Entering the USA

If you are planning a trip to the USA, you need to prepare well. We will answer the most important questions - from the ESTA application to the procedures at the airport to importing goods into the United States.


In May 2023, the COVID vaccination requirement for international travelers to the USA will be lifted! Unvaccinated visitors are now allowed to enter the country again.

Submit your ESTA application now to travel to the USA visa-free!


The official entry permit for the USA!

Requirements for entering the USA

Before you are allowed to travel to the United States, you must prove to U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) that you meet all the criteria for visitors to the United States.

Therefore, you will be asked to provide different data when booking your flight, when applying for your travel authorization (e.g., ESTA or US visa), and when crossing the border at the airport.

This pre-entry data check verifies you meet the following entry requirements for the United States:

  • You have a valid passport (unless you are a Green Card holder or US citizen).
  • You have a valid travel authorization (e.g., ESTA or US visa).
  • Your passport meets the conditions associated with your travel authorization (e.g., it may be required to be valid for up to six months beyond the date of arrival).
  • You are entering the country for the exact purpose for which your ESTA or visa was issued.
  • You will leave before your US residency permit expires.
  • You do not pose a threat to US homeland security.

In addition, you must meet all the requirements associated with your type of travel or residence permit. This can be, for example, a place of study in the USA if you enter with a student visa (F-1 visa) or a letter of invitation from a company if you are transferred to the USA and enter with an L visa. There are also special requirements for traveling with ESTA.

Requirements for USA travel with ESTA

If you prefer to use the faster and cheaper ESTA to travel visa-free, you will save time and money, but you must also meet the ESTA requirements. These are:

  • You are a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program and is therefore exempt from the visa requirement for the USA.
  • You have a biometric passport (e-Passport).
  • Your passport is valid for as long as it is required for your nationality (see Six Month Club).
  • You enter for tourism, business, medical treatment, or transit.
  • Your stay in the US will last a maximum of 90 days at a time.
  • You have no ties to criminal organizations and have never been convicted of criminal offenses.
  • You have not traveled to North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen after March 1st, 2011, and have not been to Cuba since January 12th, 2021.
  • You have no second citizenship in Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
  • You have never been denied entry to the US or refused an ESTA or visa.
  • You do not currently hold a valid visa for the United States.
  • Travelers from Hungary need a Hungarian birth certificate for the application.

If you do not meet these ESTA requirements, you must apply for a traditional visa at the US embassy or consulate.

ESTA Passport valid min

A valid passport is mandatory for entering the USA. Passport for entering the USA

What are the ESTA advantages?

The ESTA electronic travel authorization is cheaper, easier, and faster to get than a US visa. Instead of the triple-digit amounts charged by embassies and consulates for visas, you pay only a small service fee for an ESTA and receive your approval by email within a few hours.

Additional ESTA benefits come from ESTA services, such as the money-back guarantee, multilingual customer service, and enhanced security checks by esta-application.com.

Documents for entering the USA

For your entry into the US, prepare a folder with the essential documents that you can present when speaking with US border patrol agents. The following documents should be in your collection:

  • Your electronic passport
  • A printout of your ESTA authorization
  • Documents that can prove your planned departure from the US (e.g., return or onward ticket)
  • Documentation about your accommodation and itinerary in the USA (e.g., hotel reservations)

Please note that when entering the USA, the information in your ESTA authorization must exactly match the data in your passport. Therefore, if you apply for a new passport after receiving your electronic travel authorization, you must also submit a new ESTA application!

Good to know

The final decision about your entry permit is made by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer at the respective entry point in the United States. You can, therefore, be refused entry at any time without giving reasons.

Forms for US entry

In addition to your ESTA application, you must leave your data and details of your trip with your airline or shipping company. For this purpose, you will be provided with various forms via a weblink when booking your trip, which you must complete online before starting your trip to the USA.

APIS data query

Your airline is required to provide your personal information and your first address of residence in the US to the authorities. Therefore, you will be asked to provide information through an online form during the booking process.

TSA data query (Secure Flight)

Secure Flight is a US Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program for reporting passenger data. Your airline requests personal information such as date of birth, gender, and passport information. Secure Flight is required in addition to APIS.

I-94 form

Your date of entry and the date of your latest departure will be recorded by CBP in an electronic entry form, which you can view on the CBP website. When you enter the country, check whether the border guards have calculated your maximum stay period correctly and have the date of arrival corrected if necessary.

Customs declaration for the USA

Be prepared to file a customs declaration (CBP Form 6059B) when entering the US to declare goods, currency, and food you bring into the US.

The US customs declaration is used for clearances of valuables and US biosecurity. It is usually done electronically at passport control. Paper forms are rarely seen anymore.

Import regulations for the USA

Before entering the USA, find out about the current entry and import regulations for the United States. In particular, bringing food, stimulants, cash, medicines, pets, and weapons is strictly regulated.

