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The ESTA Visa: How Soon Can You Really Re-enter After Your 90-Days?

There is a lot of uncertainty about the re-entry requirements of the US ESTA visa. We experienced this firsthand and found it incredibly difficult (almost impossible) to find the correct information about this challenging issue.

As part of our trip through the USA and Canada, we entered the US twice for 90-days on an ESTA visa, while spending a bunch of time in between in Canada on their comparable (but more lenient) ETA visa. With each encounter with the customs officers, we asked our questions, and finally got some definitive answers about the ESTA re-entry requirements.

In this article, we’ll share everything we’ve learned and experienced, so that you don’t have to worry as we had!

The ESTA Visa Waiver Programma

If you head on over to the official website of the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP), you’ll find the following information about the ESTA visa.

When traveling to the United States with the approved ESTA, you may only stay for up to 90 days at a time and there should be a reasonable amount of time between visits so that the CBP Officer does not think you are trying to live here. There is no set requirement for how long you must wait between visits.

The big question regarding the ESTA visa is if you can hop out of the US for a day to “reset” your ESTA period, and then hop back into the country for a new period of 90 days.

The information stated on the official website doesn’t say so specifically, but the answer is no.

The chances of you being re-admitted into the US. after leaving for a short period of time are practically zero. No matter how hard you try to convince the border patrol officer of your touristy intention, they are not going to let you back in before you’ve allowed a reasonable time to pass.

What’s considered a reasonable amount of time between visits?

We’ve asked every border officer, and the general rule of thumb is this:

If you’ve stayed for a full 90-day period on your ESTA visa, you need to be out of the country for at least a 90-day period as well.

In other words, your time between visits needs to be at least as long as the duration of your last visit.

This is exactly what we did!

We first entered the US on March 15th, 2022.

We stayed for 87 days in the US, traveling around in the campervan that we bought in Canada as a tourist!

We then exited the US on the 10th of June.

We then traveled around Canada on our ETA visa, enjoying life on the road to the max!

After 119 days in Canada, we re-entered the US on the 7th of October.

We stayed for 87 days in the US, before leaving for 119 days. Since we allowed a reasonable amount between our visits, the customs officer allowed us back in for another 90-day period!

Some blogs say that you have to leave the entire continent (that includes Mexico, Canada, and adjacent islands) before you can re-enter the US for another 90 days.

This is not true. We were allowed back into the US, without having to leave the continent.

While it will probably increase your chances of being re-admitted, this is not a strict requirement.

What if you want to drive to Alaska through Canada?

Some travelers (like us) want to desperately experience the Alaskan wilderness. However, on a 90-day ESTA, this is challenging.

For example, if you start your travels in Seattle and rent a car there, you will be on day 1 of your ESTA.

Then, let’s say you cross the border to Canada on day 5. Maybe you want to explore some of the beautiful scenery of Canada, and after a month of traveling, you decide to push through to Alaska.

Then, if you are on day 35 and want to hop back into the USA, you will not have another period of 90 days.

If you enter the US on an ESTA visa and reenter before your 90 days are over, you will only be allowed to stay until your original 90 days are over. Your timer won’t restart.

For us, this meant that we had to skip Alaska entirely, as we unfortunately couldn’t make it work.

However, if you are okay with the limited time (and spending some of your 90 days traversing through Canada and back!), then you can make it work.

What about resetting your ESTA after a “significant” exit from the US?

Now, this is where it gets tricky.

Some people are able to re-enter the USA on an ESTA visa multiple times, without having to wait a significant time between visits.

For example, let’s say that you stay in the US for 85 days on an ESTA visa. Then you fly back home to Europe or Asia for a month. When you then fly back to the US to re-enter, you are more likely to be let in, even though you didn’t allow a reasonable amount of time in between your visits.

This is because you will have had a “significant exit” from the US.

Which countries count as a significant exit from the US?

Any country outside of North America and its adjacent islands is seen as a significant exit from the US.

This means that you’ll have to leave for a country that is not on this list:

  • Canada
  • Mexico
  • Saint Pierre
  • Miquelon
  • The Dominican Republic
  • Haiti
  • Bermuda
  • The Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Jamaica
  • The Windward and Leeward Islands
  • Trinidad
  • Martinique
  • Other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea

For example, if you fly to nearby Iceland (there are some cheap flights!), then you’ll increase your chances of being re-admitted. Even if you don’t allow a reasonable time in between your visits!

The discretion of the customs officer

You have to realize that nothing of what I said in this post can be assumed as a rule. It’s all up to the discretion of the customs officer that will handle your case.

