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If I enter the US under the ESTA Visa waiver program with a one way flight from Europe to the US and a bus ticket to Mexico can I get in trouble?

What are the minimum requirements?

I saw this but it is an old thread https://www.lonelyplanet.com/thorntree/forums/americas-united-states-of-america/united-states/entering-us-for-90-days-without-an-exit-flight Also When entering the US on VWP, are you required to have proof of onward travel within the 90 days?

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    How are you leaving Mexico? Or are you a resident of Mexico? – Michael Hampton Feb 18 at 6:38
  • I don't know yet how I will be leaving Mexico, I intend to travel through South America for a few months and then Asia. No concrete plans or flight tickets yet though. I am a European citizen – John Feb 18 at 6:47
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    Purely a suggestion. If you're going to "bum around" in SA for awhile and ultimately return to Europe. Honestly I would recommend just buy a return ticket to/from the USA. Say Atlanta, whatever. When you finish your wandering, simply make your way back top Atlanta (perhaps buy a1way tick) and then simply fly home. This will be MUCH MUCH cheaper than a random ticket back to Europe from SA. Also far more convenient. – Fattie Feb 18 at 22:55
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One of the statutory eligibility requirements is to have a "round trip ticket." See 8 USC 1187(a)(8):

(8) Round-trip ticket The alien is in possession of a round-trip transportation ticket (unless this requirement is waived by the Secretary of Homeland Security under regulations or the alien is arriving at the port of entry on an aircraft operated under part 135 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations, or a noncommercial aircraft that is owned or operated by a domestic corporation conducting operations under part 91 of title 14, Code of Federal Regulations).

"Round-trip ticket" is defined by regulation. It's a bit broader than the usual meaning of the phrase. See 8 CFR 217.2(a):

Round trip ticket means any return trip transportation ticket in the name of an arriving Visa Waiver Pilot Program applicant on a participating carrier valid for at least 1 year, electronic ticket record, airline employee passes indicating return passage, individual vouchers for return passage, group vouchers for return passage for charter flights, and military travel orders which include military dependents for return to duty stations outside the United States on U.S. military flights. A period of validity of 1 year need not be reflected on the ticket itself, provided that the carrier agrees that it will honor the return portion of the ticket at any time, as provided in Form I-775, Visa Waiver Pilot Program Agreement.

However, there are some relevant restrictions. See 8 CFR 217.2(c):

(c) Restrictions on manner of arrival -

(1) Applicants arriving by air and sea. Applicants must arrive on a carrier that is signatory to a Visa Waiver Pilot Program Agreement and at the time of arrival must have a round trip ticket that will transport the traveler out of the United States to any other foreign port or place as long as the trip does not terminate in contiguous territory or an adjacent island; except that the round trip ticket may transport the traveler to contiguous territory or an adjacent island, if the traveler is a resident of the country of destination.

(2) Applicants arriving at land border ports-of-entry. Any Visa Waiver Pilot Program applicant arriving at a land border port-of-entry must provide evidence to the immigration officer of financial solvency and a domicile abroad to which the applicant intends to return. An applicant arriving at a land-border port-of-entry will be charged a fee as prescribed in § 103.7(b)(1) of this chapter for issuance of Form I-94W, Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Form. A round-trip transportation ticket is not required of applicants at land border ports-of-entry.

Your bus ticket to Mexico fails to meet the requirement on two counts. First, the destination is "contiguous territory," and, second, the bus company is not a "participating carrier."

Immigration officers may overlook this requirement, as may the airline, but then again they may not. I wouldn't risk it. You can either buy a fully refundable ticket and refund it later, or you can apply for a B-2 visa.

Of course, a restricted round-trip fare may be less expensive than a one-way fare; if you get such a ticket, you won't need to worry about this requirement because you will fulfill it. Thanks to Aleks G for pointing this out in a comment.

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    You can either buy a fully refundable ticket and refund it later - a cheaper option may be to buy a round-trip ticket and throw away the return part (literally, if paper ticket, or more likely proverbially, if electronic) – Aleks G Feb 18 at 16:49
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    @AleksG true. I'm assuming that the one way ticket is already in hand (whether literally or virtually). On rereading the question, I see that this assumption is entirely incorrect. – phoog Feb 18 at 16:52
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@Phoog’s answer is of course correct but I want to add one note.

It’s important when entering with a visitor visa that the USA properly records your departure from the USA. Otherwise, the next time you try to enter you might get flagged as an overstayer.

Unfortunately, the USA complicates this by not having exit controls. If you were leaving by airplane, then the airline company would record your departure to the USA through APIS. But you’re taking the bus.

Bus companies do not (always) report passenger data to the USA. And private cars and taxis of course don’t. So the USA is supposed to get information from the Mexican (and Canadian) passport agencies when you enter those countries. But this doesn’t always happen and sometimes your departure record doesn’t get recorded.

So if you leave via Mexico, I would:

  • Keep your bus or car service ticket. Keep a photo of it on your phone.
  • Make sure the Mexican border agent properly stamps your passport with a legible date
  • A few weeks later, check your USA CBP entry exit (I-94) record online to make sure the USA knows that you have left. If it hasn’t, there are instructions on where to send a copy of your passport information and evidence of your departure (bus ticket, copy of your passport page with the Mexican entry stamp)
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