Before you can enjoy your vacation in the USA, you have to get the entry requirements out of the way. This might not be something you look forward to, but at least you do not have to send a letter to the embassy anymore. Thanks to the introduction of ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) in 2008, visitors can apply for their entry permit online. The process is pretty straightforward. However, some aspects of it can be a bit confusing. In this article you will learn how to fill out your ESTA application the right way.


First and foremost: The ESTA application must be filled out by anyone wishing to enter the United States by air or sea, even if they are only transiting through. The entry permit allows for a stay of up to 90 days. Of course, a valid passport is required as well.


To fill out the application, visit the ESTA Website and click on “Create New Application”. Now type in your personal information. This should be easy enough. However, two fields are often confusing for applicants: “National Identification Number” and “Personal Identification Number”. Neither of them exists in Germany. Therefore just type in UNKNOWN under “National Identification Number” and leave the field “Personal Identification Number” blank. On page 3 you will be asked for a “US point of contact“. This can be a friend or business partner. If you do not know anybody in the US, just type in UNKNOWN.

ESTA Form - National Identification Number - ESTA


As a last step, you have to answer the eligibility questions – for example, whether or not you belong to an extremist organization or suffer from communicable diseases. A single „Yes“, and your ESTA application is bound to be denied. Filling out the form again will not help. The only way to obtain an entry permit would be through your embassy. Therefore, make sure to double-check your answers.

After a last check, you can send your data and proceed to payment. As of now, ESTA fees are 14 USD per application, payable via credit card or PayPal. After the payment, your application will be reviewed. Please note that you will not be informed via Email if your application was successful. Instead, you can check its status on the website by logging in with your application number. Usually, applications are approved within 72 hours.

By the way: If you are traveling with your family, one application is enough, but you have to fill in the information for every family member. With the option “Group of Applications” you can pay the fee for your whole family at once.


All guests entering the USA receive a stamp in their passport that documents how long they are allowed to stay. Germans, for example, are granted 90 days for tourism purposes. This means that the expiration date on your ESTA application does not affect the duration of your stay. The ESTA regulations clearly state that even a successful application does not guarantee entry to the USA. What does this clause mean? First and foremost, you have to present your ESTA application to the airline in Germany – at the latest when you check in for your flight. Otherwise, they would not even let you board the plane.


After arriving at the airport, you will have to wait in line for immigration. The officer is likely to ask you the standard question “What is the purpose of your visit?” In most cases an answer like “tourism” or “vacation” will suffice. In the past, some visitors were denied entry – especially those suspected of seeking unlawful employment in the USA. However, these cases are rare. Most of the time, both ESTA application and immigration are standard procedures. Once you get them out of the way, you can start your unforgettable vacation in the Sunshine State.