US entry and transit requirements

The US Customs and Border Protection agency enforces strict requirements for travellers wishing to visit the USA or pass in transit through the USA.

Air New Zealand cannot accept carriage of customers travelling into or through the USA who are not in possession of an appropriate e-Passport and valid visa where required. Find out more information about transiting in Los Angeles.

TSA check-in requirements for travel to the US

The US Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) announced additional security processes for all flights to the US. Air New Zealand must comply, and extra security measures will be in place for our customers flying to the US.

Airport check-in and bag drop for US bound flights will be open four hours prior to departure. Latest check-in time for US bound flights is two hours prior to departure. Customers will need to allow additional time to complete all airport check-in formalities.

For customers connecting to a US flight from another port, these security processes will occur during your transit and prior to boarding your US flight. Please make your way to the gate early and have your passport, boarding pass and itinerary ready for inspection.

Please note, there may be some queues at the departure gate as all customers will be required to undergo additional screening prior to boarding. Customers are required to carry a printed or digital copy of their flight itinerary, and may also be asked to switch on all electronic devices. Please ensure all devices are fully charged. We will be doing our best to minimise the impact of these changes and we thank customers in advance for their patience.

The US Visa Waiver Program

Under the Visa Waiver Program, eligible passengers who are citizens of eligible countries may travel to the USA for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without obtaining an entry visa. You cannot study or work on the Visa Waiver Program, nor extend your stay beyond 90 days. A return or onward ticket must be held, although the final destination may not be Canada, Mexico or in the Caribbean (unless you are a resident of that country or island). Each traveller (including children) must have a valid, individual e-Passport which meets the following requirements and they must obtain an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) prior to travel:

  • The passport must be an e-Passport
  • The passport must have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page
  • The passport must be machine-readable and have a digital photograph

What is an e-Passport?

 biometric passport logo

This represents an enhanced secure passport with an embedded electronic chip. The placement of the microchip inside varies from country to country.

An e-Passport (biometric passport) contains a microchip capable of storing information in digital form. International standards require that the photo of the passport holder as well as the same information on the photo page must be stored on the chip. Some countries may also decide to place other biometric identifiers, such as fingerprints or iris scans, on the chip.

Is my passport machine-readable?

 passport demo machinereadable

To see if a passport is machine-readable, check there are two lines of machine print underneath the holder's photo. A machine-readable e-Passport has biographical data entered on the photo page according to international specifications. 

Does my passport have a digital photograph?

Digital photographs are scanned directly onto the passport page, so you cannot feel any edges like you can with a traditional photograph which has been glued or laminated.

What if my passport doesn't meet the Visa Waiver Program criteria?

You can either apply for a US visa or obtain a replacement e-Passport.

Obtaining a new e-Passport will avoid the inconvenience and cost of obtaining a US visa each time you travel, and is often the lower cost option. If you request a new e-Passport from an overseas post of your national government, check whether a biometric passport can be issued locally. In some instances these may only be issued from the main passport office in the home country.

WARNING: The United States Government have made changes to the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 which states travellers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have travelled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after 1 March 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country)
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria

Further information about changes to the Visa Waiver Program can be found on the Department of Homeland Security website.

Current ESTA holders are encouraged to check their ESTA status prior to travel on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.

ESTA online applications for the US Visa Waiver Program

All passengers travelling to or through the US under the Visa Waiver Programme must have obtained an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) prior to their flight. It is strongly recommended that ESTA applications are completed at least 72 hours prior to arrival at the airport of your departure. Anyone who does not have or cannot obtain an ESTA prior to departure will not be able to board and should contact their nearest US Embassy for assistance.

Please note, there is a processing charge levied by the Department of Homeland Security for obtaining an ESTA. In most cases a response will be received within seconds determining whether travel to the US has been authorised. If the application is not authorised then a visa may be requested through the US Embassy. 

An approved travel authorisation is valid for two years for multiple entries into the US for a maximum stay of up to 90 days or less per visit. A new application will be required if a new passport is obtained within the two year period or if the answers to any of the YES/NO questions on the ESTA form change. Passengers that obtain an ESTA for travel to the US are also required to hold a return or outward ticket from the US to a destination where they have the right of entry.

