Is a return ticket required for ESTA?

Since the creation of the ESTA electronic travel authorisation system it is no longer necessary for you to apply for a visa to visit the United States, as long as you comply with certain conditions. Concerning the conditions required for obtaining this authorisation, a question often rises relating to the need for a traveller to hold a return ticket.

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Is it necessary to have a return ticket to make an ESTA application, and if so why?

It is of course obligatory to hold a return ticket to complete your ESTA application and here we will explain the reasons why.

An ESTA authorisation is possible when your visit to the United States is for a period of no longer than 90 days. To ensure that the American authorities have tangible proof of the true duration of your visit it is therefore necessary to specify a return travel date.

You can benefit from the ESTA scheme to visit the United States only if you are travelling by cruise ship or plane as, before boarding, the travel company you have chosen will verify that you hold a return ticket and that its date corresponds to that indicated on your ESTA application.

Of course your return ticket should specify a return date that is within 90 days of your departure date.  

We therefore recommend you to buy return tickets before completing your online ESTA application.


The other conditions to fulfil for obtaining an ESTA authorisation:

Holding a return ticket is not the only condition required to obtain your ESTA authorisation. To prepare for a trouble free trip to the United States you should respect the following conditions:

  • You should be a citizen of one of the ESTA scheme member countries.
  • You should possess a biometric or electronic passport that is valid for the entirety of your visit.
  • Your visit should not exceed 90 days. If it is for longer then you should apply for a traditional visa.

If you fulfil all the above conditions you can complete your ESTA application form online right now. It is best to undertake this step at least two weeks before your departure date to ensure that you will obtain a positive response, or, if not, you can reapply after a one week legal delay or apply for a traditional visa from an American consulate or Embassy in your country of residence. Once obtained the ESTA authorisation is valid for two years.


What are the consequences for obtaining the ESTA if the traveller does not have a return ticket?

On the question of a return ticket, it is important to note that the ESTA itself does not explicitly specify the need for a return ticket. However, there are some important considerations to take into account:

  • Airline policy: The airline carrying the traveller to the US may have its own requirements for return tickets. They may require passengers to present a return or onward ticket in order to be allowed to board. It is essential to check the requirements of the airline you are booking your flight with.
  • Inspection on arrival in the United States: During the inspection on arrival in the United States, immigration officials may ask questions about the length and purpose of your stay. They may ask whether you intend to leave the United States at the end of the period authorised by the ESTA. Although the return ticket is not strictly necessary, it can serve as proof of your intention to leave the country at the end of your authorised stay.

In summary, although the ESTA itself does not require a return ticket, it is recommended that you have one or an onward ticket, as it can facilitate your journey by meeting the airline's requirements and showing your intention to comply with the terms of your authorised stay. 

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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

What is an ESTA and how does it work?

ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is an online system allowing nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States without a visa for short-term tourist or business trips. It is not directly linked to the need for a return ticket.

Do I need a return ticket to obtain an ESTA?

No, obtaining an ESTA does not depend on having a return ticket. However, airlines may have their own requirements. It is advisable to have one to meet these requirements and to show that you intend to leave the United States at the end of your authorised stay.

What happens if I don't have a return ticket when I am inspected on arrival in the United States?

At the arrival inspection, immigration officers may ask questions about the length and purpose of your stay. Although a return ticket is not compulsory, it can facilitate this process by showing your intention to respect the terms of your authorised stay. However, the final decision on your admissibility is taken by the immigration officers.