Everybody knows ESTA only allows you to stay in the United States for a period of 90 days. After that, you’re mandated to return to your home country.
However, sometimes, it may be tempting to stay beyond the official day count. After all, it’s the US; who wouldn’t like to live here forever?
Unfortunately, the US immigration system wouldn’t allow anyone to breach the laid down rules of the program. ESTA is 90 days. And so it must be for everyone. But there are special cases where this rule can be bent.
In this post, we’re going to be looking at these instances and other ways to stay in the US on an ESTA beyond 90 days.
What is ESTA?
For the benefit of those who may be hearing about ESTA USA for the first time, let’s take a moment to break down what this scheme really entails.
ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) is a part of the US Visa Waiver Program – a unique travel scheme designed to facilitate the entry of travelers from certain countries of the world.
As a citizen of a country on the US Visa Waiver list, you’re eligible to travel and stay in the US on a visa-free basis for a duration of up to 90 days. During this visit, you can tour the US and its attraction sites, transit through the US into neighboring countries, or attend business meetings.
Below are some of the countries under the US Visa Waiver Program. You should check whether your country is among to know if you’re qualified to apply for the ESTA USA.
- Czech Republic
- Republic of Korea
- New Zealand
- San Marino
- United Kingdom
Is the ESTA a type of visa?
No, ESTA USA is not a visa. Instead, it is a travel authorization scheme. More like a travel permit. So, in a way, you can look at it as a permit you get to come into the US to do certain things (business, transit, and tourism) and then leave.
Because it is not like regular visas, ESTA costs just $14 to process, and the processing time takes only 72 hours. Furthermore, as a visa-free program, ESTA USA requires no visa interview, unlike traditional visas.
Who may not apply for ESTA?
Your ESTA status hinges on your country of citizenship. If you don’t have a valid e-passport from one of the countries listed above, you cannot enjoy the benefits of the ESTA.
Also, citizens of the countries mentioned above that are coming to the US for purposes other than tourism, transit, and business may not be qualified to apply for the ESTA.
So, essentially, ESTA is strictly for tourists, business people, and stopover travelers.
How long is the ESTA valid?
ESTA is valid for a period of two years, during which time an applicant can enjoy a series of 90-day stay visits.
What this means is that you can enter the US for a 90-day stay as many times as possible as long as your two-year ESTA validity is still on.
How to stay in the US beyond the 90 days
Now to the subject of the day, which is whether or not an ESTA holder can stay in the US for more than 90 days.
The short answer is NO. You cannot extend an ESTA beyond the 90-day mark. Once your stay is completed, you have to exit the country.
However, as we said in the intro section of this post, there is an exception to this rule.
If a visitor wishes to extend their ESTA stay beyond 90 days, they will need to submit a request for ‘Satisfactory Departure.’
Satisfactory Departure is a type of policy set in place to allow visitors that are unable to return to their home country to stay back in the US. It carries a 30 days validity period duration. During these thirty days, a visitor will be expected to find a solution to their inability to depart the US.
Can every ESTA holder file a Satisfactory Departure Request?
Unfortunately, No. The Satisfactory Departure allowance is created only for travelers who cannot depart the US through no fault of their own.
For example, someone who has a medical emergency during their stay (e.g., COVID-19). Or someone who can’t return to their home country because of an ongoing unrest. Or someone who can’t travel because flights from the US to their home country have been suspended.
If you fall into this category, you may be qualified to file a Satisfactory Departure Request. Otherwise, you may not be able to do such.
How to submit a Satisfactory Departure Request
To request an extension of stay, a visitor will need to schedule an appointment with a USCIS officer. At this meeting, you will have to provide evidence to back your claim that you’re unable to leave the US through no fault of your own. Your evidence can come in the form of medical documents, travel bans, or air flight cancellations, as the case may be.
How many times can one file a Satisfactory Departure Request?
Even though your Satisfactory Departure request was granted the first time, you can file for a second one if your situation doesn’t improve within the thirty days window afforded by the first application.
Of course, your request will be pending until approved. But if approved, then you have another thirty days window.
How to stay in the US beyond 90 days without filing a Satisfactory Departure Request
As you’ve seen, travelers can only apply for a Satisfactory Departure Request on extremely special occasions.
But if you don’t qualify for this and you still desire to extend your ESTA stay, there’s another way. And that is to submit another ESTA application. If granted, you can return to the US and spend another 90 days.
Mind you; you may not be able to spend two consecutive 90-day stays in the US without first departing the country at the completion of one. So, even if you apply for a new ESTA before the one you’re on expires, you will still need to go back to your country and then travel back to the US.