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Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and e-Passports

Region: Ontario Answer # 1032

What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system that determines if visitors are eligible to travel to the United States without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).


Who should apply?

Canadian citizens with a valid Canadian passport do not need an ESTA.

If you are a Canadian permanent resident or have refugee status in Canada, you will either require an ESTA or a visa to visit the USA. Whether a visa to visit the USA is required depends on the person’s country of citizenship and if they have the appropriate travel documents. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP), administered by the Department of Homeland Security, permits citizens of 38 countries to travel to the USA for business (limited activities) or as tourists for stays of up-to 90 days without a visa.

To be exempt from obtaining a visitor visa, the person must:

  • be a citizen of a country that is eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP),
  • have a valid e-Passport, or in the case of a refugee, a valid Refugee Travel Document, and
  • have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel


Applying for an ESTA

To apply for an ESTA, visit the ESTA website at esta.us. Download the application, answer all of the required questions and submit the application online. The ESTA application includes questions about biographic information and VWP eligibility questions. After submitting the application, you will be notified of your eligibility to travel to the United States under the VWP.

If approved, you will receive your travel authorization. This document should be taken with you when travelling to the USA as proof that you do not require a Visa.

ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel. However, it is a good idea to apply well in advance in case there should be a processing delay.

Children, regardless of age, are required to obtain an independent ESTA approval.


Visitors transiting through the USA

Regardless of whether someone is only transiting through the USA, citizens of countries that participate in the VWP require either an ESTA or a visa to transit the United States. If a traveller is only planning to transit through the United States en route to another country, when he or she completes the ESTA application, the traveller should write the words “In Transit” and give the final destination in the address lines under the heading “Address While In The United States.”



An e-Passport is required for everyone wishing to use the VWP. An e-passport is an enhanced secure passport with an embedded electronic chip that can be scanned to match the travellers’ identity to the passport. The information in the chip matches the information on the individual’s passport: such as name and date of birth. It also contains a digital photograph of the e-Passport holder.

A criminal record will prevent you from entering the USA or obtaining your USA immigration status. To erase your Canadian criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 , or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.


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