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In November last year I visited Florida, and as a New Zealander had to go through the process of applying for and getting the Visa Waiver Program (which costs money, making it feel suspiciously like a visa). Anyway, I've been told that it's valid for 2 years, so that when I re-enter the country in 9 days' time, I won't have to re-do the entire process.

I can find documentation about the initial VWP, but not re-using it. Can anyone confirm with an authoritative source that this is in fact the process?

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I think the thing you're looking for is an ESTA - that's the thing you apply for that's valid for 2 years. Is that the one? If so, I can let you know the details for how to check if it's still valid, and details about it :) – Gagravarr Oct 1 '11 at 18:24
    
Yup, ESTA. I have my application number from last year, but need the details as above. – Mark Mayo Oct 1 '11 at 18:34
    
Try applying for an actual US visa and then you'll find that ESTA doesn't feel much like a visa at all. (Doesn't cost hundreds of dollars, doesn't require an interview at the embassy, doesn't need you to supply a photo, doesn't need you to surrender your passport, ...) – David Richerby Dec 20 '15 at 22:26
up vote 8 down vote accepted

You can reuse the ESTA for two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first.

http://newzealand.usembassy.gov/fp_esta_vwp.html

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What you will have applied for is an ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization.

In the past, if you wanted to enter the US under the visa waiver program, you'd just rock up in America and fill out the green I-94W form, and you didn't need to pay a fee. A few years ago, they changed the system, and now you need to apply for an ESTA before you travel to America. (Currently, ESTAs are only used for Air and Water arrivals, but they're planning to add Land Border crossings too). Originally, getting an ESTA was free, but they're recently introduced a small fee for it.

When applying for an ESTA, you supply various details. These are checked, and if you're approved then you should be fine to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program. Various common reasons for being denied entry under the VWP are checked, so if you weren't going to be admitted then you should find out before you travel, rather than at immigration in America! In that way, it can be seen as an improvement, even with the fee...

Once issued, an ESTA is valid for the shortest of: 2 years, your passport expiring, or your passport being re-issued. You can use the ESTA website to check if your ESTA is still valid, even if you've forgotten the details, which is handy.

There shouldn't be any problem with applying for an ESTA, being approved, and not actually going to the USA for a year. All that means is that you'll need to re-apply again for a new ESTA quite soon after you trip! I know quite a few people who applied for an ESTA just before the fee was introduced, who didn't travel to the states then and there, and they haven't had any problems when they eventually came to travel.

(Having an ESTA isn't actually a visa, as it doesn't grant you the right to enter America. All it does is grant you the right to travel to America to apply for entry under the Visa Waiver Program, but they still reserve the right to not admit you. If you're turned down for the ESTA, then you'll need to travel to your nearest embassy and apply for a real visa)

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I've paid $6 whenever I had to get an I-94W. Not much in terms of cost, but they will only take US currency cash, which makes it very irritating if you haven't remembered in advance. – DJClayworth Oct 3 '11 at 16:49
    
As an extra: When requesting ESTA I have to enter my flight details. Do I have to update those before the next entry? – johannes Sep 14 '12 at 18:10
    
@johannes That looks like it should be a new question, rather than a comment – Gagravarr Sep 14 '12 at 19:32
    
Visas also do not grant a right to enter the country. The main differences between a visa and ESTA are cost and the fact that visas survive the expiration of the passport. Furthermore, entering under the VWP gives a limited status that is valid only for a maximum of 90 days and generally cannot be extended or changed. – phoog Dec 17 '15 at 14:31

I get emailed a lot about this now that I've asked this question AND answered a few similar ones, after going to/from Canada too.

Conclusion: You can re-enter on the same ESTA as many times as you want in the two years, provided you meet the other criteria. These include, but are not limited to:

  • a maximum of 90 days in US,Canada,Mexico in a row
  • if you're a resident of Mexico or Canada, the above rule doesn't matter
  • you need a return ticket / ticket out of the US
  • you may be subject to several questions about how you plan to support yourself
  • you may be asked to provide evidence of your initial accommodation plans
  • your passport must still be valid
  • if you arrive by land, you might need to apply for a land visa, as the ESTA is for arrival by flights (some exceptions apply, if you did recently fly in < 90 days ago)
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ESTA is for arrival by air (or ship, IIRC) but the VWP is not restricted by mode of travel. It is perfectly fine to roll up at the border in a private car or on a bike or even on foot and apply for entry under the VWP, without having a valid ESTA. – phoog Dec 17 '15 at 14:35
    
@phoog twice have done this at the Vancouver Seattle border. Twice have been told I can't, and need a land border :/ – Mark Mayo Dec 18 '15 at 5:39
    
    
@phoog yeah, I see and can read it, I'm just citing my personal experience, the most recent time being in July of this year :/ – Mark Mayo Dec 18 '15 at 5:49
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That wasn't a visa. Visas cost $160. That was probably some sort of processing charge associated with the I-94 or whatever variant of I-94 it was that they gave you. – phoog Dec 18 '15 at 6:02

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