First-time US visitors be like, “Once I have my visa, I have everything I need to enter the US.”

Sorry to break it to you, that’s not true. You may have your visa, passport, and every necessary document and still be denied entry at the US border.

To put it simply, getting a visa is only half the job; you’ll need to answer some questions when you get to the US border. It’s only after a successful border session that you can breathe free air.

Scope of this post

Before we proceed into the core of the article, we’d like to state that the scope of this post is limited to ESTA USA visa entry.

That is, our main focus is to examine the conditions for entry for travelers visiting the US on an ESTA online visa.

If you’ve applied for a different permit, some of the conditions stated in this guide may not apply directly to you.

What is an ESTA USA visa?

ESTA is a US visa waiver permit granted to citizens of the countries listed below.

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom

As an ESTA authorization holder, a traveler is eligible to travel to the USA anytime they want within a two-year validity period. However, a traveler may only spend 90 consecutive days in the states for each visit. After which, he/she will need to go back to their country. Suppose there’s a reason to visit the US again within the two-year validity peiod. In that case, the traveler will need to reapply for another ESTA authorization before being allowed back into the US.

Generally speaking, ESTA is suited to people who want to come to the USA for tourism or business purposes. Although, sometimes, people seeking transit visas may also get by with an ESTA application visa.

What happens once an ESTA visa is approved?

Once an ESTA application is approved, it’s up to the traveler to determine when to set out. Logically, you want to embark on your journey a few days after your ESTA USA is granted.

With your ESTA USA, you can board a US-bound flight to begin your journey. But before then, you may be required to provide your ESTA USA approval letter at your local immigration center before you’re allowed to exit.

Preparing for departure

If you turn up at the US border with incomplete documents, the chances are high that you’ll be denied entry. To prevent this from happening, it’s always advisable to check the US Customs and Border Protection website prior to departure to know what to bring.

Many travelers who skip this step end up wasting their time and airfare. Don’t be like them. Do your due diligence before departure to ensure you’re well-equipped.

Normally, you can find information relating to the documents you need online. But it’s always advisable to follow the instructions on the US Customs and Border Protection website, especially considering the nature of travels these days (No thanks to COVID-19).

En route

With the help of the US Customs website, you must have gathered all the documents you need. Now, you must keep these documents close by while traveling. If possible, you can get a separate folder for all so that you can keep them next to you instead of stuffing them with the rest of your luggage.

Remember you won’t be with your luggage immediately after your touchdown. It takes a while for luggage to be cleared at the airport. Even if your luggage is cleared quickly, it’s only after a successful inspection of your documents that you’ll be allowed to pick up your luggage.

Document inspection phase

The process of inspecting your documents is also known as the ‘Admission’ phase. This phase entails applying for an official “admission” at the US port of entry. Expectedly, the type of visa with which you’ve entered will determine how your application goes.

ESTA USA applicants enjoy the least strenuous process since their authorization is pretty straightforward.

For ESTA application holders, below is a brief description of what a US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) officer will ask you to provide:

  1. Passport valid for at least six months beyond the date of your departure from the US

Note that your passport must satisfy the condition below for it to be accepted at the US port of entry.

– It must be an e-passport with an electronic chip and a biometric photo.

  1. A Valid ESTA application letter detailing your purpose of visit.
  2. All immigration documents as specified on the US Customs and Border Protection website.
  3. Proof of ESTA application fee payment
  4. Original financial documents to show that, indeed, you can finance your stay.

It’s important to note that the USCBP doesn’t require you to bring a printed copy of your ESTA USA authorization page. However, since some airlines sometimes request to see it, it’s advisable to print and bring it along.

Answering questions posed by a US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) officer

Document inspection is not the only thing that happens at the US port of entry. Sometimes, a USCBP officer might decide to single you out for questioning.

Perhaps because he suspects something is off about you or notices some red flags in your documents. Or just because he feels like it.

Usually, the questions revolve around your purpose of visit and financial capability. If you ace the interview, you’ll be cleared. But if you don’t, you may be denied entry.

Here are some of the common questions asked:

  1. Why are you traveling to the US? (This is for first-time visitors)

With this question, the official wants to understand the reason behind your visitation. Remember that ESTA USA is a 90-day authorization scheme that supports business, tourism, and transitional movements. Make sure you answer this question in accordance with any of these purposes. Saying something different might raise unnecessary suspicions about your purpose of visit.

  1. Why are you returning to the US? (This is for returning ESTA application holders)

The official wants to understand why you’re returning for those who have been to the US in the past (perhaps on an ESTA USA admission). You can answer simply by stating your reasons for return. For example, you could say something like, “I came for a business meeting back then, but we couldn’t reach a meaningful conclusion so the meeting got rescheduled to later this month. Hence, my return.” Of course, you may need to provide proof to back up your claim.

  1. What do you do for a living, and how do you intend to finance your stay in the US?

This is not a common ESTA USA question. However, there are times when a USCBP official might feel compelled to ask. Maybe he’s done an ESTA status check on you and found some too-hard-to-believe claims.

The only way to answer this question is to be as honest as you possibly can. If you’re with your financial documents, you can also present those.

  1. What are your ‘intentions’ for this visit?

This question is raised to know whether you intend to return to your country at the end of your 90-day stay. The best way to answer this question is to show the officer you’ve already purchased a departure air ticket.