If you are travelling in less than 72 hours you are still eligible to apply for an ESTA, however you are advised to visit the US Department of Homeland Security website for more information or contact your nearest US Embassy.

ESTAs are in addition to the requirement for all customers to submit APIS (Advanced Passenger Information System) data.

US visa

Passengers who are ineligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program must obtain the appropriate visa for travel to or through the US. Obtaining a visa requires an interview with your nearest US Embassy and we recommend you apply well in advance of your intended travel date. Visit the US Department of Homeland Security website for more information or contact your nearest US Embassy.

Information required by US authorities

When you travel to the USA (or spend more than 8 hours in transit to another country), in addition to the details in your passport you must also advise the country of your permanent residence and the street address where you will be staying in the USA (including state and ZIP code). This address must be the same as the one you will enter on your US arrival form.

This information will be a pre-requisite for boarding your flight and can be provided at the time you make your booking, any time thereafter or, at the latest, when you check in.

US citizens are exempt from the US address requirement. Non-citizen US permanent residents should provide their Green Card number as an alternative to their US address. You can save time at check-in by completing and printing this form and taking it with you to the airport.

The US-VISIT process

US-VISIT is an electronic entry system for verifying the identity of arriving visitors and confirming compliance with visa and immigration policies. Visitors aged 14-79 are subject to US-VISIT, including travellers in transit to or from London on flights NZ2 or NZ1. Visitors entering or transiting the USA under the Visa Waiver Program are not exempt from US-VISIT.

US-VISIT exemptions

USA and Canadian citizens are exempt from the US-VISIT process. Visitors using certain categories of A, G and NATO-class visas are also exempt.

Arriving in the USA under the US-VISIT process

US Customs and Border Protection officers will collect 10 digital fingerprints and a digital photograph as part of the regular entry interview. This data will be used to verify your identity and be compared against watch-lists. The US-VISIT process will take place each time you arrive in the USA.

Baggage security requirements

The TSA screens every passenger's baggage before it is placed on an aircraft. While technology allows for electronic screening, there are times when bags may need to be physically inspected. The TSA has worked with several companies to develop locks that can be opened by security officers using universal "master" keys so that the locks may not have to be cut should a physical inspection be required. If you wish to lock your bags we recommend using a TSA approved lock when travelling through the USA.

Leaving the USA

Passengers travelling under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) are not required to complete the I-94W (green) form. This has been replaced with the ESTA which is to be completed online prior to arriving at the airport to check in. The only instance where passengers will be required to complete the I-94W form is in the event of a system outage at check-in. All passengers travelling with a Paper Visa in their passport are still required to complete the I-94 (white) form.

US authorities require the collection of your I-94 (white) or when required, your I-94W (green) or immigration forms to confirm your departure from the USA. If you have left the USA with an I-94W form still attached to your passport then your departure was not recorded properly and you may face problems when you next return. It is recommended that you take steps to have your departure record corrected.

What will happen if I don't get my record corrected?

Next time you travel to or through the USA your entry may be jeopardised. If you are travelling on a US visa it may be cancelled. If you are travelling under the Visa Waiver Program, you may be disqualified from visa-free entry and have to obtain a visa for future visits. In both cases you will most likely be refused entry and removed on the first available flight.

How can I get my record corrected?

Write an explanatory letter to US Customs and Border Protection enclosing the portion of the immigration form left in your passport and including supporting evidence, such as:

  • The original boarding pass used to depart the USA
  • Photocopies of stamps in your passport indicating entry into another country after your departure from the USA. All passport pages that are not completely blank should be photocopied, along with the photo page
  • Dated pay slips from your employer indicating presence in another country after your departure from the USA
  • School records indicating attendance at a school outside of the USA
  • Named and dated credit card slips for purchases made after your departure from the USA (you may black out the credit card number)

If you send original material keep a copy for yourself as Customs and Border Protection will not return any material.

Where do I send it to?

ACS Inc.
1084 South Laurel Road
London, KY 40744

Please note this is the only address to use. Do not send your letter to any US Embassy or Consulate or another Customs and Border Protection office in the USA. Only this location has the ability to correct your departure record.