The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began its pilot of the Electronic System for Travel Authoriza-tion (ESTA) on August 1, 2008. ESTA permits non-U.S. citizen travelers eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to obtain advance authorization for boarding an aircraft to travel to the United States. The ESTA program replaces the green I-94W card VWP travelers had to complete when they arrived in the United States with a brief on-line questionnaire.

Since August 2, 2008, more than 100,000 travelers have successfully obtained their ESTA. The ESTA is valid for a two-year period and can be renewed in two-year increments for the life of the traveler's passport. Travelers may submit ESTA applications at any time before travel. However, the DHS strongly encourages travelers to apply at least 72 hours in advance of a scheduled trip to the United States.

Travelers who previously reported their passport as lost or stolen, and later recover it cannot register for ESTA using the recovered passport. Once the passport is recorded as loss or stolen, the passport is no longer valid for travel. Travelers should not attempt to obtain ESTA authorization using a passport that previously had been reported lost or stolen.

Beginning January 12, 2009, ESTA will become mandatory for all citizens and eligible nationals from VWP countries who want to travel on the Visa Waiver Program.