I have a flight a week before Christmas where I intend on staying in the US for 2 weeks. I'll be staying with my girlfriend in a house we've had together for about a year. I'll be entering the US on a British passport and ESTA.

I've visted to the US several times in the past year, I stayed for a couple of weeks last Christmas, and then went back in February where I stayed for about a month. I then went back in June where I stayed for 2 and a half months (I originally had my flight booked for 2 months but then it got cancelled and I couldn't get on another flight for about 2 weeks).

Obviously I haven't, nor intend on overstaying the 90 day limit (or the date stamped in my passport). But I'm also conscious that I've spent a lot of time there on an ESTA, and last time was cutting it way closer than I was expecting due to the flight cancellation.

I'm kinda expecting to be challenged at the border when I visit for Christmas, especially as I am (and look although I typically dress smart-casual) 23 years old.

Does anyone have any insights to share on if there's anything specific I need to prepare in addition to the usual documentation (such as paper copy of ESTA), or what extra grilling I could expect/prepare for beforehand?

  • 3
    Do you have clear ties to were you live, like your work contract, lease of house papers?
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 4:18
  • 3
    What does ‘in a house we’ve had together’ mean, exactly? Related questions travel.stackexchange.com/questions/13964/… and travel.stackexchange.com/questions/103826/…
    – Traveller
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 6:06
  • It sounds like you understand the risks and the parameters used to make a decision. One thing you might consider doing is getting a visa, which would allow you to stay for longer than 90 days at a time, but that also implies that you would have to spend longer periods outside the US, so it might not in fact be useful to you. In any event there's no need to print your ESTA.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 27, 2022 at 11:37

2 Answers 2


Technically you have done nothing wrong and there is no specific reason why you should be denied entry other than "I don't like the way this looks". Unfortunately US CBP officers have an unseal amount of leeway (and an unusual lack of accountability) and they can apply "I don't like the way this looks" for whatever reason they feel like.

It's hard to predict what will happen. You may just sail through, you may get some mild questioning, they may give you a good grilling or even pull you into secondary inspection.

The best way to prepare is to

  1. Anticipate the questions and prep answers. Rehearse them so you can tell them calmly and with confidence. A lot of this a psychological shell game.
  2. Make sure you have your return ticket handy
  3. Have proof of cancellation for your intended return flight in June. "I wasn't planning to stay that long, but my original flight got cancelled and it took a long time to get a new one lined up". Make sure your stories are FACTUALLY CORRECT. If I recall correctly, there was good flight availability in summer so you might get questions around why it took so long.
  4. Bring proof of "ties to the old country". Proof of employment, bank account statement that shows a good balance and regular pay checks, utility bills, etc. If you have appointments or bookings in the UK after your return, you can show those. Only refer to them if asked, don't go there proactively. If they ask why you are prepared just tell them the truth: "Given how much time I spent here last year, I thought I might get questions around this and I want to make sure I can document my good intent as much as possible".

 I'll be staying with my girlfriend in a house we've had together for about a year. 

That's enough to get you denied entry right there. If you said that to an immigration official that's basically confessing to living in the US, which is not allowed on the Visa Waiver Program however long you are staying.

  • "which is not allowed on the Visa Waiver Program however long you are staying": except that "living in the US" is defined by many parameters, and owning real estate and having a relationship with someone who lives in the US are only a small part of the equation. Rather bigger parts of it are the amount of time spent in the country and maintaining closer ties to a residence elsewhere. I know several people who regularly visit their residential properties in the US using the VWP. None of them has ever had any problems at the border.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 9:40
  • I don't think it's defined that well. In any case if the officer thinks you are attempting to live in the US they will deny entry. Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 12:11
  • "I don't think it's defined that well": actually one statutory requirement is to "[have] a residence in a foreign country which he has no intention of abandoning," but you're right that the officer thinks that they will do that. I just don't think they'll react as absolutely to this statement as you do.
    – phoog
    Commented Oct 29, 2022 at 17:17

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