Based on every conversation we’ve had with these friendly customs officers, they just want to make sure that you’re not abusing the rules of the ESTA visa.

They want to prevent you from either seeking employment during your stay (a big no-no!) or trying to overstay your visa (another terrible idea!)

If you can convince the customs officer that you are merely a tourist, and are definitely not planning to cross any boundaries, then they will have fewer reasons to be suspicious of you.

The truth is, they are all very nice and friendly people! If you are friendly, open, and transparent about your plans, they will be understanding.

With that said, if the person that’s processing you is having a terrible day or doesn’t like the way you answer his/her questions, then you may be denied access, even if someone else with exactly the same case as yours may have passed through.

What kind of questions will you be asked?

Crossing the border to the USA can feel like a daunting experience. We’ve done it a couple of times now, and we must admit: it’s a little exciting every time.

Because, you know, you never know what kind of questions you’re going to be asked, or what mood the customs officer is in!

To help you prepare, here are some questions that we’ve been asked while trying to (re)enter the USA on an ESTA visa:

  • How long are you planning to stay?
  • How much money do you have saved up?
  • Do you have a home address?
  • Do you have friends or family that you will be staying at in the US?
  • Where did you buy your campervan?
  • Where is your campervan registered?
  • When and where did you enter the US previously?
  • What kind of work do you do currently?
  • What kind of work did you use to do?
  • Did you quit your jobs to travel here?
  • Why didn’t you apply for the B-2 tourist visa?

These may seem like difficult questions, but remember, it’s their job to find out if you are indeed just a tourist or if they’re gonna regret letting you pass.

Whatever you do, don’t lie about your situation. Be honest, and tell them the truth. These people are trained to cut through your lies.

In our case, we were as transparent as possible: we shared how much money we had saved up, we shared how COVID stopped us from applying for a B-2 tourist visa, and that we were eventually going to sell our van back in Canada.

How to increase your chances of being re-admitted to the US on an ESTA?

If you can prove that you’re just a tourist and nothing more, you’re likely to increase your chances of being re-admitted.

  • If you can show your bank statements, bring them with you. They want to know if you have enough money to sustain your travels, without having to find (illegal) employment in the US.
  • If you can show that you have a house back in your home country, bring the papers. Either a rental agreement, your mortgage, or whatever. If you can show that you have a home to come back to, it’s more likely for them to believe that you’re just a tourist.
  • If you can show a flight ticket for your return back home, bring it with you!

Wrapping up

We have entered the US multiple times now while traveling around in our little campervan. Before setting out on our adventure, we found it incredibly hard to find decent information about it. I hope this recollection of our experience will give you some confidence in your plans!

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible!

30 thoughts on “The ESTA Visa: How Soon Can You Really Re-enter After Your 90-Days?”

  1. Hi we normally visit the US for about 4 weeks at a time then return back to UK
    We were told by a officer that we were nearly up to our 90 days in a year ,is this correct I thought it was 90 days per visit on a esta

    • Huh, that’s weird. If your border officer had a chat with the ones we encountered whern crossing the border, they would be in disagreement. 😉

      As discussed in the article, we entered the States twice within a period of 365 days, and stayed longer than 90 days total.

      Your experience is a good example of one thing: everything is up to the discretion of the border officer. They aren’t obliged to give you a good reason. They can theoretically deny you access because you looked at them weird.

      But yeah, in your case, I’m a bit surprised by the officer’s comment.

  2. Hey.

    I am wondering if you’ll be able to help me at all.

    I am a British citizen, living in Australia as a Permanent Resident and of course, during my tour of America last year, fell in love with an American 😅
    We are tried of doing long distance and are looking at me visiting on a more full time basis (albeit still temporary) on an ESTA.

    I have read through your post above and am hoping you may be able to advise me on our situation.

    Would I be able to visit on an ESTA visa, for let’s say 80 days, leave for 2 weeks and re-enter to start the 90 day period again?

    I will have proof of savings and will not be looking to seek any type of employment in the US as my partner is able to support us financially while we temporarily live together until we make the commitment to get engaged and married early/mid next year.

    Our current plans look like this for 2023/2024:
    – I am visiting him for 2 weeks May/July.
    – I am going to the UK to visit family and for a trip to Italy for 4 weeks.
    – I would visit him again for 4 weeks, end of July to end of August.
    – We would both go to the UK for a 2 week visit.
    – I would come back with him early September until late December.
    – We fly to the UK for Christmas, for 2 weeks.
    – I would fly back again with him in Jan, we would get engaged in the following couple of months.
    – We plan a 2/3 week vacation to the UK/France in March.
    – I fly back to the US with him and we would marry in May.

