I'm planning to go from the UK to the States. I was wondering how the ESTA works. Is it all online, meaning when arriving in New York, will they see that I have been approved on the system when they scan my passport? Thus letting me in.

  • 2
    You should be aware that ESTA approval only indicates that you are authorized to board an aircraft to travel to the US and apply for entry under the visa waiver program at the immigration counter in the airport. The immigration officer will still evaluate whether you are admissible; ESTA is explicitly not a guarantee of entry.
    – phoog
    Nov 4 '17 at 20:08
  • @phoog so what is that process like. will the officer just ask questions on the purpose of the trip?
    – user67204
    Nov 4 '17 at 20:10
  • Usually, yes, but you should ask that as a separate question (if it hasn't already been asked).
    – phoog
    Nov 4 '17 at 20:12

It's one of the most underestimated ESTA questions. Print out your number & attach it to the documents. Despite the fact that automatic registration will give out all the information about you, it may be necessary to have the code in the imprinted form at the airport. Read more here. Print out the PDF with your ESTA number and carry it with your other travel documents. While United States border officials can electronically access your ESTA approval, your airline or carrier may require the printout at check-in.


Yes. It is all electronic, and the information will be available to the border control officers.

It's a good idea to bring a print out of the confirmation page just in case there are any questions, and to show the airline you've completed the ESTA process if necessary.

Admission to the United States is determined by the Customs and Border Protection officers at the border. An ESTA is required to travel to the United States, but CBP will determine you meet the requirements of the visa waiver program before letting you in. An ESTA does not guarantee admission.

  • 4
    "Electronic" is even in the name of the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
    – cpast
    Nov 4 '17 at 19:31
  • 2
    It's a good idea to bring a print out of the confirmation page - I was not aware of this, and had read or been told that it wasn't needed... until I got to check-in and the airline insisted on seeing ESTA approval before checking us in. We had to find the approvals online before we could proceed
    – Midavalo
    Nov 5 '17 at 1:41

You are confusing two concepts, the ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program. The ESTA is an electronic authorization to travel by air or sea to the US. Without that, you can't fly (at least if you're intending to enter the US under the Visa Waiver Program). That's for transportation.

Once you arrive at Immigration, they will (probably) let you in, not because of the ESTA, but because of your passport.