What To Do When Your ESTA is Rejected (USA Visa Waiver)

Passport with denied visa stamp on the map of the world and airline boarding pass tickets

Have you had your American ESTA denied after booking all your accommodation and all the other plans you may have for visiting the USA?

Felt that gut-wrenching disappointment, or even panic upon rejection?

You’re in good company.

The rejection of my online American ESTA application was mainly due to arrogance and poor planning on my behalf.

Pretty much every other British person I know who has been to the US managed to obtain their visa without any dramas and were sent the ‘thumbs up’ confirmation email to enter the USA as a tourist, within twenty-four hours of applying, paying the small fee of $9.

However, most US-bound Brits haven’t visited Iraq, (amongst a few other eyebrow-raising countries) and I was to find out later that this was the main catalyst for Uncle Sam to say that I wasn’t allowed to come and play in his backyard. The ESTA form asks you if you have been to any of the following seven countries that currently appear on the naughty list:

  • Iraq
  • Iran
  • Libya
  • Yemen
  • Somalia
  • Sudan
  • Syria

My hands were tied and I had to tell the truth – resulting in the initial rejection of permission to travel to the United States of America.

Panic set in.

I was due to fly to Las Vegas to attend the viewing party for the Mayweather vs McGregor boxing match at the MGM, on the 25th of August and I received my rejection on the 19th of August.

All of my hotel bookings, car rentals and inbound flights across the USA were already booked – I was set to waste a hell of a lot of money, not to mention the sentimental pain of missing the fight or the uncertainty of ever getting to ‘Murica.


A man poses with 2 Floyd Mayweather fans at the MGM Arena in Las Vegas
I made it! But it wasn’t easy… read on.

What to Do When Your ESTA Application Has Been Denied

The very first thing that you should do when your ESTA is rejected, is to log onto the official ESTA page and check your details thoroughly to see if you made any embarrassing mistakes.

The second application of an ESTA will automatically be denied and you will still have to follow the processes set out in this blog, but it’s good to be prepared for the fuckery ahead in your quest to get this fixed.

Apply Online to These Two Websites

Firstly, get the kettle on and go to this website, which is the official application site for a B1/2 American visa (a multiple entry, long-term USA visa). It’s completely different to an ESTA and good news if accepted; you will have a huge advantage over all those smug ESTA-accepted folk – but more on that later, let’s get you in first.

This bit is a little tricky, as the form that you need to fill in for your B1/2 form is actually called a DS-160 form. You will find this under the subheading; ‘Complete the Online Visa Application.’

The photo tool on this website is close to useless, so don’t sweat about taking photos of yourself for this application – it’s not obligatory and the staff at your local embassy will take your photo for this process anyway.

Next: Take Out Your Wallet

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you have to pay a whopping $160 USD for this part, no way of getting around it. Also… this part of the official process is extremely convoluted and you will have to do a lot more work.

First, locate the US embassy in your country, with this approved site: https://www.usembassy.gov/

One option is to call them and tell them that you have completed a DS-160 form and that you now require an appointment – they will direct you to a site to make the payment, which will then give you an appointment date.

The other option (and this is the one that I took because I had no time to lose) is to physically go to the embassy and chat with the staff outside.

I found an independent agent who helped me with the payment process for a fee of $20 at the United States Embassy in Mexico City. You will possibly find these people kicking around outside embassies and they’re good value for money, as they do all the hard work for you and inform you of your interview date there and then and provide you with all of the printed documents that you need.

Not all embassies are created equal though and if this is not an option, you will have to find patience within yourself to get through via the good old telephone.

During this process, you will receive two appointments at your local US embassy. The first one will be a basic fingerprint scan and you will need to hand in a printed-out confirmation of your completed application from the first website, and also your appointment and payment confirmation from the second website.

Your second appointment will be your interview, where they assess your rejection and you will have to answer a hell of a lot of questions, to determine whether you are able to travel to the US.

If you want a faster appointment you will only be eligible if you:

  • Have a dying relative in the US
  • Have been summoned to court in the US
  • Can prove that you are working for an American company for business purposes

If you don’t qualify for any of the above then I’m afraid it’s just a case of locating your local US embassy and playing the waiting game until you’re given an interview date.

