USA Online Travel Authorisation System

As a result of the introduction of the Electronic System of Travel Authorisation ("ESTA") for travel to the United States, we have set out below details of the changes and the steps we recommend you take to make your journey to the US as smooth as possible.

How do I apply for authorisation to travel to the US?

It's an easy online process. To apply for travel authorisation:

  1. Go to here for the official site
  2. Answer the required questions.
  3. Click the submit button.

Most approvals should be granted immediately. There is a fee for so have your credit card and passport handy.

What is ESTA all about?

ESTA is an automated and secure online system which determines whether visitors are eligible to travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Programme ("VWP").

New Zealanders travelling to the United States without visas from 12 January 2009 will need to complete a simple online form before boarding their plane or cruise ship.

The requirements are the same as the existing green I-94w form which is currently required.

When does it apply from?

ESTA registration is compulsory from 12 January 2009.

Fine Travel recommends that if you have plans to travel to the US you start using the system now.

Is it compulsory for all travel to the US?


Even if you are only in transit you will need to pre-apply. In the destination, state: "In transit."

Are you sure? I'm only there briefly before travelling on to somewhere else.

Yes. Anytime you travel to the US, even in transit, you will need to pre-apply. Remember to submit your destination as "In transit".

Once I've registered do I need to apply each time I travel to the US?

You only need to reapply if your registration has expired. Your registration is generally valid for 2 years.

With a valid ESTA registration you can make multiple trips into the US.


You do need to ensure that your registration is still valid before you travel. Examples of reasons why you may need to reapply include:

  • Your registration has expired;
  • Your passport has expired during that two year period;
  • Your personal details have changed;
  • The questions asked under the scheme change

Fine Travel recommends that you double check that your registration is valid before you travel.

Why is ESTA being introduced?

Following 9/11 the Department of Homeland Security in the US required the implimentation of an electronic travel authorisation system to enhance the security of the VWP. ESTA allows DHS to determine, in advance of travel, whether an individual is eligible to travel under the VWP and whether they pose a security risk.

And the Visa Waiver Programme?

The Visa Waiver Programme allows qualifying nationals or citizens from New Zealand and 33 other countries to travel to the US for business or pleasure for up to 90 days without first having to obtain a visa.

See further details at: and click on "Visas to the US".

What information will I need in order to complete the ESTA process?

The same information travellers currently write on the green I-94W card:

  • Name
  • Date of birth
  • Passport
  • Travel information.

You will also need to answer questions regarding your eligibility to travel using the VWP.

Can someone else apply on my behalf?

Yes, a friend, relative, travel agent, or other third party may apply on a traveller's behalf.

What if I don't have internet access?

Those without access to the internet can use the US Visa Information toll number on 0900 87847 and staff there can help with travellers' ESTA applications over the phone (though there is a charge).

How will I know whether my ESTA has been approved?

Once you have submitted your application you will received one of three responses:

  • Authorisation Approved;
  • Travel Not Authorised; and
  • Authorisation Pending.

If travel is not authorised you will be advised how to apply for a visa to travel to the US.

If it's pending, the traveller will need to check the ESTA website for updates within 72 hours to receive a final response.

What should someone do if they are denied a travel authorisation?

If an application for travel authorisation is denied and the traveller wishes to continue with the trip, they will be required to apply for a visa at the US Consulate General in Auckland.

If I have a current and valid visa, do I need to submit a travel authorisation via ESTA as well?

No, anyone who possesses a valid visa will be able to travel to the United States with that visa for the duration of its validity and for the purpose it was issued, and won't have to apply through ESTA. 

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