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  • I am a UK citizen, and therefore qualify for the USA's Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

  • If I enter by air or sea I need to apply for (and pay for) ESTA beforehand.

  • If I enter by land, I don't need ESTA. But I do get a 90 day visa waiver which allows me to go to Canada and return to the USA, on the same VWP.

My question is: If I first enter the USA on foot, from Canada (at Niagara Falls), return to Canada on foot, and then 3 days later fly from Canada into the USA, do I need ESTA? Or as my existing visa waiver is still in place, is that good enough?

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    ESTA allows you to board the plane, not to get into the US. You might not be able to check in without it. On the other hand, if you retain your I-94, you might be able to use that to get on the plane. Why don't you ask the US border official when you enter on foot? If he says you need ESTA, you can apply then. – phoog Jan 27 '16 at 13:41
  • But your flight is "3 days later." The other approach is just to get the ESTA. It only costs $14, after all. – phoog Jan 27 '16 at 13:54
  • You're not a landed immigrant in Canada, are you? – phoog Jan 27 '16 at 13:59
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    Please note that as I allude to in this related question, CBP does not consider trains to be land. If you are entering the United States by train you do need an ESTA. They do not mention this idiosyncrasy in their terminology anywhere on any U.S. government website that I can find. – Tom W Oct 23 '17 at 15:16
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+50

[TL;DR]

An existing, valid, visa waiver does not remove the requirement for ESTA. To fly in you need ESTA. The fact that you already have a visa waiver allowing you to visit for 90 days is irrelevant.


Full discussion

When I made this trip, maybe 3 years ago, I couldn't find anything on the ESTA, or Customs and Border Protection help websites that deals with this situation, and I made the assumption that once your visa waiver is granted, ESTA (which is a precursor to a visa waiver) is superfluous.

ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The website states that it is a "system to determine if you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program without a visa". It would therefore make sense that the fact that a visa waiver has been granted demonstrates that you are eligible for one, removing the need for ESTA.

The US border guard at Toronto airport would not let me board the plane without ESTA. This may just have been his personal interpretation, I cannot say for sure.

This does I suppose match the FAQ on ESTA where it says that you must have ESTA "prior to travelling to the US via air or sea".

The thing that isn't made clear enough anywhere is that a visa waiver is not Travel Authorization, and hence ESTA is still needed to fly.

Elsewhere on the FAQ on ESTA it does say:

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and whether such travel poses any law enforcement or security risk.

Potentially ESTA is therefore still required for the part I have emphasised in bold.

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