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The United States government has created a Visa Waiver for citizens in certain countries to visit the United States with no designated visas, for tourism or business purposes.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows most citizens of the participating countries to travel to America without a visa for stays of more than 90 days.
There are currently 38 countries which require an approved ESTA Travel Authorisation to visit the United States by air or sea from 12 January 2009. Anyone who holds a passport from any of these countries may, under certain conditions, visit the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
B-1 or B-2 visitor visa must be issued in advance for travelers who have a passport from any other country. Note that an ESTA must be requested in advance online, while Form I-94W will normally be requested during flight time or at US entry points.
Travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel. You may still apply for a Visitor B Visa if you want one!
You must be a citizen or national of the following countries* to be eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP.
If you are a U.S. citizen, other requirements might be of importance to you. ESTA is not required for U.S. citizens. There are, however, several entry requirements that U.S. citizens must follow.
ESTA does not apply to Green Card holders (Permanent Residents). A Green Card holder with a passport from a Visa Waiver country should not apply for ESTA
Canada is not part of the Visa Waiver Program, and there are other requirements for Canadian citizens when crossing the U.S. border. You can learn more about these requirements here.
What is the Visa Waiver Program?
The Visa Waiver Program is an American government program allowing citizens and nationals from 38 countries to enter the U.S. for business and visitors without obtaining a visa for up to 90 days. The benefit of entering the USA under the Visa Waiver Program is that, without visas, you can shortly travel to the US.
Significant facts concerning the visa waiver program:
- The Department of State of the United States can add or remove visa waiver countries. “Recently, Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia, and South Korea, have been removed” and added to Argentina and Uruguay.
- Normally, the Visa Exemption Program is abbreviated as VWP.
- Visa Waiver travelers who enter the US are permitted to stay up to 90 days in the country. There are no extensions permitted.
- All Visa Waiver travelers need a machine-readable passport.
- An authorized ESTA is mandatory for all Visa Waiver passengers entering the United States by flight or sea after 12 January 2009.
- In order to stimulate the tourism industry in the United States, the Visa Waiver Program was created in 1986.
Important point: In addition, you must have an e-passport to use the VWP. An e-passport is an enhanced secure passport with an embedded electronic chip. The chip can be scanned to match the identity of the traveler to the passport.
Emergency and Temporary Passport holders
If you use an emergency or temporary passport to enter the United States on the VWP, the passport must be an e-passport. This includes VWP travelers who are transiting the United States.
Visa Waiver Program (VWP) use
In order to travel with VWP to the United States you must meet all the following requirements:
Travel Purpose Must be Permitted on a Visitor (B) Visa
Exemplary activities on VWP in the United States are provided below. Furthermore, VWP travelers are generally permitted to transit through the United States to other countries.
- consult with business associates
- attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference
- attend short-term training (you may not be paid by any source in the United States with the exception of expenses incidental to your stay)
- negotiate a contract
Learn more about Business Travel to the United States (PDF – 362 KB).
- vacation (holiday)
- visit with friends or relatives
- medical treatment
- participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
- participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
- enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)
Learn more about Visitor Visas – Business and Pleasure (PDF – 510 KB).
Travel Purposes Not Permitted on Visa Waiver Program – Examples:
- study, for credit
- work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media
- permanent residence in the United States
the VWP only covers travel for tourism or business, so if you are a a student applying for study in the US you need a Student Visa.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection strongly recommends that any traveler to the United States check his or her ESTA status prior to making any travel.
Frequently asked questions(FAQ):
May I apply for a visa instead of using the VWP?
Yes, you may apply for a visitor (B) visa, if you prefer to do so or if you are not for VWP travel. Additionally, you need to apply for a visa if you will be traveling on a private aircraft or other non-VWP approved air or sea carrier. Review the approved carriers list. Also, if you intend to stay longer than 90 days, then you need to apply for a visa.
I was denied a visa under section 214(b). May I use the VWP?
A recent visa refusal for any reason could result in denial of ESTA authorization, review at the port of entry, or denial of admission to the United States. If you are uncertain if you qualify for VWP travel, you for a visa.
Trips to Canada, Mexico, or nearby islands?
If you are admitted to the United States under the VWP, you may take a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or a nearby island and generally be readmitted to the United States under the VWP for the remainder of the original 90 days granted upon your initial arrival in the United States. Therefore, the length of time of your total stay, including the short trip, must be 90 days or less. See the CBP website. Citizens of VWP countries* who reside in Mexico, Canada, or a nearby island are generally exempted from the requirement to show onward travel to another country* when entering the United States. Learn more on the CBP website.
How can a country* join the VWP?
A country must meet various requirements to be considered for designation in the Visa Waiver Program. Requirements include, but are not limited to:
- enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States;
- issuing e-passports;
- having a visitor (B) visa refusal rate of less than three percent;
- timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports; and
- maintenance of high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards.
How can you Extending your stay?
If you enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, you are not permitted to extend your stay in the United States beyond the initial admission period. You must depart the United States on or before the date on your admission stamp when you entered the United States. See Extend Your Stay on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.
Change of status
If you enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, you are not permitted to change status in the United States. See Change My Nonimmigrant Status on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website.