All You Need to Know About ESTA, VWP, APIS before Flying to the USA

Flying to the USA

The Land of Dreams, the United States of America is everything that’s fascinating, lively, and bewitching. From balmy beaches to lively markets, from lofty mountains to lush forests and an ocean of enthralling attractions, America has it all and much more on offer. No wonder, a large number of travellers from all corners of the world often plan to spend a few days unravelling the diverse chapters of this fairy tale called the USA.

As it turns out:
Most visitors spend their days looking for the cheapest airfares and pocket-friendly hotel deals, when planning trips to the USA. A large fraction of visitors also compare travel insurance online in order to ensure a hassle-free trip to the country.

But here’s the BIG QUESTION?

“Will just securing cheaper airfares and hotel deals guarantee a pleasant trip to the USA?”

The answer is a resounding NO!


Because the USA is a strict disciplinarian when it comes to its entry rules and regulations! And flouting any entry rule or regulation may run your otherwise perfectly planned trip into hot waters.

Flying to the USA

Though there is a wealth of information about US entry regulations available on the websites of Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and US Custom and Border Protection (CBP), complex entry essentials such as ESTA, APIS and VWP can perplex even the most seasoned of travellers.

In this blog, you’ll learn everything you need to know about the entry rules and regulations to the USA, from ESTA to APIS and from VWP to travel insurance requisites.

So, if you’re looking forward to get that slice of mind-boggling American delights, then you’re going to love this blog.

Let’s dive right in…

VWP (Visa Waiver Program)
VWP or the Visa Waiver Program has been conceptualized by the American Customs and Border Protection authorities to make it easy for visitors, from the 36 participating countries, to enter the USA, without having to obtain a visa for stays up to 90 days or less.

As a rule, nationals of VWP participating countries, planning trips to the USA, must ensure a valid authorization through ESTA or Electronic System for Travel Authorization before travelling to the country. In addition, US government has recently made it mandatory for visitors to the country, to obtain an e-passport in order to use the Visa Waiver Program.

ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation)
ESTA or the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation is an automated system designed by the US Customs and Border Protection authorities to determine a traveller’s eligibility to enter the country under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

But, ESTA alone doesn’t guarantee an entry into the USA. And the final decision to allow one’s entry into the USA is at the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection department.

Here’s how ESTA works:
Those planning to travel under the VWP are required to fill out the ESTA application form online and furnish the required details at least 72 hours before the commencement of travel. In addition, ESTA applicants are required to furnish their passport details, country of residence, and address of their first night’s accommodation in the USA to their airline operator before travelling.

ESTA is valid for 2 years or the validity of travellers’ passport, whichever is shorter. Applicants also need to pay a $14 application fee to complete the ESTA applications. This payment can only be made using credit cards. It is easy to fill out the ESTA application and anyone including family members, friends or even travel agents can apply for ESTA on the behalf of an applicant.

APIS (Advanced Passenger Information System)
APIS or the Advanced Passenger Information System is an online data exchange system designed by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) department to ensure the safety of travellers to the USA. Under APIS rules, commercial airline operators are mandated to share passengers and crew information, on board their flights to the USA, with the Customs and Border Protection Department.

Under APIS, travellers taking flights to the USA are mandated to furnish their details to the airlines at least 72 hours before their scheduled departure. Those who fail to do so may not be allowed to enter the country. Required passenger information for APIS:
– Full name
– Passport number, issuing country, and expiration date
– Gender
– Date of birth
– Nationality

Travellers with Permanent Residence Card number are required to provide their Permanent Resident Card numbers in addition to the aforementioned information.

On the other hand, visitors without Permanent Residence Card are also required to provide details about:
– Country of residence
– Address of accommodation in the USA (including street, city, state and zip code)

Travel Insurance
Unlike Schengen Countries, tourists do not necessarily need to obtain travel insurance policies to be allowed entry to the USA. However, those planning to travel on J1, F1 and H1 Visas need to ensure US health insurance coverage.

But here’s the deal:
Medical costs in the USA can prove to be a huge burden on your pockets. If you’re a tourist, not covered for your medical expenses while on US trip, medical emergencies can cripple you financially.

In addition, there have been many cases where tourists to the USA had to be repatriated or evacuated for medical emergencies. Be advised this can cost quite a lot. This is where having a travel insurance policy help you cover hefty medical expense when traveling to the USA.

You’ll be surprised:
A study by US Travel Insurance Association found that nearly 33.4 million Americans chose comprehensive travel protection coverage with international and domestic travel insurance policies in 2014-15.

Over to You!
So there you have it – everything you need to know when travelling to the USA. Now put this learning into practice to ensure a hassle-free trip to the USA, the country that never fails to impress with its sophisticated mix of art, fashion, food, fun and frolics.
But before you jump into action, it would be a good idea to log on to the official website of Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the US Customs and Border Protection.

Bon Voyage!

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About Marina Kuperman Villatoro

Marina Kuperman Villatoro CEO of, a travel resource site to inspire families to travel with kids of all ages. Marina has been an expat 10+ years in Central America raising 2 boys in a multicultural, trilingual household. She travels all over the world with her family to give first hand experiences of where to eat, stay and play with kids. Needless to say, it’s never boring! Join Marina on Facebook and Twitter for more unique and boutique family travel!

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