    If the above is allowed on the ESTA visa we would then apply for the spousal visa once we have married.

    So, I would be re-entering the US 4 times in a time period of 7 months. All the while being able to prove to immigration that I am independently financially capable of not needing employment.

    I am also looking at volunteering during these stays, either at a humane society or the forestry service where he lives and would hopefully be able to provide a letter from the organisation stating I am volunteering only.

    Thank you so much for any assistance you are able to provide.

    • Hi Becky,

      Thanks for commenting. In your case, there are so many moving parts that it is impossible for me to give you any accurate advice.

      On the one hand: Every exit from the US will be a “significant” one, meaning that this should theoretically allow you to re-enter again after the 90 days are over. Your case is made stronger if you are able to prove financial independence, return tickets, proof of employment in Australia, mortgage documents, etc.

      On the other hand: It is all up to the discretion of the border officer, as shitty as this answer may be. If they suspect that you’ll be overstaying your visa or breaking any rule, they may deny you.

      The only way to really know for sure is to just try it. As simple as this may sound, there’s simply no other way to find out for sure.

    • Hi Becki, that’s kinda crazy how I am in the exact same situation.
      I’m French and my boyfriend is American. We are in a long-distance relationship for 2 years now. I’m going to stay with him in september on an ESTA visa. Then I will come back 3 weeks in France for christmas and be back to USA for another 3 months or 6 months if I get the B-1 visa. I’m so stressed because I’m a student and I’m giving some french class online to get some money but I don’t know if it’s seen as a job so I can’t do it while I am on a Esta visa. I’m trying to get the B1 visa but it’s really complicated. I would be really interested on how you both doing right now, if so far it is working or if the border asked you some question?
      I don’t know if I can just say that I am visiting my boyfriend for 3 months each time…
      And same for you, at some point we just gonna get married but we woud like to try to live together before !

  3. Hi Rachel & Hugo,

    THANK YOU for this article! It is really almost impossible to find concrete information about these topics – and everyone claims something different. I am very glad that we found your site. It really helps us a lot. All the best on your further journey – maybe we’ll cross paths soon when we start our trip in North America 🙂

    • Thank you! We found the same thing when we were preparing our own trip, so we just documenten everything we learned so that other travelers can learn from our stories. 🙂

  4. Hey Guys,

    Fellow (Mediavine) travel blogger here as well 🙂

    Awesome article, exactly what I was looking for.

    I am wondering the following: I live in Europe and if I plan to visit the US for like 60 days, then fly back home for 60 days, then fly back to the US for 60 days .. and do this multiple(!) times because of someone I have a romantic relationship with in the US. I am thinking: Should I rather tell the customs officer that I am getting back so many times to spend time with my gf whom I might marry one day OR something about being there for my travel blog (which is also true).

    I know, there is no definitive answer. But since you have so much experience now, maybe you have a feeling what might be better 🙂


    • Hey there 🙂 Thanks for the kind words.

      Okay, so first things first: your plan sounds doable. You’ll be doing the same thing as us (leaving the US for roughly the same duration as your stays). You’re actually doing better, because each departure will be a “significant” departure.

      As for your question: my advice would be to not lie and be honest. a) the contents of your plan are totally within the rules of the ESTA, and b) if you tell them you’re traveling for a blog, they could interpret that as employment. Especially if your revenue is from the States (which it probably is). c) These border agents are human lie detectors, so if your story doesn’t add up, they’ll find out and reject you.

      Best be honest, provide as much proof to them that you’re not going to overstay or break the rules of the ESTA, and you’re most likely good!

      Also, just ask the border officers on your first arrival! It turns out that they don’t bite.

  5. Hey Hugo/Rachel,

    Great post, I’m just not sure about this contradiction:

    (start of the post)
    “We’ve asked every border officer, and the general rule of thumb is this:

    If you’ve stayed for a full 90-day period on your ESTA visa, you need to be out of the country for at least a 90-day period as well.

    In other words, your time between visits needs to be at least as long as the duration of your last visit”

    “Some people are able to re-enter the USA on an ESTA visa multiple times, without having to wait a significant time between visits.

    For example, let’s say that you stay in the US for 85 days on an ESTA visa. Then you fly back home to Europe or Asia for a month. When you then fly back to the US to re-enter, you are more likely to be let in, even though you didn’t allow a reasonable amount of time in between your visits.

