What happens when you fill out an ESTA form?

When visiting the US, everyone needs to get either a US visa or US ESTA in order to enter the country. Those lucky enough to qualify for the ESTA will be happy that the application is quicker, easier, and cheaper than the full US visa, but what happens when you submit your ESTA application? Let’s find out.

Okay, so first off, let’s look at what the ESTA is. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is an automated system to screen visitors from the 38 countries involved in a Visa Waiver Program with the US.  Most people will get their answer within 24 hours, which is super convenient and really takes the stress off you.

There are three possible outcomes from this: Authorization Approved, Travel Not Authorized, and Authorization Pending. (To translate that from government jargon, its Yes, No, Maybe.) Let’s explore them.

Authorization Approved

This is the outcome that everybody wants and is the one that most people get. It means you can travel to the US under the T&Cs of the Visa Waiver Program.

However, you should be aware that it doesn’t guarantee entry into the US. It only allows you to travel to a point of entry (i.e. an American airport), where the final decision will be made by the Customs and Border Protection Officer who will ask you a couple of basic questions about your visit.

Don’t worry though. As long as you answered truthfully on your ESTA application, you’ll be just fine.

Travel Not Authorized

Nobody wants this to come up and, thankfully, it’s pretty rare, but it’s not the end of the world. It means that you are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, but you can still apply for a US visa through your nearest US embassy or consulate. (Although that is a long process, so you should apply for your ESTA as soon as possible, just in case.)

There are plenty of reasons why an ESTA may be denied, which do not prohibit you from entering the US, including:

  • Applying with details of a passport that you’d registered as lost or stolen
  • Previously being denied entry into the US
  • Overstaying your visa on an earlier visit to the US
  • Engaging in unauthorised work while previously travelling on an ESTA
  • Answering a question incorrectly on the ESTA application

For more information on this, contact Application ESTA, a company that specialises in US ESTAs and can check a form for errors before you send it off. They can even advise whether you need to apply for a visa or just reapply for an ESTA if you get rejected.

Authorization Pending

Again, this is a rare outcome, but there’s no need to panic. All it means is that the computer hasn’t yet determined whether you qualify for an ESTA. It does not indicate that your application will be rejected or that you’ve made a mistake. The system may genuinely just be busy.

You will get your decision within 72 hours, once the form has been reviewed. All you have to do is provide your application number, passport number, and date of birth when you log on to check.

Hopefully, this has reassured you that the ESTA process is fairly simple and there is always help available should you need it.

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