Do you need to print your ESTA?

Are you wondering if a paper copy of your ESTA authorisation is necessary and therefore if you should print this document you can read a detailed response here as well as information on how to receive this authorisation by post.

Apply for an ESTA online
Do you need to print ESTA

The ESTA is an electronic travel authorisation that is supplied to you directly online using a system that is modern and rapid and avoids the long delays associated with the processing of traditional visa applications for visiting the USA.  But many people that benefit from this paper free authorisation ask if they need to print this document for inspection by the authorities during their visit to the United States.  We will therefore respond here in detail to this important question and offer you some advice relating to the use and safekeeping of your travel authorisation under the best conditions.


Is it obligatory to print your ESTA authorisation and keep it with you when travelling?

Firstly, let us remember here that the ESTA system is often called the ‘Visa Waiver Programme’ as it replaces traditional visas in certain situations and for certain visitors. Another particularity of this system is that you complete your travel authorisation application entirely online without the necessity to visit administrative offices or supply various documents. To obtain this authorisation to travel to the United States you simply need to visit a website such as the one we recommend on this website which offers an online application form for completion.

On this application form you will need to supply information and details relating to your identity such as your first and last names, date of birth, postal address, email address and your passport number. Your ESTA will in fact be linked to this passport number digitally. When your application form has been received and examined by the American authorities responsible for the issuance of the travel authorisations a response will be sent directly by email to the address you supplied on your application form. In this way you will know if your travel authorisation has been approved or not. It you receive an email confirming that your ESTA application has been approved this means that you can visit the United States simply by presenting your passport for inspection, this should of course have the same number as that you stated when completing your ESTA application.  

As you have certainly understood, the ESTA is not truly a paper document or even a document that is physically attached to your passport, it is digitally attached to it. To confirm that you possess the necessary travel authorisation, the immigration officials at the United States border as well as the boarding agents of your flight simply scan your passport and this information will appear automatically on their screen.

It is therefore certainly not obligatory to keep any other official document with you apart from your passport when you are travelling to the United States. So you do not need to print your ESTA or carry it with you during your travel. However, as we shall explain a little later, it is still judicious to keep a paper copy of this travel authorisation.


Why is it still recommended to print your ESTA and keep a paper copy?

As we have examined in great detail, it is certainly not necessary to print your ESTA to be able to use it when visiting the United States. However here we will explain in which situations and cases it can be advantageous to print this document.

Firstly, we strongly recommend printing the page that reviews your answers to the different questions asked on the ESTA application questionnaire. It is important to keep a copy of this information if you plan future visits, stopovers or transits through the USA. To be able to use your ESTA at a later date you will need to ensure that the information given during your initial application is still correct.  This is because over the two year validity period it can be difficult to remember the exact details from when you initially completed the application. With this copy you can easily read through and check that the information has not changed. If certain details have changed since your initial application then you can anticipate and avoid any problems that may occur during boarding or on your arrival in the United States through the modification of the details concerned if this is possible or by completing a new online application if this should be necessary.

You can also simply choose to print the ESTA confirmation email which has several advantages. This of course enables you to keep a note of important information such as your reference number that can prove to be useful if you wish to modify certain details. It is also useful for knowing the expiry date of your travel authorisation. In this way you can be sure that you can travel using your ESTA during the two year validity period following its issue date.  

Finally, certain people prefer to keep a physical copy of this type of official document as a precaution against any problems at the time of boarding or any other difficulty they could encounter during their travel. However we would like to emphasise that this type of incident is extremely rare as the ESTA Electronic System of Travel Authorisation was created to be particularly reliable and easy to use.


How to obtain a physical copy of your ESTA authorisation by printing it or otherwise?

You now know that although printing your ESTA is not obligatory it can be advisable in certain cases. But which is the best way to obtain a paper copy of this travel authorisation?

The first solution, as we indicated earlier, is simply to print the email sent to you by the American authorities following your online ESTA application. This email response is sent to you using the email address supplied by you on the application form within a maximum of 72 hours after submitting your online application form. But not everyone has a printer at home that enables them to do so and there are other solutions available.

Firstly, nothing stops you from asking for assistance from someone close to you who possesses a printer and can therefore print a copy of this important document. It is certainly not necessary for you to use only your own personal printer to do so. You could also save a copy of this document to a USB stick to take somewhere else or to someone else that has a printer for printing a paper copy. 

There is another solution that can also be worth considering if you do not have a printer but still require a physical copy of your travel authorisation. Certain superior ESTA service websites offer their clients the possibility of receiving a paper copy of their ESTA by post. It is of course a payable option and a supplementary fee will be added to the normal ESTA fees and costs to cover costs including that of sending it by post to your home. Apart from the drawback of a supplementary fee there is also a longer waiting period than for the ESTA authorisation email. Although the processing time of your application remains the same, a maximum of 72 hours, it is only when the application has been processed that the document will be sent to you. The delivery time is however still fairly short but will depend of course on your address.

