Can I arrive without an ESTA at the airport and apply for it on arrival?

Would you like to know if it is possible to arrive in the United States without an ESTA and apply for one on arrival? Find out here.

Apply for an ESTA online
ESTA on arrival at the airport

If you are consulting this page, it is because you are aware that a trip to the United States requires prior authorisation to stay in the country, such as a visa or ESTA. However, many travellers wonder whether they can apply for this ESTA when they arrive at the US airport, i.e. once they are in the country. If you too would like to know whether it is possible to apply for an ESTA at the airport in the United States, we suggest you find out the answer to this question in detail in this article.

Can you get an ESTA at the airport?

  • It is not currently possible to obtain an ESTA at a US airport
  • To board a flight to the United States, you must first obtain an ESTA.
  • It is therefore necessary to apply for an ESTA several days before your departure for the airport.
  • It currently takes a maximum of 72 hours to obtain an ESTA.


Are there ESTA counters at US airports?

To answer the question of whether it is possible to apply for an ESTA once you arrive at a US airport, we simply need to look at the presence or absence of an ESTA counter on site.

In fact, unlike various countries that have counters allowing you to obtain a visa directly on arrival, the United States does not have an ESTA or visa counter in its airports.

It will therefore not be possible to apply for your electronic travel authorisation once you have arrived at the airport in the country.

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When is the ESTA authorisation checked?

To better understand the need to apply for your ESTA well in advance of your trip to the United States, we will remind you here of the two times at which this authorisation to stay will be checked.

  • When you embark: Today, in order to avoid having to undergo a check that would force you to return to your country of origin, most airlines check before you board that you have a visa or ESTA allowing you to enter the United States legally.
  • At customs: Your ESTA authorisation will also be checked a second time when you arrive in the USA by a customs officer. You will be asked to present your passport, to which your travel authorisation will be electronically attached.

The important thing to remember here is that you will not be able to board a flight to the USA without being able to prove that you have obtained your ESTA authorisation. It is therefore necessary to apply for this authorisation before your trip.


How to obtain ESTA authorisation before travelling to the USA?

Now that you have understood that you will need to obtain an ESTA before travelling to the USA, we will now look at how to obtain this famous electronic residence permit.

In reality, the ESTA application procedure for travel to the USA is very simple. All you need to do is go to the official website or to the website of an private service provider which gives you access to an application form, such as the site of the service provider we recommend on this page.

The form will only take a few minutes to complete and you will need to fill in some personal information including your identity details and your ePassport or biometric number.

You will then be asked to answer a series of questions that will allow the US authorities to verify that your entry into the country does not represent a danger to the American people and their citizenship.

Once the form has been completed, you will have the opportunity to check all your answers before validating it. Remember that the validation of this application will require the payment of fees inherent to the processing and transfer of your application. This payment is made immediately online by credit card on a secure server.

The processing time for ESTA applications is particularly fast. In most cases, you will receive a reply directly by email within 72 hours. You will not need to print the ESTA document that will be sent to you by email as it will be automatically and electronically attached to your passport.

Thus, the only document you will need to present when boarding your plane and at the time of your arrival in the United States is the passport that was used to make the application.

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When is the best time to apply for ESTA?

Although the ESTA procedure only takes a few minutes to complete and allows you to obtain authorisation to stay in the United States in less than 72 hours, we recommend that you apply well in advance to ensure that you have this authorisation with you when you travel to the United States.

It is possible that your first ESTA application will simply be refused because of a mistake you made when filling in the form. In this case, you can always reapply for an ESTA online, subject to a 10-day waiting period following notification of the refusal.

Similarly, random checks of certain files may result in a longer processing time for your ESTA application. It is therefore preferable to apply several weeks in advance.

Finally, in the event that your ESTA application is rejected for real reasons, you may be able to apply for a visa. However, this more traditional procedure will also take much longer than the electronic residence permit application. For this reason, it is best to allow sufficient time between your application and your departure date in order to be prepared for any eventuality and to allow you to complete your trip to the United States even if something unexpected happens.

Apply for an ESTA online

As a web writer and globetrotter with a passion for travel and tourism, I have acquired in-depth knowledge of the procedures that are essential for travellers. I help travellers to complete all the formalities required for a successful trip, particularly when it comes to obtaining a visa online. With several years' experience in this field, I'd like to offer you some valuable advice to help you discover the world with complete peace of mind.


Frequently asked questions

Can I board a plane to the United States without an ESTA?

You will not be able to board a plane to the United States if you do not have an ESTA authorisation or visa with you. The airlines that operate these flights are obliged to check all travellers to ensure that they are entering the United States legally by checking whether an ESTA or visa is attached to the passport presented at the time of boarding.

When is the best time to apply for an ESTA?

The ideal time to apply for an ESTA is several weeks before your planned departure date for the United States. This will allow you to be prepared for any eventuality, even though the usual processing time for the ESTA by the US authorities is 72 hours maximum. You may have to reapply if your application is rejected or you may have to go through a standard visa procedure.

Is an ESTA required for a stopover or transit in the United States?

ESTA authorisation is not only required for actual stays in the United States. In fact, even if your travel destination is another country, but your flight has a stopover or transit through a US airport, you will need a valid residence permit such as an ESTA to be able to take that itinerary.