Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Electronic System for Travel Authorization

I am presently at MIT for the Emergent Gravity Conference, a trip that was as smoothly as could be, partly because I didn't bother to hand in my I-94 when I left California only a week earlier. Nevertheless, complains about travel to the USA always makes a good topic at any conference, the best is trying to avoid the country as far as possible since even transit only is an extremely annoying procedure.

Since it occurred to me many people don't seem to know about improvements to the pleasures of travel to and through the USA, here is an update on the visa waiver program (VWP). (Your country is participating in the visa waiver program if you have usually filled out a green form with your passport information, travel dates and so on - this is the I-94W, the Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record.)

Effective January 12, 2009, all VWP travelers will be required to obtain an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S. under the VWP.

It's called the "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" (ESTA) and you find more information on this website and is supposed to work as follows:

Log onto the ESTA Web site and complete an on-line application in English. Travelers are encouraged to apply early. The web-based system will prompt you to answer basic biographical and eligibility questions typically requested on a paper I-94W form.

Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, however, the Department of Homeland Security recommends that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel.

So say good bye to last minute trips.

After January 12, 2009, VWP travelers who do not apply for and receive travel authorization via ESTA prior to travel may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing or be denied admission at a U.S. port of entry.

That's the bad news. The good news is that an approved travel authorization is valid for up to two years, or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first (the I-94 was so far good for 90 days only), and valid for multiple entries into the U.S. (as previously).

What stuns me about this is that US officials seem to assume everybody has the possibility to access that website in a timely manner.


  1. So, Bee, for people who want to be able to travel at a moment's notice, either fill out the form every two years? or better to have a visa?

  2. Each US traveler surrenders a finger joint at the first transportation hub. Everyobdy gets 28 trips, then they are done. Homeland Severity will always have bona fide fingerprints (and nothing to match - FEMA business model).

    Go for a Homeland Severity SHOCK BRACELET that holds all personal information (trivially remotely hacked), GPS trace, and a massively immobilizing electric discharge (also hackable at will).

    Bush the Lesser could not step on a dog turd without getting up to his neck in it.

  3. Welcome to the 'Brave New World' of Homeland Security. It's for your own protection, you see...

  4. Appart from the need of internet access to fill out the form, what stuns me a bit is that the questions are the same as on the old paper forms you had to fill out in the plane. OK, there is the advantage that I don't mix the lines anymore on the electronic form.

    But I wonder what to do with these questions about "Travel Information" and "Address While In The United States". How is this supposed to work when the procedure is valid up to two years, and thus possible for several trips? Will it be necessary, eventually, to fill the form again for each trip anyway? Or will there be new forms for these data?

    Cheers, Stefan

  5. If it's valid for up to two years, then you theoretically can start filling it out every two years if you know that you'll be flying to the U.S.?

    But I thought you were working in the states? Doesn't this require a visa for you?

  6. Oh come on. Except for a few Canadians and Mexicans, this can hardly add much to the cost of travel. You'd be surprised where one can find internet cafes these days.

  7. Hi Kea,

    Canada and Mexico don't participate in the visa waiver program. Canadians need as far as I know no visa anyway. I wasn't concerned about money, I simply wanted to express that not everybody who lives in a rural area of the participating countries might have internet access. Not saying they wouldn't be able to find a place, but it is another additional inconvenience and I can't see no good reason why it is mandatory. I too sometimes make an online check-in, but sometimes it just doesn't work out in time.

    The countries participating in the VWP are

    Andorra, Iceland, Norway, Australia, Ireland, Portugal, Austria, Italy, San Marino, Belgium, Japan, Singapore, Brunei, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Denmark, Luxembourg, Spain, Finland, Monaco, Sweden, France, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, New Zealand, and the UK

    (from the above mentioned website). Best,


  8. Hi Alex,

    I worked in the US and my passport is cluttered with expired visa, but presently I work in Canada (which does not require a visa btw). Best,


  9. I'm not sure you can fill out the form without acctually planning a trip if it is as Stefan says that the required information did not change. You're usually asked for your travel information (flight number, city of departure). Best,


  10. The information from the ESTA will soon be fed into the US profiling system Secure Flight along with any biometrics and other data taken from your passport photo. You then become either a selectee who is due for more interogation on arrival or a selectee who breezes through immigration control.

    If you think the system is a pain for a non-selectee then try asking someone whose biometrics, name, religion and travel habits match someone on the watch list or otherwise scores enough to make them a selectee.

    A higher proportion than average of scientists may fall foul of this system due to ethnic mix, travel habits, lifestyle etc. Organisers should start to take this into account when selecting venue countries for international conferences.


COMMENTS ON THIS BLOG ARE PERMANENTLY CLOSED. You can join the discussion on Patreon.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.