Currently, only a few high quality ESTA service websites offer this type of service. If you are interested in receiving a copy of your ESTA by post then we recommend you use the website we advise here. Apart from this particular service you will also be able to obtain full assistance with the completion of your ESTA application form and it is even possible to obtain a full refund of fees paid in the case whereby your application is refused.


Is it possible to complete an ESTA application without using the online form?

In the same way that you may wish to obtain a paper copy of your ESTA maybe you would like to know if there is another way to complete this travel authorisation apart from completing an application form online. It is true that some people are not comfortable using the internet and prefer dealing with a physical person for administrative procedures such as the completion of official forms.

However, as we have explained several times in this article the ESTA authorisation procedure is what is called a paperless procedure which can only be completed through the internet. Due to this it is absolutely impossible to complete this procedure other than online by for example visiting an administrative office.

This system is in fact the only way to obtain this travel authorisation. Of course, you may be tempted to complete a visa application instead but even with this a large part of the visa application procedure is now completed online so this would not be of much help.

Si vous ne vous sentez pas suffisamment à l’aise avec les demandes en ligne, nous vous conseillons de passer par le site web que nous recommandons sur notre site et qui vous apportera une aide précieuse pour vous éviter toute erreur. La navigation y est très simple et les réponses à apporter au formulaire ne posent pas non-plus le moindre problème. Sur ce site, vous pourrez également demander à recevoir votre ESTA par courrier au lieu de le recevoir par email.

If you do not feel completely comfortable with online applications then we suggest that you use the service we recommend on our website which will provide valuable assistance and help you in avoiding mistakes. Navigating it is very simple and the responses to the questions asked by the application form will no longer be a problem or worry. On the website you can also request a paper copy of your ESTA by post apart from the original email.  

You also have the possibility of asking someone you know to apply online for you. But in this case it is important to ensure you supply them with all the information they will need. Ideally you should be with this person while they complete the form for you to ensure that all the answers to the questions are stated clearly and correctly.


What to do if you have lost the paper copy of your ESTA after printing it?

Even if you have taken the precaution of printing your ESTA authorisation once you received it or you accepted the option of requesting a paper copy of it by post, maybe you have lost it or don’t know how to find it. If this is the case then firstly be assured that this will not negatively affect your next visit to the USA.  In fact, as we explained earlier in detail, holding a paper copy of this travel authorisation is not obligatory as this authorisation is directly and digitally linked to your biometric or electronic passport. Your passport is therefore the only document you will actually need to present for inspection on boarding and to immigration and customs officials on your arrival at your destination airport.

However if you need this paper to obtain information from your ESTA such as its validity period or verify that your original answers to certain questions remain the same then there are other ways to find this. Firstly, you can check your email inbox to try and find the email that was sent to you following your initial application. Don’t hesitate to use keywords to assist you in this search. If you find it this way then you can simply reprint it and file the printed paper somewhere safe.

If you have unfortunately deleted this email then you still have the possibility of visiting the official ESTA website to find your application details. To do so you will need certain information such as your application reference number or passport number.

Although certain ESTA service websites may offer a favourable follow up to your application it is generally not possible to obtain a duplicate copy of your ESTA by post using their services.

The good news is that, contrary to other official documents, the ESTA that you have lost cannot be used under any circumstances by someone else.

Apply for an ESTA online

As a web writer and globetrotter with a passion for travel and tourism, I have acquired in-depth knowledge of the procedures that are essential for travellers. I help travellers to complete all the formalities required for a successful trip, particularly when it comes to obtaining a visa online. With several years' experience in this field, I'd like to offer you some valuable advice to help you discover the world with complete peace of mind.


Frequently asked questions

Do I need to present a paper version of the ESTA when travelling to the USA?

No! It is absolutely not necessary to present a paper document representing your ESTA when you travel to the USA. The ESTA electronic travel authorisation is automatically attached to your passport and this passport is therefore the only document you will need to present when boarding the plane and when you arrive in the USA.

Can a printed ESTA be submitted after a change of passport?

If the passport you used when you first applied for an ESTA has expired and had to be renewed, you will no longer be able to use your authorisation for a stay in the United States, even if you present the paper version of your certificate. It is essential that the passport number on your ESTA is the same as the one you will present during your stay. It will therefore be necessary to reapply for an ESTA online by starting the procedure from the beginning.

Can an ESTA be kept in digital format?

It is not compulsory to print the ESTA certificate, nor is it compulsory to keep a digital version of this document. However, we strongly recommend that you take this precaution. Indeed, by keeping the email received from the American authorities or at least your file number, you will be able to access the information on your authorisation at any time, including its period of validity.