Is the ESTA required for transit through the USA?

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Is the ESTA required for transit through the USA?

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. In fact, it is possible that that your plane stops in the United States for fuel or to disembark or take on other passengers before leaving. To find out if you require ESTA authorisation before your departure you should carefully read the following information:


ESTA authorisation is obligatory even for a simple stopover in the United States:

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.


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.


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.

Online ESTA application form