves.

If you’re heading to the United States, use the official ESTA website to apply for your own travel authorisation well in advance of your planned trip, or to confirm that your existing ESTA hasn’t expired, to ensure a smooth departure.

Also read: Visa-free entry to the USA: what you need to know about ESTA

Chris Chamberlin
Chris Chamberlin is a senior journalist with Australian Business Traveller and lives by the motto that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, a great latte, a theatre ticket and a glass of wine!
 

22 comments

  • drgmarshall

    drgmarshall

    18 Dec, 2018 07:35 am

    worth saying, but there are a tremendous number of fake sites that look like the real thing. You won't know until the end when they ask you for +$75 (not $14). So take care!
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  • jenko13

    jenko13

    18 Dec, 2018 08:27 am

    Agree with above the fake sites are very good! I did one on Saturday and it was approved by Monday morning when I checked back. They ask for more info now as well and have some strange passport scan process on the site, but I ignored it and it went thru ok. Some of the info slots are also blocked the site says you will be able to go back later but I could not find a way to do it, in any case it went thru ok.
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  • Alpha  Charlie

    AV

    18 Dec, 2018 10:47 am

    I made the silly mistake of applying for this on a fake site this morning before I read this article! My card was charged $100.14. I tried calling the number on the site and it says 'the person you are trying to reach is on the phone, please try again later'. After I submitted the application I got an email from them to say they needed a photo of my passport which I stupidly sent....hopefully they can't do anything with this information. Thankfully the bank has stepped in to offer me a refund, however does anyone know how to report this website so other people don't get scammed?

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  • Say Mee

    mspcooper

    18 Dec, 2018 11:52 am

    I have never received an instant clearance. It took anywhere from 8hrs to 24hrs to get one. I think they are trying to avoid people coming to airports and realising they have not received one and apply for it and try to board because it is instant.
    Nothing more than red tape here. If it is possible to provide this instantly, why would they not???

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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    18 Dec, 2018 12:13 pm

    I applied for an ESTA late last year for a holiday and found it was granted within five minutes, which used to be very common: perhaps not the case now, though.
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  • Chris

    flychrisfly

    18 Dec, 2018 12:32 pm

    Were ESTAs valid for 10 years previously? I have a note that mine expires in 2024. Wouldn't want to be caught out!
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  • les harvey

    cambriamarsh

    18 Dec, 2018 12:41 pm

    My original ESTA was 3 years, are you sure yours was 10 years?
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  • Chris

    flychrisfly

    18 Dec, 2018 01:01 pm

    Yep, I have it noted in my diary and recall looking up the confirmation email I received at the time... Unless I'm losing my mind! This was in 2014 if that makes a difference.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    18 Dec, 2018 01:03 pm

    I'm not aware of any 10-year ESTAs (10-year visas, yes, but 10-year ESTAs, no), unless you got lucky. If you're planning a trip to the US, perhaps visit the official ESTA site (linked in the article) and just confirm that your ESTA is still showing as valid in the system, to avoid any issues at check-in.
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  • Chris

    flychrisfly

    18 Dec, 2018 01:10 pm

    Oh I'll definitely be doing that :)
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  • Chris

    flychrisfly

    18 Dec, 2018 05:23 pm

    Turns out I'm an idiot - I had the day and month of the ESTA expiry with the year of my passport expiry. Glad this article came out as I would have been in trouble for my trip next year!
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  • Stephen Doggett

    Stephen D

    18 Dec, 2018 06:54 pm

    I have applied for the Visa waiver many times and only ever had the waiver for two years. Last time I applied was around three months ago (and received instant approval).
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  • Lyn Woods

    lw1962

    18 Dec, 2018 04:11 pm

    I apply as soon as we book flights, sometimes 11 months out. Sometimes I have to relinquish an existing visa, but generally find the $14 is a nominal fee for the convenience of locking in another 2 years. I only ever use USA Homeland Security's website for this transaction. Approval has been as swift as 5 minutes, but averages 24 hours for a group application.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    18 Dec, 2018 04:19 pm

    Hi lw1962, applying for an ESTA doesn't void or cancel any existing (or new) US visa: you can have both at the same time, as you're expected to use the appropriate credential for your trip every time you visit.

    For example, I have a five-year multi-entry United States journalism visa that I'm required to use when visiting the US for work, but if taking a personal holiday to the US, have to apply for and use ESTA like everybody else, to enter as a tourist under the visa-waiver program. Having one doesn't cancel out the other: you just tell the staff at passport control your reason for entry and you're processed accordingly.

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  • Alpha  Charlie

    AV

    18 Dec, 2018 04:47 pm

    Hi Chris, what is the correct website to apply for a Canadian visa? I'm heading to USA but then to Canada just for a few days.
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  • Chris Chamberlin

    ChrisCh

    18 Dec, 2018 05:14 pm

    Hi AV, if you mean the 'eTA' for visa-waiver travel (the Canadian equivalent of the US ESTA), you'll find more detail on this, and a link to apply, in our story here.
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  • Himeno

    Himeno

    18 Dec, 2018 10:47 pm

    There are links to the eTA site on the US ESTA site and a link to the ESTA site on the Canadian eTA site.

    Every time I've gotten an ESTA, it's been for 2 years, and it's always been approved within minutes. I applied for one early once before, when they were still free, so that I wouldn't have to pay the silly $14 fee until 2 years after they added it. (the $14 is $10 for international tourism promotion and $4 for ESTA admin costs)
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  • Aidan

    Aidan

    19 Dec, 2018 09:24 am

    This faux security program is a fustrating cash grab. Now a time burgular for last minute travel.
    My last ESTA done a few months back was also instant approved.
    I guess the time delay will make people ‘think’ something actually gets processed on an invisible typewriter!

    Thanks for the heads up on the changes :)
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  • Kentown45

    Kentown45

    19 Dec, 2018 04:03 pm

    Keep my Mothers Body on Ice please. I cant get there for 5 Days. Thankfully we are not Jewish. More Trumpish Noncense
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  • BJVincent

    BJVincent

    19 Dec, 2018 04:41 pm

    Like Chris we normally have ours authorized within minutes. We have probably had about four now - the most recent earlier this year. Qantas have a link which is always safe for the $14. Absolutely no trouble at all.
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  • Flying mermaid

    Flying mermaid

    19 Dec, 2018 07:28 pm

    I have just applied for Estas for myself and husband, as a group. Not sure how long it took, but I checked after 48 hours and they were approved. Previously it was very quick, but because they said 72 hours I didn’t check for a few days.
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  • Himeno

    Himeno

    19 Dec, 2018 07:54 pm

    I applied for a new US ESTA and an eTA at the same time in early Oct.
    The ESTA was approved by the time I was done filling in the eTA form.
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18 Jan, 2019 11:23 pm

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