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I am travelling from Panama to Los Angeles and around the States for approx 80 days then flying back to Panama and making my way up Central America for approx 3 months before flying back to LA to fly home to Australia.

Will this be OK with an ESTA?

Does it count as spending too long in the States?

I have been told that Panama is not far enough away.

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    Not far enough for what ? I'm not sure I understand, the ESTA gives you 90 days so that covers your trip. Is your stop in LA on the way back just a stopover or a longer stay in the US ? – blackbird Jul 17 '15 at 21:23
  • Just a stop over, we will need to fly into LA from Mexico and then will fly out of LA home. Might be there for a night or 2. I was told that we had to go to South America so that our visa would still be valid to fly back into LA. – Emily Jul 17 '15 at 21:43
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    Going to Panama is far enough away to stop the 90 day count. – Karlson Jul 17 '15 at 21:55
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    @Blackbird57 No it doesn't. Going to Mexico or Canada or Caribbean islands and coming back to the US doesn't stop the 90 day count – Karlson Jul 17 '15 at 22:05
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    @Emily it will depend how you will leave and re enter the US. – Karlson Jul 17 '15 at 23:08
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According to the rules set forth under the VWP, you're allowed 90 days in the US, and visiting adjacent countries doesn't reset it. The VWP zone includes the US, Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands.

Fortunately for you, Panama is NOT part of the VWP zone, and therefore you're fully entitled to visit Panama, have your VWP time period reset, and later return to the US. However, you are still subject to any questions the CBP may have, and returning to the US sometimes results in a few extra questions. If your itinerary is all prepared and you can show your plans, however, you'll be fine (I've done this too - although not to Panama, I went to Cuba).

See a similar question on the Bahamas.

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