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We travelled early March from Australia to the US and entered on an ESTA visa waiver. This allows us 90 days in the US and Canada. After several days in Florida, we drove to Canada for our daughter's wedding. After our arrival in Canada the borders were closed due to Covid-19. Our ticket is a Lufthansa RTW ticket and we are scheduled to fly Orlando to Frankfurt and then on to Sweden for a month's stay after which the ticket flies us to Singapore and then home to Perth, Australia.

With all the upheavals due to Covid, we have cancelled our future onward accommodations and are resigned to flying home from North America to Perth.

The question we have is this: Due to the Covid problems, we probably will not want to fly from North America until mid-July. Will the US allow us back into the country when the borders are opened to drive back to Florida and fly from there, even though our 90-day visa waiver period will have expired by the time we leave? Or would the US border guards not take extenuating circumstances into account?

  • As far as I understand your ESTA and the visa waiver are for the USA, not for Canada as well. If you have a short stay in Canada, the counter will not reset from your entry into the USA till you leave. But if you stay in Canada for a longer period, the USA will reset or at least stop the counter for the time you have been in Canada. I do not post as an answer as I am not sure. – Willeke May 4 at 18:52
  • @Willeke: Under normal circumstances, trips to Canada, Mexico, and/or the Caribbean do not reset the 90-day clock. See this answer. – Michael Seifert May 4 at 19:36
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    This 90-day thing is very widely misunderstood, even among long-time users here. It is all about preventing visa runs. See here for an explanation relevant to your situation. – Michael Hampton May 5 at 4:17
  • Why on earth would you travel all the way to Florida just to fly to Australia? – Doc May 6 at 14:50
  • @Doc They could have a family member's car? Or perhaps think they have to return a rental car there. – Azor Ahai -- he him May 6 at 17:13
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ESTA is just permission to get on a plane. The program that controls your readmission to the US is the Visa Waiver Program, so if you are looking for information look for that.

The rule governing readmission when you have been in Canada (or Mexico or the Caribbean) is actually very simple, but is often badly described. The rule is that if you arrive on a VWP, and leave the US but stay in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean islands, and attempt to re-enter the US before the end of the 90 days of the original admission, then you will be admitted only for the remainder of the 90 day period.

If you arrived in early March, then by the time you want to fly out in July the 90 day period will have expired. You will be eligible - and indeed must apply for - a new admission under the VWP.

Theoretically border guards can refuse you this new admission (as they can with any application), and if you were looking for another stay of 90 days they probably would. But as you are passing through the US for a short time in order to fly home they are not going to do that - assuming that you have tickets you can show them. People make transits like this all the time with no problems, even before Covid.

This assumes of course that Covid restrictions are lifted to allow you to do this.

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