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The ESTA that I entered the States on back in October was due to expire on January 8th. As I wished to stay a little longer (an extra couple of weeks) I searched the internet to see how this was possible.

On another forum I read that you could create a new ESTA, resetting the 90 days, by just filling in a new ESTA form and paying another $14, over-riding the dates already in place. I did this at the beginning of December, thinking it would give me until the end of February to leave the country. I now see that this was not intended for use as an extension and that it is instead intended for people who have not yet entered the country and wish to change their dates.

If I now attempt to 'retrieve' my ESTA online using the original application number it states that is has expired. I guess because I over-rode it with a new application. Am I now in breach and does this mean I will not be able to re-enter the country?

Also, I wanted to fly to Mexico, and then travel around Central and South America and then come back to America (maybe sometime in May or June) and fly home. I understand that Mexico is included in the visa waiver region - even though I will be travelling to other countries, will this also affect my ability to return to the country? Would it be better for me to fly to another country (I've heard Costa Rica is not included in the visa waiver region) and then travel to Mexico later - would this make a difference?

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks Jo

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1 Answer 1

Short answer: You're still OK, but you have to leave the US before January 8th. You can go anywhere you wish, but before you try to re-enter the US, you must enter a country other than Mexico, Canada or the Caribbean states. For example, it will be fine to travel to Mexico, then Costa Rica, and then return to the US.

Longer answer:

It's important to understand that there are two completely separate things here.

  1. ESTA is an electronic authority that permits you to attempt to travel to the US for two years.
  2. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) lets you enter the US for a period of up to 90 days without applying for a visa in advance.

Your ESTA clock (of two years) started ticking when you received it before your flight. Your VWP clock started when you physically entered the US in October. Creating a new ESTA reset the two-year clock, but has no impact on your 90-day VWP period, which expires on January 8th and is carved in stone. You may leave the US normally even if your original ESTA expired, or was cancelled by a new application, and you will continue to be eligible for the VWP as long as you always leave the US (and nearby states) on time before coming back.

If you stay in the US beyond Jan 8th (the 90 days granted via VWP), you will start to collect "unlawful presence" and you will no longer be eligible for the VWP. This means you will have to apply for full US visas, with interviews and background checks etc, and you will have a hard time convincing them to give you a visa because it's on the record that you're already overstayed once. So, don't do this.

If you go to a neighboring country like Mexico and attempt to return to the US after 90 days, you will be denied entry at the border because you would exceed 90 days if they let you in. This is also enough to disqualify you from the VWP in the future.

The reason the rule exists is to stop people from resetting their 90-day clocks with short hops to Cancun or Vancouver or wherever. So if you go to Mexico in January, stay away from the US for half a year and visit another country, it'll be fine to return to the US in May/June.

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This answer is brilliant- thank you. –  Jo FD Dec 29 '13 at 23:32
1  
I had no idea about the difference between an ESTA and VWP. You have really helped me to grasp this and now feel that I can continue with my travels without fear that I am breaching my conditions of stay. Thank you so much!! –  Jo FD Dec 29 '13 at 23:58
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Great answer. Something worth adding is to make sure you collect evidence of being elsewhere, e.g. a stamp in your passport or a boarding pass, in case you're questioned (remember the US has no exit controls at borders). –  Sam Dec 30 '13 at 4:21
    
Yes, another good point. Will make sure I do. Thanks guys! –  Jo FD Dec 30 '13 at 17:06
    
Please do accept the answer if you like it ;) –  jpatokal Dec 30 '13 at 22:12

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