    This is because you will have had a “significant exit” from the US.”

    Basically starts off by saying rule-of-thumb = 90 days in USA, 90 days out before trying to enter again (or 40 days in, 40 days out).

    Later it’s suggested that as long as you ‘significantly exit’ (e.g. go to Europe or Asia for a month) and re-enter USA, you can likely come back without problems.

    I guess my question is, which is it? 😀 How do you suggest I find out with as close to 100% certainty as possible? I know it can never be definite, because border workers have their own ideas/level of leniency.

    Again, enjoyed the post and found it helpful, just still struggling to find a consistent answer to these questions with ‘official’ sources beyond just personal experience.

    • Good question! It gets complicated really quickly, unfortunately.

      Our strategy was to leave the US for as long as we stayed in it, but only because our departures were not deemed “significant”. We only crossed the border to Canada! If your departure is “significant”, you’re more likely to be allowed re-entry within 90 days. I choose my words carefully here, because in the end, it’s all up to the discretion of the border officer.

      If you want advice on your specific situation, let me know. 🙂 I’ll do a better job at replying within a decent timeframe next time!

      • Thanks for getting back man, appreciate it!

        My specific situation:

        Entered on an ESTA earlier this year and stayed for 87/88 days.
        My exit was significant; took a flight back home to Europe.

        Doing research online I’ve repeatedly seen the same unofficial ‘rule’ that you guys also talk about, i.e. however many days you spend in the USA on ESTA, you should look to spend that same amount of time outside the USA—as a minimum—before trying to return. In my case that’d basically mean spending 90 days out.

        This rule in mind I’m thinking of going back in the next few months (once that 90 days passes, basically). I don’t have a significant other in the USA, I just like spending time there and financially support myself via personal savings/trading stocks etc.

        What I’m more worried about—and I guess my main question for you—is to what extent border officers look at your whole history of time spent in/out of the USA throughout a period of years?

        Prior to my ESTA trip earlier this year I’d spent a number of years living in the USA on a student visa and various work visas. This would only be my 2nd ESTA visit, but I’m concerned having spent almost the full 90 days last visit, and also having spent years (legally) living/working there, I’d flag as suspicious.

        Basically, do you think I’d be flagged? And if so, I’d just plan to tell the truth i.e. I can financially support myself and enjoy spending time in the country.

        Appreciate your time and sorry for the long msg!

  6. Hello and thank you for your input. I lost my esta visa because I cold not convince the officer that I wanted to try to live there. I should go for a different visa. Now when you want to fill in a new application the system askes if you ever have been denied entery. When you say yed you cannot aply for the esta. So reentry is in this way denied. Do you have sugiestions? Whats your responce please thank you.

    • Okay, I need some clarification here. Were you granted an ESTA? Was your payment processed and did you receive confirmation? I assume the answer is yes. Then the next question is, did the border officer deny you entry? I assume so, and I would like to know more details if possible, also for our other readers to learn from your situation.

      But here’s the tricky part: technically speaking, an ESTA is not a visa. This is confirmed on the Customs and Border Protection website. Do as you will with this information… If I were you, I would try to speak with someone at the CBP and get advice there.

  7. Hi I’m going out to work in texas in January for the British company i work for we you can go and work in the USA with a esta as it’s British company and not American one I will be out there for 87 days and when I get back I’ve got a holiday booked to go to philadelphia 4 days after been back in ghe uk will they let me back in if show them I have fight back book to uk only over for 7 days

    • Difficult to say… But I think you’ll improve your chances if you have proof that your time in Texas was spent working for your company, and that you are in Philadelphia only for holidays. A return ticket would also help.

      Also, ask this to a CBP officer when you cross the border for the first time!

      Good luck!

  8. Hi Hugo, Great information, thank you. I agree it’s not straightforward. I am planning on taking my motorcycle around the world and first stop is the USA. I can import my bike (from UK, on UK plates) and it can stay in North America for one year. I want to ride for at least 6 months then ship it to Australia. I plan to travel on an ESTA as the wait for an interview for another kind of visa is long (100 days). Do you reckon I could ride 3 months, pop into Canada for 2 weeks and then come back for another 3. I can easily prove my intent to leave and that I am very connected to the UK. However, I will not have a ticket to leave or the shipping to Australia booked at the time of my second entry. How risky is my plan in your opinion? Thanks

    • Hi Bill,

      Based on my own experience, what I’ve read, and the official information, you have a pretty high chance of being denied the second time. Your plan to hop into Canada for a couple weeks doesn’t match the criteria of a “significant” exit.

