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My partner and I live in Ireland and are currently visiting family in the US under the ESTA scheme. We are staying for the 90 days allowed. We just decided to go for three months to Mexico and drive up to San Francisco. But we need to get into the US to get our flight home, for which we already have the tickets.

Would that be a problem?

  • Are you flying to Mexico, or driving? – Michael Hampton Jan 4 '16 at 19:38
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Technically a visit to Mexico does not 'reset the clock' on your 90 days of allowed stay. However the purpose of that rule is to prevent people making 'visa runs' across the border at the end of their ninety days and immediately starting a new 90 days. If you are clearly not doing that you shouldn't have a problem.

The actual standard for a Visa Waiver Program (which is actually what allows you to stay in the US - ESTA is just permission to get on a plane) is "short, occasional visits". It's the immigration officer's judgement as to whether that is the case. Maxing out your 90 days didn't help you, but being 90 days in Mexico is certainly a big help. The shorter the time you spend in the US after that the better it will be. Driving straight up to San Francisco and getting right on a plane home shouldn't be a problem. Obviously you need to have all the documents that show you will be actually leaving the US at the ready.

Theoretically an immigration official can deny you entry if he doesn't like your story, but it isn't likely in this case.

  • I would add that for the risk-averse traveler of means, it might be worthwhile to apply for a B-2 visa. The major benefit would be that you could lay out your entire itinerary in one go, to show that you aren't trying to game the system. Furthermore, B-2 status is not limited to 90 days per visit, further avoiding that perception. Thus, the already-small risk of being refused entry would be even smaller. The cost is $160 per application, though, so an order of magnitude larger than ESTA/VWP. – phoog Jan 4 '16 at 3:45

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