US Embassy Etiquette

The US is a stickler for authority and rules, so turn up half an hour before your interview, dress smartly and be polite. Don’t show up wearing a belt, and don’t bring a cell phone either – they are both strictly prohibited in official US embassies.

If you ignore this rule it’s not just a case of putting it in a locker or having it confiscated until you’re done with your interview – you will not be allowed in a USA embassy with a cell phone.

Grab a newspaper and play some old-school Sudoku or write a letter to your sweetheart, to feed the boredom beast while you wait.

Make sure you print out as much information as humanly possible to help with your claim.

Print out any bookings within the US that you have made, and bring proof of the funds in your bank account, your exit ticket out of the US and even your ESTA rejection form!

You should also take all of these forms with you on your trip too (if successful), in your carry-on luggage; they will come in handy at the point of entry at the airport. Homeland Security is pretty hardcore when they see you’ve been red-flagged and they are (slightly) less aggro when you have documentation.

You will have two interviews if successful, one if you are not.

Expect the interview to be rather intense, they will ask some questions that might sound ridiculous to you. I guess my travelling to Iraq and Afghanistan for “tourist reasons” sounded ridiculous to them too.

Just play the game and stick to the truth and try and keep it as simple as possible with your responses. Bite your lip if you ever feel like you’re being disrespected (easier said than done, but it’s the best thing to do if you want to get your visa).

Do I Need To Apply For a New Long Term American Visa If I Get a New Passport?

This is with regard to the long-term American visa, not the ESTA, but it’s very important.

The American Government themselves say this on their site:

Do I need to apply for a new visa with my new passport? No. If your visa is still valid you can travel to the United States with your two passports, as long as the visa is valid, not damaged, and is the appropriate type of visa required for your principal purpose of travel.

So as long as you don’t lose that old passport with the American visa, you are good to return within the duration of your pre-approved agreement.

Short on Time? Ask for an Expedited Visa

If like me, you are short on time and your proposed US trip is very soon – you need to make this clear from the outset to the person who interviews you in your second interview (the staff in the first interview have no power at all). If accepted, your visa can take anything from four days to two weeks to get to your local courier service.

I did all of this in Mexico, which is notorious for its terrible postal delivery service. Explaining my plight to the guy at the embassy resulted in my qualifying for an expedited visa. I also met quite a few Mexicans who were granted the same service on the day I went to collect it.

Once you’ve received your American visa, you will be eligible for travel in the US for ten years (as a Brit), so it actually works out better than the ESTA, which only gives you three years.

The UK and the US have a good diplomatic relationship so I definitely benefited from the unfair lottery that is passport privilege.

If you’re curious to see how many potential years you can get on a B1/B2 visa, which is dependent on your nationality, – visit this webpage here to find out and scroll down to ‘Validity Period and Duration of Stay’ to find out the expiration date for your multiple-entry US tourist visa. According to a recent report by VisaGuide.world, effective from May 30, 2023, the B1/B2 visa application fee has been revised to $185, as opposed to the previous amount of $160.

It was an absolute pain in the arse (no, I refuse to say “ass”) to get into the US, but it was well and truly worth it.

They have always been one of the most paranoid countries in the world to get access, alongside Israel and a handful of Arabic/Muslim nations. Same deal for visiting North Korea and also Russia get a little weird when you just want to climb their biggest mountain.

I genuinely don’t see that changing any time soon, if ever.

The US, as I suspected – is a fantastic road trip country, with an abundance of delicious ethnic restaurants and the food service industry is brilliant.

I’m looking forward to going back someday, to teach Americans how to use the word “literally” in the correct context, and to inform them that the term “I could care less” makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Moral of the story; don’t give up too easily if you apply to visit the USA and you got your ESTA denied. I appreciate that some folks will have a lot harder time than me, but don’t give in without a fight! The process above should be your first move after rejection. Good luck.

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Anthony Middleton

A former loser who took a risk. I now live in Chiang Mai, Thailand after visiting over 100 countries. Stay tuned for the next challenge against that clock!
Ultra runner walking in desert

Hi, I'm Anthony!

In November of 2010, I took on a mammoth challenge against the clock in a quest to upgrade my miserable life. I went out of my comfort zone and turned it all around. Ten years later, I’m completely location independent…

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