      You can take your chances, but I personally would find another plan. Why not take more time to explore the beautiful nature Canada has to offer? We loved touring across in British Columbia and Alberta!

  9. I was twice warned that I could be denied entry when trying to re-enter overland. They both said that I had not been back to my home country and reset the clock before re-entering. One was in Alaska 2017 and the other was Washington 2011. It it crazy as I have never overstayed my 90 days, never re-entered too soon and always showed I had sufficient funds, but still got a drilling. I was worried sick when I was in Central America, went to the embassy and called CBP but none could give me a definitive answer, just it’s up to the CBP officer at the time 😟

  10. Thank you so much for this. We are just about to leave to go to Canada buy a vehicle to travel down through America on an ESTA and go into Mexico to travel. We then want to travel back up the west coast of American and into Canada to then explore Canada for 6 months over the summer months. We hope we won’t have any issue, but as we know we won’t ever know for sure until we get to the boarder. I have a company back here in the UK so hoping that will be enough tie… but we will have to see! But again thank you this has very much helped us!

  11. Dear Hugo,
    I’m an American and my partner is Australian! I’m 63 and he’s 79. He’s currently here in the us on esta visa! He’s hoping to stay til January but we were told both by esta and immigration he can’t apply for extension on esta visa! He have a grandson in Canada we can visit but we were told it will be counted as part of 90 days! So hard for us as we’re not young anymore and hoping to not be apart for a long time! He’s approved on esta multiple entry until July 7, 2025. Anything you can advise us how to handle this situation! We also have both medical issues and just wanna spend as much time we have in this world together! I’m besides myself n this scenario is depressing me and giving me anxieties! Please advice. Thank you very much! Chona and Roy

    • Hi Chona!

      That’s unfortunate. I’m missing some information to really give you any advice.

      Does your partner have sufficient funds to support his eventual travel back to Australia? What’s the long-term plan here? He cannot stay in the US forever on an ESTA.

      I’m afraid there’s no perfect solution here. If he stays until January, he WILL overstay on his ESTA, and that will be a bad idea. I’ve never overstayed, so don’t know for sure what happens, but I can only assume that it will make it more difficult/impossible to get back in once you’re out.

      So the second best thing to do, is maybe take a trip abroad together? Or stay in Canada for a significant time for a while?

      Wishing you the best of luck!


  12. Hi! I was wondering, I stayed in the US for 90 days and I’m planning on going there again for Christmas (to visit my boyfriend). My last visit was on may 3rd and I stayed til July 30th. So that leaves me around 5 months outside US. Will it be okay to visit during Christmas or should I wait longer?

    • Hi Sasha!

      You should be good. If I understand correctly, you’ll have been out of the country for a significant time (July – December), so that should definitely warrant another entry!

  13. Hi Rachel and Hugo,

    Thanks for the article! It was nice to read and felt like a break from all the confusing information out there.

    Just wanted to see what you guys thought of my situation.

    I have been in the US (NYC) from 12th Aug and I leave 3rd Nov, 83 days in total as I am here for client meetings and training. However, before knowing about this trip, I booked a holiday to Las Vegas from 23rd – 28th November, meaning I will be home for 20 days before returning. I am from the UK.
    Do you think this will cause problems? I will have all the proof necessary of the hotel, return flights, proof of bank statements etc. but all in all I will only be there 5 days.

    I am worried it will be an issue after being in the US for so long before this.

    What do you guys think?

    • Hi Lauren, I’m glad this article was helpful. 🙂

      Your situation should be good, only because your exit from the US will be deemed “significant” (which I talked about here)

      If I were you, I would feel comfortable to try it, IF:
      – You can provide return tickets.
      – You can show sufficient funds.
      – You can prove that you’ve been back in the UK (a passport stamp will be good).

      If you do go back to the States, please let everyone else in the comments know of your experience! 🙂

  14. Hi, I have a BF in the US. My ESTA 3 months expires soon, so I have to leave the USA on November 1. I wanted to visit my hometown in Germany for 3 weeks, and then planned going back to my BF with ESTA for another 3 months. Is it possible?

    • Hi Celina,

      It’s hard to tell for sure. You “should” be okay, because your exit will be significant. However, a 3 week exit after a 3 month stay might be an issue, and it’s always up to the discretion of the CBP officer to let you back in or not.

      If you do go ahead with this plan, make sure you do not break the rules of your ESTA (no employment, etc), and bring proof of your return ticket, sufficient funds, etc.

      Good luck!


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