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Die ESTA-Reisegenehmigung ist für Urlauber eine passende Alternative zum Visum, Bild: DesignRage / shutterstock

Tips and tricks for entering the USA with ESTA

When planning your trip to the USA, you should be aware that the US border is one of the toughest in the world. Thousands of tourists are denied entry every year because of mistakes at the border. The typical “entry fails” can be easily avoided.

1. Passport control and conversation with U.S. border officials

Travelers from the 40 “visa waiver countries” that have been exempted from their visa requirements by the U.S. government can use ESTA to get to the U.S. cheaper, faster and easier. After filling out an ESTA application , the electronic travel authorization will land in the mailbox after 72 hours at the latest.

However, as an ESTA traveler, you are also subject to special requirements. For example, they are not allowed to work or study in the USA and are only allowed to stay for 90 days at a time. When you enter the country, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer will therefore question you about these topics.

Questions such as “How long are you staying in the US?” and “Who are you visiting?” are intended to find out whether you are planning to immigrate illegally or work in the USA. If there is even the slightest suspicion that you want to immigrate or lie in conversation, you will be denied entry to the USA.


Prepare well for the conversation with the border officials and have evidence ready in case of emergency. These can be, for example, return or onward travel tickets or documents that prove a commitment to your home country (e.g. a rental or employment contract). Impeccable behavior (politeness and willingness to cooperate) are of course mandatory when talking to the border officials.

2. Baggage checks and background checks

When entering the U.S., border patrol agents are authorized to search not only your luggage, but also your electrical devices. You are not obliged to give out passwords, but in order to continue your journey, it is recommended that you at least allow the staff to look into the desired areas (e.g. your laptop drives).

It looks for illegal or critical content that you could identify as a threat to homeland security or the people of the United States. It can also happen that the authorities take a look at your publicly accessible social media profiles.


As a security measure, we recommend that you clean up all publicly visible data of critical content and do not store any illegal photos, videos or other problematic documents on your data carriers. Even the slightest suspicion can deny you entry to the USA.

3. Luggage for the USA

The following applies to your luggage in the USA: Pack carefully! For example, there should be no copies of certificates in your hand luggage, so that there is no suspicion at the border that you are planning to take up work in the USA.

Among other things, the carriage of food and medicines is also strictly regulated. It goes without saying that you have to comply with US import regulations and the requirements of your airline when packing your suitcase.


Shortly before your flight to the USA, read the entry requirements for the USA. You can find these on your airline’s website, for example. To prevent damage when searching suitcases, also get a TSA suitcase lock, for which the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a master key.

4. State of health and medication

When applying for the ESTA USA , you will be asked about your state of health. However, these are only contagious and difficult-to-treat diseases that could pose a danger to fellow travelers or the internal security of the United States.

So if you only show up at the border with a flu-like infection, there should be no problems entering the USA. However, U.S. Border Patrol agents are paying special attention to medications carried.


Before your trip to the USA, get a doctor’s letter with letterhead, date, the reason for taking a medication and the recommended daily dose. In addition, only take as much of your medication with you as you absolutely need for your stay in the USA.

5. Watch out for entry restrictions

The political situation between the US and other countries is very dynamic. For example, it can happen that the US security authorities suddenly impose entry bans or ESTA restrictions on certain travelers.

During the Corona pandemic, for example, there was an obligation to present tests and vaccinations, and recently a visit to Cuba was declared an exclusion criterion for the ESTA procedure.

If you are not well informed, you may risk entering the USA. If you are no longer eligible for the ESTA procedure because the entry requirements have changed, you will need to apply for a US visa to cross the border.


To prevent yourself from standing at the airport with your suitcases packed and losing a lot of time and money, apply for your ESTA early and always keep up to date with political changes and new entry requirements. The earlier you are informed, the more time you have to switch to the alternative procedure of the classic US visa in order to be able to travel to the USA as planned.

6. Good timing

It happens more often than we would like that tourists only realize at the airport: We need an ESTA to enter the USA! The result is entire families who type their ESTA data into their smartphones shortly before departure and hope for quick approval.

Although it actually often works to obtain an ESTA authorization within a few minutes, the US authorities point to a maximum processing time of 72 hours.


Apply for your ESTA authorization at the beginning of your travel planning.


Remember that a valid ESTA authorization, good preparation, and some prior knowledge can go a long way toward a smooth entry into the United States. We wish you a nice holiday!