The worldwide outbreak of coronavirus (Covid-19) has had a severe 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 was updated on 1 April 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 1 April 2021, 30,459,874 cases have been reported. 552,072 people have thus far died of the virus. The number of daily infections and deaths has been steadily declining since the end of January 2021.
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.
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 before that does the validity of the ESTA 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 American authorities.
Travel ban USA
The American government currently does not exclude travellers based on their nationality, but it does do so based on their recent stay (or transit) in certain countries. They can still be denied entry into the United States even if they possess a valid ESTA, 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 before their trip have been to the United Kingdom, Ireland or any of the countries listed below:
|Anyone who has been to one of these countries in the last 14 days falls under Americaʼs travel ban.|
|United Kingdom*||South Africa|
* 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 United States. Travellers arriving in the states Massachusetts or New York need to fill out an online health form before their arrival.
Since 26 January 2021, all travellers older than two years of age who are allowed to travel to the USA must be able to present a negative test result (paper or electronic) in order to check in for their flight. This test must have been taken a maximum of 3 days before departure. Persons who in the 90 days prior to trip to the United States were infected with the coronavirus can instead present a confirmation of a health institution, which states that this person can travel again. Additionally, American health care authorities are urgently advising all persons arriving in the USA on a flight to remain in (self-)isolation for at least 7 days, and have an antigen or PCR test taken 3 to 5 days after arrival. In some American states, this is mandatory for travellers from certain countries (such as the state of New York for travellers from the United Kingdom).
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 persons with American nationality who are under 21 years of age.
Furthermore, exceptions can be made for individuals for whom the trip to the United States 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 USA (which includes the United Kingdom and Ireland), academics, individuals with a J-1 visa, persons providing support in vital infrastructure (sectors such as defence, energy, agriculture and healthcare) 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 United States, 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 that the traveller has been to one of the countries listed above 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. There are rumours that the European travel ban will be lifted in May, but this has not yet been confirmed by US authorities. Keep a close watch on this page to stay informed on developments.
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What do I do if I am already in the USA?
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 metres 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
To travel from the USA to the United Kingdom, you must provide all of your travel details and be able to present a negative Covid-19 test result which was taken at maximum 3 days before departure. Once you arrive in the UK, you must take 2 additional coronavirus tests which must have been booked before arrival. You must also self-isolate 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 American 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. An ESTA still allows you to travel to the United States, provided the traveller has not been in a Schengen country, Great Britain, China, Brazil or South Africa in the 14 days preceding their trip. 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 most 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.