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I just found out that we might have a major problem with our current travel itinerary and visa status and I'm wondering/hoping if anybody is able to help us out here...

Situation: We are a young family from Europe/Germany, doing parental leave currently with our little baby. We arrived on May, 9th in the US (Washington DC) and got a stamp (ESTA) which allows us to stay until August, 6th. Our return flight is scheduled for September, 24th from San Francisco.

We bought and registered a car (Virginia), build a bed inside and the initial plan was to travel through the US East and South to Mexico (Gulf Coast) and afterwards Guatemala/Belize, than back through Mexico (Westcoast) to the US (Westcoast) in order to leave the country from San Francisco in September.

Since we had some issues with the car, got delayed in the US because we and our little one got infected with COVID and due to security reasons regarding to our little one, we decided to change the plan and not to drive through Mexico.

Plan instead: travel the US and leaving the country to Canada (Western part) at the latest on Aug. 6th in order to our stamp. We would visit Canada and would return to the US not more than two weeks before our flight back home in order to sell our car and get everything done. So we would stay in Canada for about 1-1.5 months.

Problem: I just found out, that the Esta won't get renewed if I enter the US again from Canada.

Does anybody knows, which possibilities do we have now to get this fixed?

  • Can we apply in Canada at a US Consulate for a transit visa or something else?

  • Could we enter the US from Canada again without Esta, but with an I-94? We don't want to stay long, we have to go back to work, the little one have to go to kindergarten, we can proof everything - but we have to sell our US plated car and have to fly out from SFO (changing it to Canada West coast is not possible - and in this case we still have the Car-Problem...)

  • Would it help to book a flight to Belize for about a week? Would we get stamped new 90 days in this case? (This trip would be possible before or after expiration of our Esta (Aug. 6th)...)

I really appreciate and looking forward for your help. Thank you and best regards

Nick & Family

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    Note that it’s not your ESTA which won’t be reset/renewed (that is valid for 2 years and only needs to be valid at the time you enter the US). What matters is the VWP and your I-94 record under VWP rules, and in this case the rules are the same whether you enter by air or by land. Note that it your I-95 may be reset in this situation if the trip to Canada is long enough. But it’s a bit of a lottery whether it will or will not be.
    – jcaron
    Jul 5 at 22:36
  • Thank you. Is >30 days 'long enough'? So I think it's clear that this won't be a visa run (which they want to rule out), especially because our flight would be about two weeks after entering the US. But I don't know how the border control thinks about that. What happens if they refuse us? We need to turn around to Canada and have to book another flight back home and leave our car somewhere in Canada with the US registration?
    – Lukas Nick
    Jul 5 at 23:22
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    US CBP has the ability to admit you to the US a second time. The key thing is to make sure you have enough evidence to convince them that is what you will do. Jul 6 at 3:24

2 Answers 2

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Problem: I just found out, that the Esta won't get renewed if I enter the US again from Canada.

This is incorrect. When you go to Canada from the US as a visa waiver program visitor, and then seek to return to the US, the US officer has the option of readmitting you for the balance of the initial 90-day period. The officer can also grant a new 90-day period (or deny admission altogether, of course).

If you leave the US for Canada and then try to re-enter after the end of the initial 90-day period, there is no time remaining in the initial 90-day period, so this regulation does not apply. In this case, the officer can grant a new 90 day period (or, as always, deny admission).

If you leave the US before August 6th and seek to return over a month later in mid September, there is every likelihood that you will be admitted under the VWP, provided that it is clear that you are returning primarily for the purpose of flying home.

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  • @Midavalo actually the officer does not have discretion to shorten the period of admission. A shorter period may be dictated by the passport's expiration date, or the officer can admit for the balance of the previous admission, if applicable, but otherwise the options are 90-day admission or refusal.
    – phoog
    Jul 6 at 13:41
  • Interesting, I was not aware of this. It had happened to me (but entering on B2) and was under the impression it had happened to a friend of mine who was trying to do much the same as the OP (re-entering the US on what would have been day 92). Friend was admitted to catch the flight out and leave the US, but maybe was still given the full 90 days anyway. Entering via the land border. I'll remove my earlier comment
    – Midavalo
    Jul 6 at 13:52
  • @Midavalo for the VWP, it's possible that the policy has changed; it's not public except for the obsolete "Inspector's Field Manual" that came to light through a freedom of information act request several years ago. But for B-2 visitors, there is a minimum 6-month admission specified in the Code of Federal Regulations to which exceptions may be made only "upon the specific approval of the district director for good cause." So perhaps it doesn't matter what the policy is for VWP visitors if the officers don't necessarily follow it.
    – phoog
    Jul 6 at 15:03
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Can we apply in Canada at a US Consulate for a transit visa or something else?

Yes, you can apply for a tourist visa in Canada. I know for a fact that US consulates in Canada allow third-country citizens to apply for a visa there and a lot of folks routinely go out of the US to Canada for visa stamping.

However, if your visa application is denied, you may lose your ESTA eligibility (CBP source).

Could we enter the US from Canada again without Esta, but with an I-94?

What does this mean? I-94 is the Immigration form that details your current status in the US, it's not a visa or a permit to enter of any kind.

Would it help to book a flight to Belize for about a week? Would we get stamped new 90 days in this case?

If you land in the US, then yes. If you fly to Belize from Canada and enter the US from Canada by car then you've achieved nothing.

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  • Thank you for your answer! Okay, so a trip to Belize (and return to the US) would work. Should the return date be before or after the expiration date of the first 90 days? Alternatively applying for a visa when I enter Canada - how big is the change that they would deny it? Okay. I thought I-94 ist something else than the VWP and can be used if there is no esta. By the way... I read here when I spent more time than 30 days in Canada (this is our plan), it's not considered as a short trip so reentry to the US (in order to fly home) under using VWP would work? What do you think? Thank you!
    – Lukas Nick
    Jul 5 at 18:55
  • @LukasNick an I-94 is just a record of your entry into the USA. It can't be 'used' for much of anything other than showing when you entered and under what conditions.
    – brhans
    Jul 5 at 19:17
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    @LukasNick Also be aware that there are long waits when booking visa interview appointments - currently the wait times for visitor visa interviews at US consulates in Canada are around 450 days. See travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/…
    – Midavalo
    Jul 5 at 21:59
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    What they want to avoid are “visa runs” where people hop across the border and come back nearly immediately to get 90 more days. One month should be enough to qualify for a fresh 90-day period, but I don’t think there is a hard and fast rule about this, it’s more likely to the appreciation of the border officer. The long stay in Canada and the plan to get out of the US quickly play in your favour, but the 90 days spent in the US and the US-registered car probably play against you.
    – jcaron
    Jul 5 at 22:42
  • Thank you all! @jcaron, I even don't need additional 90 days - 14+- should be enough. Is this something the officer could consider? We could also hurry up a bit and try to get up to Canada early in order not to use all of the 90 days. Or a flight to Belize for a week or so this month - but in my opinion this looks more like a visa run than everything else...
    – Lukas Nick
    Jul 5 at 23:42

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