Is ESTA application required for transit in the U.S.? | ESTA Online Center

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Is ESTA application required for transit in the U.S.?

ESTA is required even for short transits and transfers in the U.S.

Many travelers may think that they do not need to apply for ESTA if they enter the U.S. solely to transit to another country. However, all travelers from foreign countries who enter the U.S. without a visa need to apply for and receive ESTA, even for only transiting or transferring. This is because travelers transiting in the U.S. to other countries are considered to be present in the U.S. no matter how short their stay is. An even more important reason is to prevent suspicious parties traveling via the U.S. to other countries for improper reasons by screening them in advance with ESTA in the U.S., and block them from reaching the next destination. In the past, the United States have had severe damage by terrorist attacks from other countries and a large number of its citizens became victims. The ESTA program is a part of security measures based on the lessons of those tragedies from the past. All foreign travelers landing in the U.S., even for just one or two hours to transfer, are still required to obtain ESTA therefore, please prepare to apply for ESTA in advance.

Remember to apply for ESTA for accompanying preschool children and infants too

The standards for application of ESTA remain unchanged even for cases of transit. ESTA is required regardless of age, so remember to apply for all members of your traveling party transiting in the U.S. Even preschool children and infants are required to have ESTA. Since it may take about three days, or 72 hours, until you receive notice of the screening result after applying for ESTA, apply for it early if you have plans to travel to the U.S. or to transfer in the U.S. If you have not received ESTA in advance, you may be rejected to enter the U.S. or to board your flight. Particularly when planning to travel as a family or in a group, we recommend checking flight numbers, destinations, and airports where you transit before hand.

Differences between transit, transfer, and stopover (layover)

Travelers entering the U.S. to transfer do so in three main cases: transit, transfer, and stopover (layover). While these might be familiar terms to frequent international travelers, not many people clearly understand the differences among them. The differences in the meaning of these three terms, and specific points to note, are described below.

Transit
Transit is used to refer to a stop en route. It refers mainly to a flight landing at an airport along the way to refill fuel and food supplies before departing again for the final destination, in the same aircraft. In most cases of transit on international flights, the plane remains in the airport for one to two hours, and those cases are either passengers wait inside the aircraft or move to a transit room in the airport. During transit, the aircraft’s interior will be cleaned, so if you leave the aircraft be sure to move any of your belongings stowed around your feet or in the seat pockets into the overhead compartments. Also, be sure to keep your passport and valuables on your person at all times when leaving your seat, even while staying inside the aircraft. Airport staff will distribute transit cards to passengers when transiting. Although transit takes only a short time, be careful not to lose this card.
Transfer
Transfer refers to changing flights. It differs from transit mainly with regard to whether or not the passenger takes the same aircraft to the final destination. Although in many cases the word “transit” is used to refer to the act of transferring flights as well, strictly speaking these two terms have different meanings. Depending on factors of the transit time period and the airport’s structure, you may need to move inside the airport or change terminals during the transfer. Also, in some cases you may need to have a new boarding pass issued at the airport or where you transfer. Ascertain information on transfer or transit in advance, and check thoroughly the airline when you receive your boarding pass at the time of departure.
Stopover (layover)
Stopover refers mainly to a stay of 24 hours or longer en route to the destination. Although it is said that “stopover” is British English and “layover” is American English, the term “stopover” is used in the U.S. too. Although stopover also may be used to refer to a stay of less than 24 hours or a stay that involves a change of dates from one day to the next, normally it refers to a stay of 24 hours or longer.

Four conditions of applying for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program with ESTA

Travelers who meet all four of the following conditions may transit/transfer/stopover in the U.S. with ESTA without applying for a visa:

They must have a valid passport with an IC chip
They must have roundtrip air or sea tickets to their destination, or onward tickets to a third country
They must not stay in the U.S. for longer than 90 days after arrival
They must be traveling to the U.S. for purposes of sightseeing, short-term business trip, or transit*

* As used here, this refers to transit, transfer, or stopover to a third country.

Countries eligible for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program by ESTA

As of 2017, nationals of the following countries only were eligible for the U.S. Visa Waiver Program by ESTA

  • Japan
  • Spain
  • France
  • Andorra
  • Belgium
  • Denmark
  • San Marino
  • Iceland
  • Sweden
  • U.K.
  • Italy
  • Netherlands
  • Australia
  • Singapore
  • Austria
  • Brunei
  • Portugal
  • Chile
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Slovakia
  • Germany
  • Slovenia
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lichtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Czech Republic
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Monaco
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • South Korea
  • Taiwan
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland

(Listed in no particular order)

ESTA is required in all cases of entering the U.S.

Travelers must apply for and receive ESTA even when transiting in the U.S. to a third country without a visa. You must apply for ESTA in any of the following cases: transit, transfer, or stopover (layover). Please understand that ESTA application is required for all travelers traveling via the U.S., both adults and children, regardless of age, gender, nationality, occupation, etc. This is necessary for purposes of the travelers’ own safety as well as U.S. national security. Also, if it appears that you will not have much time for transit or transfer, consult with your airline or tour agency on steps such as changing your flights. Since a long trip inevitably will involve a long time in flight, such trips are more likely to involve transit or transfer en route to the destination. Try to plan a trip that will not put to much pressure on your health or your schedule.

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updated:2018/10/1