There are times when you plan every detail of your trip. However, some occasions require that you pack your bags immediately and head out. If you are in the latter situation, you might forget about your ESTA authorization altogether. 

En route, you might wonder, “Can I get an ESTA at the airport?” or “Can I travel without an ESTA?”

This article has been compiled to address all your emergency trip issues related to ESTA and how you can deal with them efficiently.


If you are a visa bearer for the US, feel free to make as many emergency trips to the US as you want. However, the purpose of the visit must be in accordance with the purpose for which you got the visa initially. Traveling with ESTA is not required in this situation.

Traveling Without ESTA in the US

The immigration rules of the US are perhaps the strictest in the world. These have become even stricter following the 9/11 episode. In order for you to obtain a smooth and hassle-free entry into the country, you should be aware of the rules and regulations.

If you are a citizen of one of the countries approved for ESTA, you have to possess a valid ESTA upon entry. Traveling without ESTA in the US is not allowed under any circumstances.

Consequences of Traveling Without ESTA

You can enter the USA via air, land, or sea routes. If you choose to travel by air, you need to show ESTA at the airport. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to board your flight. Even if you have a connecting flight to some other country and will be in transit at an airport in the USA, you still require a valid ESTA.

If you take the sea route and are traveling without ESTA, you will be stopped at the port of entry into the USA.

With effect from October 1, 2022, travelers by land also require a valid ESTA. ESTA has replaced the I-94 form, which is now no longer necessary. 

Note that you will need an ESTA with an “approved” status. A status showing “pending approval” will not be considered valid by the CBP authorities. 

ESTA Form Processing Time

We recommend applying for ESTA as soon as you plan a trip. The standard form processing time ranges from a few minutes up to 48 hours.

So why should you apply in advance? 

In case of rejection, you are eligible to reapply after a period of ten days. Furthermore, if you choose to apply for a visa instead, it might take up to 6 weeks. 

Can I Get An ESTA At The Airport?

As we discussed earlier, hasty trips have many loose ends. Luckily, you can even fill out and submit the ESTA form at the airport. Most cases receive their results within minutes and voila, you’re ready to fly!

However, this is not a recommended procedure. Some applications may take up to 48 hours for processing while others may not get approved at all. This can end up costing you a lot of money in terms of canceled flights and hotel reservations.


  • What happens if you travel to the US without an ESTA?

Traveling to the US is not possible without a visa or an ESTA. If traveling by air, you will not be allowed to board your flight. In cases of land travel, you will not be able to clear immigration and will either get detained or sent back. 

  • Can you board a plane to the USA without ESTA?

No, you cannot board a plane to the USA without ESTA. You will be stopped by the airport personnel. The only situation in which you are allowed to board without ESTA is if you possess a visa for entering the US.

  • Is ESTA all needed?

ESTA is needed by ALL people who are traveling to the US. The route that you take up does not matter. All those who arrive in the US by land, sea, or air routes require ESTA authorization. 

  • Who needs an ESTA to travel?

All citizens of the VWP countries traveling to the US need an ESTA to enter the country. Travel may be via land, sea, or air. Every individual, including infants, requires a separate ESTA authorization of their own. 


Traveling to the US without a valid ESTA is not possible in any circumstances. Ideally, you should apply as soon as you plan for your trip. In case of a hurried trip to the US, we recommend applying at least 72 hours prior to departure.

While a last-minute ESTA application might also get approved, there is no guarantee. Therefore, it is best to refrain from delaying your application.