Although the travellers heading for the United States know very well that they need an ESTA authorisation or traditional visa before their departure, many ask if this document is required when travelling to a different final destination, with a stopover on American territory. To find out if you require ESTA authorisation before your departure you should carefully read the following information:
ESTA for transit in the USA: Key points
- The ESTA is required even for a simple layover or transit in the USA
- The ESTA procedure and fees are the same for transit or travel to the USA
- During a long transit, the ESTA will authorise you to leave the US airport
- Once obtained, the ESTA is valid for 5 years and can be used for several stopovers or trips to the USA.
A major difference between the visa and the ESTA concerning transits and stopovers in the USA:
The ESTA electronic travel authorisation system was implemented in 2009 to simplify the administrative procedure for certain visitors wishing to visit the United States under certain conditions. This is a visa waiver programme that is uniquely available to citizens of certain member countries including the United Kingdom and who can thereby obtain a travel authorisation for visits of less than 90 consecutive days.
A stopover or a transit is generally less than 90 days in length so the ESTA appears to be the perfect solution for your next trip. Of course, it is also necessary to fulfil certain conditions to enjoy the right to this authorisation including possessing a valid electronic or biometric passport that is also valid for the entirety of your transit or stopover in the USA.
The ESTA system is for which visitors?
As we have briefly explained the ESTA electronic travel authorisation system is applicable to all visitors that wish to pass through or visit American territory and who are permanent residents of one of the programme’s 38 member countries.
The ESTA only concerns visits of less than 90 days or three months on American territory including very short visits, even if only for a few hours. It is therefore necessary to hold a valid ESTA for a transit or stopover in the United States.
When you embark on a flight bound for the United States even if this flight leads to another final destination or you need to change airplanes at an American airport to continue your journey to another country, the airline company with which you travel will automatically verify that an ESTA authorisation is linked to your passport.
It is also important to note that you should obtain an ESTA authorisation even if you do not plan on leaving the American airport through which you transit and even if you do not leave the airplane. The simple fact that you are in an airplane on American territory means that you require travel authorisation. Of course, if you have enough time between flights this ESTA authorisation means you can also benefit from the opportunity to do a little sightseeing and leave the airport. In fact, as you have obtained this travel authorisation you can also travel around the United States using this authorisation.
The ESTA is required even for a simple stopover or transit in the USA
Contrary to what many people think, given that during a stopover travellers do not even leave the plane or ship and therefore do not set foot on American territory, in the same way as with a transit through the United States, it is still necessary to obtain ESTA authorisation before your departure.
The ESTA authorisation concerns all those boarding a ship or plane to travel to the USA, whether or not it is their final destination. Your ESTA will not of course be requested by the American immigration service as you are not really disembarking, but it must be valid when you board.
The company with which you will travel can in fact refuse to allow you to board if you have not submitted your travel authorisation application.
Where and how to apply for an ESTA for a transit or stopover in the USA?
Now that you understand that an ESTA is obligatory for a transit or stopover in the USA we will explain how to obtain this authorisation both rapidly and easily. Before completing your application online it is important to check that you possess a valid biometric or electronic passport that is also valid for the entirety of your visit including the departure and return dates.
You should then visit a specialised website such as our partner's to access the ESTA application form online in your own language. Ensure you have your passport number with you as well as a debit or credit card to pay the associated costs and fees for the transfer and processing of your application.
Then simply allow yourself to be guided through the different steps by carefully and truthfully completing the application form. You will need to reply to all the questions asked without exception and in a totally honest manner.
Once you have completed the form you simply need to pay for the associated costs and fees using your bank card on the secure server. The response to your application will be sent by email to the address you have given within a maximum of 72 hours.
If your ESTA application is accepted then you have no further administrative procedures to follow as your authorisation will be electronically linked to your passport number for a period of two years. We do however recommend that you note your reference number in a safe place as it can be useful if you need to modify certain details on your ESTA.
If your ESTA is refused this means you are not authorised by the United States authorities to transit through their territory. You will therefore need to change your travel itinerary or apply again.
How to transit through the United States without an ESTA
If your ESTA application was refused, for whatever reason, or you have been unable to complete the procedure you should still complete administrative procedures for transiting through the United States. You can either reapply for an ESTA after a ten day period following your first application, or if necessary, apply for a visa through the American Embassy.
Can a previously issued ESTA be used?
If you have already travelled to the USA you have no doubt already obtained an ESTA authorisation. If the latter was issued less than two years ago you can reuse it for your transit through the United States. Of course, your personal information should be updated to ensure that your ESTA remains valid for this future trip.