This is the procedure for entering the USA

Do you have all the travel documents and your ESTA approval for your trip to the USA? Then you are ready to go! You will go through the following steps:

  • Online check-in with the airline
  • Data queries via online forms
  • Arrival at the airport and baggage check-in at the counter
  • Security check
  • Passport control and talking to US border officials
  • Customs declaration

Online check-in with the airline

Digital check-in works up to 40 minutes before departure. Find out more about this on the website of your airline.

Data queries

Some airlines request APIS information only at check-in. This is often done directly after booking with the TSA data for the Secure Flight Program. In any case, you must complete the online form before entering the US.

Baggage check-in at the counter

Be at the airport early to check in your luggage on time, even if there are long queues. At the counter, you will present your passport and get your boarding pass.

Safety check

The security check may take a little longer depending on the airport, current travel volume, international security situation, and your flight route. A second security check is also possible, to which you might be escorted, thanks to a (possibly handwritten) note on your boarding pass (SSSS = Secondary Security Screening Selection).

During the SSSS, the hand luggage is thoroughly searched, and the passenger is scanned and questioned in detail. Do not let this routine check upset you, and answer briefly and precisely.

Customs declaration

The US customs declaration paper form has been officially abolished for environmental reasons and replaced by the electronic declaration at passport control (e.g., at the APC machine). However, paper forms are still occasionally sighted on flights and in arrival halls.

Tip: Travel faster to the USA thanks to APC

As an ESTA traveler, Green Card holder, or Global Entry Program member, or member in any other Trusted Traveler Program, you can use automated passport control at many airports in the United States. If you are eligible for APC, you will be prompted to scan your passport, take a photo and answer a series of questions. The passport control machine will then throw out a receipt for you to present to the officers at the counter along with your passport.

Conversations with US border officials

The border official at the airport makes the final decision about your entry into the USA. If you have answered his questions truthfully and confidently, he will put the appropriate entry stamp in your passport without hesitation.

Check the date briefly and compare it with the validity period of your ESTA to avoid problems when leaving the country. You should also take a quick look at the digital I-94 entry form on the CBP website to have the latest departure date corrected if necessary.

What will the US border officials ask me?

United States Customs and Border Protection officers are tasked with protecting the homeland security of the United States by deterring potential threats from international travelers. Therefore, they will ask you some questions regarding the reason for your travel and your plans within the USA.

Here are some possible questions a CBP officer might ask you:

  • "Why are you visiting the United States?"
  • "How long are you staying in the US?"
  • "Where will you be staying?"
  • "What's your first address in the States?"
  • "Who are you visiting?"

As an ESTA traveler, do not make it seem like you intend to do anything in the US other than the activities allowed under ESTA (tourism, business travel, medical treatment, or transit).

If you are entering on a US visa, answer according to the purpose of your visa. In any case, stick to the truth and answer briefly and accurately.

Tips for US entry

With these tips, your entry into the USA will be stress-free:

  • Have a trusted agency complete your ESTA application to prevent mistakes, missed deadlines, blockages to the ESTA system, and rejection at the US border.
  • Compile a folder with all important travel documents and use a checklist to prepare for your trip.
  • Do not carry work certificates in your hand luggage. This may raise the suspicion that you want to work in the USA illegally.
  • Review your social media accounts and other online presences: ensure you cannot be associated with statements critical of the USA or US government.
  • Don't joke around when talking to US border patrol agents, and keep your cell phone turned off throughout the arrivals area of the airport.

Entry to the USA refused: What now?

Despite good preparation, a US border agent may not let you into the United States. There are many reasons for such a denial of entry. The following circumstances can lead to a refusal at the US border:

  • You have a criminal record and have concealed this in your ESTA application.
  • You have worked illegally in the US or have been expelled from the country and have concealed this in your ESTA application.
  • You have obvious health problems (such as a contagious serious illness), and US border patrol agents suspect you may pose a danger to other travelers.
  • The data in your ESTA authorization does not match the data in your passport.
  • You come from a country with entry restrictions and do not meet the requirements for entry into the United States.
  • You give the impression of being a threat to US domestic security.

Two of the most common reasons for denied US entry are incomplete documentation and errors in the ESTA application. However, border patrol agents do not have to tell you the reason for denied entry.

Your options are now limited to contacting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to request information and assistance in the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) upon your return to your home country.

After being refused entry at the US border, you are no longer eligible for visa-free travel with ESTA for the time being. For future entries, you must apply for a US visa at the embassy or consulate.

Prevent mistakes when entering the USA

To prevent rejections at the border, entry bans, and unpleasant situations in the run-up to your trip to the USA, get the help of an ESTA expert. With ESTA services from esta-application.com, you're on the safe side.

Apply Now