Do I need to apply for ESTA for transit?

As you probably know, in order to travel to the USA, we all need a travel authorization, whether it is a US visa or an ESTA. But is it necessary to request an ESTA USA for a simple transit?

First, we will define the ESTA and transit, and then we will see if it is important to have an ESTA for your next trip to the USA in transit.

Definition of ESTA and transit

Before we tell you if the ESTA is essential for your future transit, it is important to review the following two concepts: ESTA and transit.

ESTA certificate

The ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is an electronic authorization allowing certain foreign nationals to be exempted from US visa requirements. Certain conditions must be fully met to be eligible. Eligible citizens must be from one of the countries covered by the Visa Waiver Program (40 countries since 2022). They must also be in possession of a valid passport (electronic or biometric passport). In addition, the purpose of the trip must be for tourism or business and must not exceed 90 days. Let’s not forget that travelers must use air or sea routes to travel to the United States with the ESTA.


The Larousse dictionary defines transit as “the situation of a traveler who, during an air stopover, remains within the airport.” Or in the case of maritime transit, within the port.

Travelers often stop over at an American airport or port before leaving for their final destination (Canada, Cuba, Mexico, Thailand, Jamaica…).

It would seem obvious not to apply for an ESTA to stay just a few hours in an airport in the United States. However, it is impossible for the traveler to embark without a travel authorization. More explanation in the next paragraph.

Why apply for an ESTA for transit?

It is essential to apply for an ESTA, even for transit, because remaining in the airport or port is tantamount to stepping on American soil. This is why the U.S. Department of Homeland Security requires that tourists in transit have an ESTA. If they have not applied for this travel authorization, they will not be able to board the plane or ship to the United States of America.

Homeland security is more than important in the US. ESTA was implemented by the U.S. government to enhance security measures through eligibility criteria. Indeed, this online application allows the U.S. authorities to select travelers based on their personal information, their motivations and intentions regarding their stay in the United States. ESTA authorization is therefore required for a stopover.

How to obtain ESTA authorization for a stopover?

The procedures for obtaining ESTA authorization for a stopover are the same as for an ESTA for a temporary stay of 90 consecutive days on American territory.

You want to obtain an electronic travel authorization to go to the USA? It’s easy, you just need a computer with a good Internet connection, because everything happens online. Unlike the visa application which is done at the American embassy or consulate, the ESTA application can only be done by filling out an online form.

This ESTA authorization form is available on several platforms such as :

  • private sites authorized to request ESTA on your behalf;
  • the official website of the American government, where you can select “transit” as the type of stay.

It goes without saying that the ESTA form must be filled out correctly. Pay attention to the information you provide, because if the systems detect an error, your authorization request may be denied. If so, reapply 10 days after the first application. If your application is denied for any reason other than an error on the form, you must apply for a visa at the U.S. Embassy. The USA visa for transit is the C visa.

The validity of the ESTA depends on the expiration date of the passport, but cannot exceed 2 years. Checking “transit” on your application should not limit you to this type of travel. However, if in doubt, you can still apply for an ESTA for a stay instead. In addition, you should know that the ESTA allows multiple entries on American soil, so you will not need to renew this formality if you travel to the USA during the two years of validity of the ESTA.

For future travel, be aware that if the passport used when applying for a visa waiver is no longer the same, your authorization to stay is no longer valid, as it is electronically linked to the passport number. A new passport is the same as a new application.

Entry formalities with an ESTA in transit

Having an ESTA or a valid visa does not guarantee your entry into the United States. Indeed, upon arrival, you will be subject to a control by an immigration officer. The latter will try to make sure that you comply in every respect with the conditions of entry into the United States, even for a few hours of transit on American soil. If there is any doubt, the federal officer may order repatriation to your country of origin.