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I have been married to a US citizen for 12 years and we both live in the UK. I don't hold a green card and normally travel to the US on an ESTA. I was in the US a month ago and I believe the only thing that let me travel was my wedding certificate which luckily I had with me.

I was due to fly today to Chicago for two weddings, but I had to rearrange my flight to next week due to my wife feeling ill. However, I had an email this morning saying basically my ESTA had been cancelled.

So I have two questions. Firstly, will I be able to travel next week as a spouse of an American citizen without an ESTA? And secondly, in the future, do I still need to have an ESTA to travel on?

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    Why was your ESTA cancelled?
    – phoog
    Sep 1 at 14:32
  • Removed my comment due to jcaron's excellent answer; also retracted my VtC.
    – CGCampbell
    Sep 2 at 11:21
35

There are two things to consider:

  • The regular (pre-COVID) rules for entry into the US still apply. To enter the US (actually to even be allowed to board), you need to either:

    • be a US citizen
    • be a US permanent resident (green card holder)
    • have a valid US visa
    • or have a valid ESTA

    There are no rules which allow you to automatically enter the US because you are the spouse of a US citizen in that respect. Being the spouse of a US citizen enables you to get some specific types of visas or can facilitate some procedures, but there's nothing automatic. You need a visa or an ESTA.

    There have been reports of ESTAs being automatically cancelled if you attempt travel to the US while not exempted from the COVID travel ban or other similar circumstances. We don't know what happened exactly in your case. It's possible your API data for your now-cancelled flight was still sent to CBP, and when you didn't show up they thought "oh they didn't get to the US because they don't qualify for the exemption, let's cancel their ESTA", or any of a number of other weird reasons (trying to second-guess how CBP works is a dark art).

    The issue now will be to see whether you can get a new ESTA or if you'll require a visa. I would recommend you contact the embassy first (see below).

  • The current Covid rules prevent travel to the US from the UK and a number of other countries unless you are:

    • a US citizen
    • a US permanent resident (green card holder)
    • the spouse of a US citizen or permanent resident (and in some cases, the child or parent of one)
    • the holder of certains types of visas
    • and a few other exemptions.

    Here, being the spouse of a US citizen gives you the right to an exception to the travel ban automatically, however:

    • you still need to qualify for the normal non-COVID rules (so ESTA or visa in your case)
    • you need to be able to prove your are the spouse of a US citizen (proof of marriage + proof of citizenship of your spouse)
    • there have been stories of having to smooth things out in advance by contacting the embassy so they can verify and validate things and greenlight your travel. Reports are inconsistent on this topic, but checking with your local embassy/consulate would probably be a good idea.

In summary, you need both:

  • an ESTA or a visa
  • and proof of marriage and proof of US citizenship of your spouse

And possibly a prior OK from the embassy.

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  • Remember need to get past the person on the airline checkin desk as well as keeping to detailed US rules. Sep 3 at 9:47
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will I be able to travel next week as a spouse of an American citizen without an ESTA?

No. You need ESTA or a visa.

in future do I still need to have an ESTA to travel on?

Yes, if you can get one. If your ESTA application is refused, you'll have to apply for a B visa instead.

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    @JonathanReez: However, land entry to the US is still restricted to essential travel right now, which I don't think the OP's purpose qualifies for.
    – user102008
    Sep 3 at 17:41
  • @user102008 ok nevermind. Interestingly the land border does not have an exception for spouses.
    – JonathanReez
    Sep 3 at 17:48

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