For the rest, follow these recommendations:
- Ensure you have your biometric or digital passport number with you. It should be the same passport you will use for your upcoming trip and should be valid for your entire stay.
- Respond in total transparency and honesty to all questions asked.
- Indicate your valid email address to ensure you will receive your confirmation from the American authorities.
- Proceed with the payment of the application and administration fees, preferably by credit card to ensure the rapid processing of your application.
- Once your application has been submitted ensure you keep your reference number safely as it will be useful if you need to modify the information entered or if you wish to use your ESTA for future trips during its validity period.
It may seem annoying to have to complete an ESTA application for a simple stopover in the United States but it is reassuring to know that this travel authorisation can actually be used numerous times during its two year validity.
What is the difference between an ESTA to stay or one to transit through the United States?
If you travel abroad and your travel plans include a transit through the United States then you will need to obtain an ESTA authorisation. This document is in fact the same as for a normal visit. Even though it is important to state that your visit is actually for a stopover, indicating your final destination, this authorisation can enable you to stay in the USA for a maximum of 90 days.
This represents a real advantage as you can then use this same travel authorisation for other visits to the USA during the two years after you obtain your authorisation. In fact, your travel and transit authorisation is automatically linked to your passport number for this time. Of course, to use your ESTA again it is necessary that you fulfil the conditions regarding the maximum stay of three months and no important personal details change between the time you apply and the time you actually use it for travel.
In the same way, your passport number should also be the same.
How much time between the outgoing and return transits using an ESTA?
Another frequent question asked by visitors that need to stopover or transit through the United States is related to the maximum time authorised between the outgoing and return visits through American territory.
In fact, as we explained earlier, an ESTA authorisation can only be used for visits of less than 90 days. So what happens for visits of over 3 months in other countries that require a stopover or transit through the USA for the outgoing and return flights?
In reality, the total length of your visit does not really matter here, only the total time you are on American territory is applicable. This means that even if there are more than 90 days between your initial entry into American territory and your second visit on your return this will not be a problem as you have left the United States between them.
Remember that your ESTA authorisation is valid for a two year period from the time of its acceptance notification and can therefore be used for numerous visits, transits or stopovers in the USA during this period, as long as you respect the conditions relative to the length of your visit.
Is it possible to leave the airport using an ESTA during a stopover in the United States?
Another question that many visitors ask when their travel includes a stopover in the United States regards the possibility of benefitting from this time by visiting the surrounding area. In fact, a stopover, contrary to a transit, can sometimes be quite long and therefore enables the opportunity of visiting the local area a little before continuing with your travel to your final destination.
It is important to note that the ESTA that you have obtained for your transit can be used to exit the airport to visit the surrounding area. However, you will still need to pass the border controls when you disembark before reaching the airport exit. This procedure can take a while, even a few hours at busy times. You should therefore ensure you have enough time to fully benefit from your short visit.
The ESTA is a true travel authorisation that is valid even for a few hours so it would be a shame to not benefit from it to enjoy a little of this incredible country, the United States, and its legendary culture even if just for your stopover, particularly if your stopover takes place in New York.
Does the ESTA have to cover your entire trip if you are in transit in the USA?
Another question asked by many travellers making a stopover in the USA concerns the period of validity of their ESTA. It is possible that you already have an ESTA authorisation that is still valid after having used it for a previous trip to the United States, and that it is still valid at the time of your departure. In this case, you can use it for your stopover on your way to the United States. But if this ESTA expires before your return flight date, what should you do?
If your return flight also includes transit through the USA and your ESTA expires before that date, you will need to make a new application, even if you presented a valid ESTA on your outbound trip and even if your trip lasted less than 90 days. When you travel to another country after a stopover in the USA, this means that you are leaving American territory. The transit on the outward journey and the transit on the return journey are therefore considered as two separate stays in the United States, and you must therefore have a valid ESTA authorisation for each of these stopovers.
If you find yourself in this particular situation, you have two options:
- The first is to renew your ESTA once it has expired, in order to take full advantage of its two-year validity. But this of course means that you must have the means to apply for this authorisation from the country where you will be staying during your stay. In particular, you need to ensure that you have an Internet connection and the time required for the procedure.
- The second solution is to renew your ESTA before it expires and before your departure date. This way, unless you are travelling for more than two years, you can be sure that your ESTA authorisation is valid for both the outward and return journeys, and that your two stopovers will be trouble-free. The only drawback to this method is that you will lose a few days of validity on your current ESTA, as these will not be added to the two years of legal validity of the new ESTA.
So it's up to you to choose the solution that suits you best.
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.