The worldwide outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) has had a great impact on travel to the USA. Even for travellers that already possess an ESTA. On this page you can read the current state of affairs, as well as the expectations surrounding the coronavirus and travel to the United States with an ESTA. All information on this page has been updated as of 7 January 2021.

Has the coronavirus reached the United States?

Yes. At this point, the United States of America has more confirmed cases of coronavirus than any other country in the world. As of 7 January 2021, 21,305,026 cases have been reported. 361,278 people have thus far died of the virus. 10 December 2020 marked the first time that over 3,000 deaths were reported on a single day.

Due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) travelling to the USA with an ESTA is not always possible.Due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) travelling to the USA with an ESTA is not always possible.

Are ESTA applications currently being approved?

Yes. Despite the outbreak of coronavirus, you can still submit an ESTA application. The applications are generally processed with the same speed as normal. Because the exact travel plans do not have to be known yet at the time of applying, and an ESTA is valid for two years, plenty of applications are still being processed and approved. If you plan to travel to the USA within the next two years, you can still apply for an ESTA as normal.

Apply for an ESTA visa right away

Can I still use my ESTA to travel to the USA despite the coronavirus?

Currently, all approved ESTA permits are valid for up to two years after the moment of approval. Only if the passport with which the ESTA was applied for expires earlier does the validity expire earlier as well. Coronavirus does not change anything about this. However, if you possess a valid ESTA, this does not automatically mean you can travel to the United States. The US government has taken a number of measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus. This includes a temporary travel ban for people that have been to a place designated as a risk area by US authorities.

Travel ban USA

The Trump government currently does not exclude travellers based on their nationality, but it does do so based on their travel history. Even if they possess an ESTA, they can still be denied entry into the United States, due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus. This temporary measure is better known as the travel ban. The travel ban means that no travellers will be allowed on US territory who in the 14 days prior to their trip have been to the United Kingdom, Ireland or any of the listed countries below:

Anyone who has been in one of these countries in the last 14 days is subject to the US travel ban
BrazilChinaCezch Republic
SwedenSwitzerlandUnited Kingdom*

* excluding overseas territories outside of Europe

Transferring in the USA is still possible for travellers who have not been to a country that is on the above travel ban list in the past 14 days. They can apply for an ESTA through the normal procedure and make a transfer in the USA. Travellers arriving in the states Massachusetts or New York need to fill out an online health form before their arrival.

Due to the new more contagious variant of the coronavirus, travellers from the United Kingdom headed to the USA need to carry a negative PCR or antigen test result which was administered at maximum 3 days before departing from the UK. This does not apply to children under 2 years of age and also not to travellers that are in the UK for a transfer and are not staying in the country for longer than 24 hours.

Exceptions to the travel ban

Exceptions to the US travel ban with an ESTA include citizens of the United States and people with American nationality, as well as their children and spouses. Additionally, exceptions are made for parents or legal guardians, as well as (unmarried) brothers and sisters of citizens of the USA or of people with the American nationality who are under 21 years of age.

Furthermore, exceptions can be made for persons for whom the trip to the US is of national interest according to Homeland Security. Exceptions are made, among others, for students with an F-1 or M-1 visa, for business travellers, investors, traders from countries that have a treaty with the US (which includes the United Kingdom and Ireland), academics, persons with a J-1 visa, and highly qualified persons who are travelling for humanitarian purposes or with regard to American public health or national security.

Travellers that want to apply for a visa for one of the above travel purposes and believe their trip to be in the national interest of the US, or have another very pressing reason to travel, need to contact the visa department of the US embassy. Travellers that do not require a visa and for whom an ESTA suffices can check the Visa and Travel FAQ on the website of the US embassy in the UK on how to apply for an exception (a "212(f) waiver"). They will be asked to provide sufficient reasoning and proof that their trip qualifies them for an exception.

Can my ESTA be cancelled?

If the American immigration service suspects that a traveller is not adhering to the travel ban, their ESTA will be cancelled. Once the traveller agrees to follow the rules set in place, they can apply for an ESTA again. In exceptional cases, an ESTA can be wrongfully cancelled. This can occur if the airline has incorrectly informed the American immigration service on whether the traveller has been to one of the 14 above-mentioned countries in the past 14 days. Has you ESTA been wrongfully cancelled? Contact your airline and explain that you are not subject to the travel ban, and ask them to pass this on to the RCLG.

When can I safely travel to the USA again?

It is not yet known when holidays and business trips with an ESTA from the UK and Ireland to the United States will resume. The current travel ban will remain in place for an indefinite period. Other measures might follow that can influence travel to the USA with an ESTA. Keep an eye on this page in the coming weeks to stay informed of developments.

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What do I do if I am already in the USA?

There are no travel limitations in place for travellers that want to travel from the United States to the United Kingdom or Ireland. However, on arrival they must self-quarantine for 14 days. This is mandatory, and failure to observe this rule can lead to fines. Travellers that are still in the USA are advised to take certain precautions to reduce the chance of coronavirus infection. These are basically the same as the ones in place in the UK and Ireland. On top of that, recommendations from local governments apply, which can differ per US state. At least observe the following guidelines to reduce the risk of coronavirus infection:

  • Avoid social contact and do not visit vulnerable people
  • Keep a minimum distance of two meters from other people
  • Do not shake hands, anyone can potentially have coronavirus
  • Wash your hands multiple times a day (at least twenty seconds per wash) with soap
  • Regularly clean your phone, it can also spread the coronavirus
  • Cough and sneeze on the inside of your elbows
  • Try to touch your face as little as possible
  • Use paper tissues
  • Wear a mask if it is impossible to maintain sufficient distance

The American government advises travellers to have themselves tested for Covid-19 1 to 3 days before they leave for the USA. Furthermore, they are advised to once again get tested 3 to 5 days after arrival in the United States and to stay indoors for 7 days. If you do not get tested after arrival in the USA, you are required to stay indoors for 10 days.

Travellers that are unable to leave the USA on time (for example due to the current travel limitations, illness or because a flight has been cancelled) and for whom the ESTA will soon expire, can apply for an extension to stay in the USA for 30 days longer. To do this, contact the U.S. immigration service (a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Contact Center), one of the airports or border posts, or one of the so-called Deferred Inspection Sites.

Where can I recover the financial damages of coronavirus?

An approved ESTA visa remains valid, despite the coronavirus measures. Approved travel authorisations and visas can never be refunded, even if they are not (or cannot) be used. Many travellers have travel insurances and cancellation insurances. It is currently unclear if these will reimburse damages as a result of coronavirus. Many insurance companies evoke the "force majeure" clause found in many insurance policies. Because of the sheer size of the financial consequences of coronavirus, insurance companies simply do not have the funds to finance all the claims for flights, hotel bookings and unused ESTA visas.

Disclaimer: this article is about the consequences of coronavirus has on travelling with an ESTA, and has been carefully put together based on available information. Regardless, no rights can be gained from this. Due to the speed with which coronavirus spreads, it cannot be guaranteed that this article will always contain the most up-to-date information.