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I am currently visiting the USA from the UK (I am a UK citizen) and am intending on staying here for the full 90 days under the Visa Waiver programme. How long would I have to stay out of the US at the end of this period before returning again? Would I have to return to the UK, or could I stay with friends in another country (such as Canada) for a while?

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Be aware that the ESTA only applies to direct flights into the US, not to crossings via land borders. –  Catweasel Feb 6 at 13:00
    
What exactly does that mean? Should the OP leave US by plane, or if he leaves and intends to enter by land he should get another visa? Can you clarify that, maybe posting a link to an official source? –  gmauch Feb 6 at 13:21
    
@gmauch There is no visa or ESTA at all for land crossings; they do the paperwork at the border, not beforehand. –  cpast yesterday

2 Answers 2

It all comes down to a 'reasonable length of time' between stays.

Now that's about as ambiguous as they come - what's reasonable? It's like this on purpose - it's up to the official at the border, as the purpose of this is to try and work out if you're trying to live in the states and just border hopping every 90 days, instead of visiting.

From the CBP website:

When traveling to the U.S. with the approved ESTA, you may only stay for up to 90 days at a time - and there should be a reasonable amount of time between visits so that the CBP Officer does not think you are trying to live here. There is no set requirement for how long you must wait between visits.

If you're worried they may think you're trying to live there, then you could bring extra documents as evidence - eg, your flight out of America back to the UK, or proof of your current employment and residence in the UK. Basically anything to convince them that you're not actually surreptitiously residing in the US :)

Short version - it doesn't matter, what matters is convincing the border officer that you're visiting, not living in the US.

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That's very helpful Mark, thank you! If I did go to stay with friends in Canada at the end of the 90 days, would that cause a problem with re-entry to the US subsequently, if I didn't return to the UK first? –  phil yates Feb 25 '13 at 19:56
    
@philyates No it shouldn't, unless you decide to fly from Cuba. :) –  Karlson Feb 25 '13 at 19:58
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actually it might....from most US embassy websites: "The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K., to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, if certain requirements are met. Under the VWP, time spent in Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands counts towards the maximum of 90 days stay allowed under the program." –  Mark Mayo Feb 25 '13 at 20:09
    
@MarkMayo I would edit that last comment into the answer. It's very important that the OP understands it. If they go to Canada for "a short time" and try to come back, they are very likely to be refused. –  DJClayworth yesterday

If you go to Canada and Mexico or the Caribbean, and while you are there, your initial 90-day period of entry expires, but you need to come back in to the U.S. to fly home, you may encounter a problem. The terms of the VWP are very clear - it is only to be used for occasional, short visits to the U.S. If the CBP Officer thinks you are trying to "reset" the clock by making a short trip out of the U.S. and re-entering for another 90-day period, you can be denied entry. (If that happens, you will have to obtain a visa for any future travel to the U.S.) In order to be re-admitted to the U.S. shortly after a previous admission expired, you will have to convince a CBP Officer that you are not trying to "game" the system.

https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/194/kw/90%20days

(as of 25 Mar 2015)

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