Visa Waiver Program
According to US immigration law, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) does not require citizens of certain countries to obtain a visa when visiting the US. Those wishing to travel to the United states who are citizens of one of 38 eligible countries (UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand are part of them) can stay in the United States for up to 90 days without a visa. Although a visa is not necessary, other requirements must be met in accordance with the VWP whether traveling for business, pleasure or transit.
Please note that the VWP does not provide the possibility to extend or change the immigration status of the traveler; at the end of the 3 month (90 day) period from the date of entry, you are required to US territory.
The travel without a visa initiative (Visa Waiver Program – VWP), therefore is a program that allows travelers of included countries to visit the United States of America, without the obligation to obtain an official visa at the US Embassy or consulate prior to the trip.
What are the requirements needed to benefit from the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
To enter the United States via VWP, you must meet the following requirements:
The purpose of the trip should be similar to a type “B” visa
The VWP allows travelers whose nationality is included to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa.
The stay cannot exceed 90 days and the purpose of the visit can be for tourism or business. Even if you are in transit through the USA with a final destination outside the United States, you must obtain a travel authorization prior to boarding. Below, the permitted activities when traveling under VWP (Visa Waiver Program) are listed:
- Participate in meetings with colleagues.
- Attend events, conventions or conferences, whether its purposes are scientific, educational or professional.
- To sign up for training courses of short duration (not allowed to receive any compensation from the company based in the United States, excluding reimbursement for travel expenses).
- Perform contract negotiations.
For more information on business trips in the USA under the Visa Waiver Program or with a tourist visa click here.
- Travel, visit, or any tourist activity, whether traveling alone or with friends / family and / or fellow travelers.
- Medical care.
- Participation in social events organized by social or service organizations.
- Participation in music, sports and / or events performed at an amateur level, as long as you are not paid to participate.
- Registration for recreational short courses and / or study, provided that they do not give credit for an academic degree (example of what could be possible: a mentoring class of two days in which you participate, while on vacation).
To learn more about the different types of visas available for the US, whether tourist, business or check, please click here.
What is not allowed during your visit to the US when traveling under the Visa Waiver Program?
Listed below are some activities not permitted by the VWP, for which you must apply for a visa before traveling to the United States:
- Participate in courses of study that will give credits toward an academic degree.
- Job search.
- To practice as a foreign journalist or business person related to radio or film, or any other type of exchange of information with other countries.
- Find an immigration status that will grant permanent residence in the United States.
Who can apply for an online authorization for entry into the United States under the Visa Waiver Program?
A Andorra Australia Austria
B Belgium Brunei
C Chile Czech Republic
F Finland France
G Germany Greece
I Iceland Ireland Italy
L Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg
M Malta Monaco
N Netherlands New Zealand Norway
S San Marino Singapore Slovakia Slovenia South Korea Spain Sweden Switzerland
U United Kingdom
How to travel under the Visa Waiver Program?
You need an ESTA authorization.
The Visa Waiver Program is an immigration agreement between the United States and the 38 countries mentioned above. It establishes a rationalization of the immigration system. This agreement provides that a traveler belonging to one of the 38 countries can apply online for a permit to travel in the United States.
The implemented system will search US intelligence databases for the candidate, and the outcome of this research will determine the candidate’s eligibility.
This authorization is called ESTA (acronym of Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Visit the ESTA section for more details, to request the ESTA and pay the required fee.
The airline or cruise company must be recognized and approved.
If you arrive by air or sea, the VWP requires that your airline or cruise is among those recognized by the government of the United States. In addition, your ticket may not be one-way. Upon arrival in the US, in fact, you must have a return ticket or ticket to another country, with a departure date no later than 90 days from your entrance date.
Never broke US immigration law and has never been denied a previous visa before your ESTA applications.
Assuming you have previously traveled to the USA under the VWP or with a standard visa, it is essential that you complied with all the immigration requirements while in the USA.
It is also necessary that you have never in the past been denied a visa by a US Embassy or Consulate. Also, when you apply online for ESTA, you waive the right to contest the final decision of the immigration officer. In other words, even if ESTA is mandatory to travel to the USA, this does not guarantee entry.
The final decision regarding the acceptance of entry of any traveler in the US depends on the customs officer. He has to stamp your passport during the routine checks upon your arrival in the US.
Make sure your passport meets the necessary requirements and characteristics.
The VWP requires the traveler’s passport has certain requirements. For example, you must have at least 6 months validity from the date of entry into the US (with the exception of specific cases for a given country). In addition, all members of your family including infants and children, should be in possession of a passport.
Lastly, the Visa Waiver program requires that a passport must have the following features depending on country of origin:
|Citizens who come from:||They must have a machine readable passport, and also:|
|Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea and the Slovak Republic||With a microcircuit (chip), which included the details of the data page of the passport – this is known as e-passport.|
|Taiwan||With a microcircuit (chip), which included the details of the data page of the passport – this is known as e-passport, plus the national ID number.|
|Citizens from:||If the passport was issued, renewed, or extended:||They must have a machine-readable passport, and also|
|All other members of the WVP||Issued on or after November 2006.||With a microcircuit (chip), which included the details of the data page of the passport – this is known as e-passport.|
|Issued between November 2005 and October 2006.||A digital photo and a microcircuit (chip) integrated contain the details of the data page of the passport is required.|
|Issued before November 2006.||No further requirements are needed.|
What is a machine readable passport and an e-passport?
The standards and requirements for machine readable and electronics passports are set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, also known as ICAO. Let’s have a look at what these standards and requirements are:
Machine readable passport: A machine-readable passport contains personal and passport data on the data page. This data is automatically read when the passport is scanned upon arrival in the United States (usually the airport). Below is a photo of what a machine readable passport looks like:
In case of doubt if the passport is machine readable or not, we suggest you contact the office where the passport was issued.
Electronic Passport: passport and personal identity data are embedded in a microchip, which is part of the passport. These data include the two lines characteristic of machine readable passports, and contains facial recognition information. This chip is scanned to identify the traveler’s passport. The e-passport is easily identifiable. In fact, on its cover is an internationally recognized symbol. Below is a an example of what an e-passport looks like:
Emergency or temporary passports
If you are in an emergency situation or in possession of a temporary passport, and are about to enter the United States through the VWP, the passport must be electronic. This is also true for travelers in transit to a destination other than the USA.
The Visa Waiver Program is not the only option. You can still apply for a type “B” visa.
Although eligible for VWP, if you prefer, you can still apply for a type “B” visa. If you do not meet all the requirements set out in this section of this website you will have to apply for a type “B” visa.
If you happen to arrive in the US on a flight of an airline company or a cruise that is not recognized by the US (example: private plane, etc.) you should apply for a visa. We encourage you to review the list of companies approved by the government of the United States.
Is it possible to apply for the Visa Waiver Program if in the past a visa has been denied?
If you are in the situation described in the title of this paragraph, we recommend you to apply for a visa at the US Embassy or Consulate closest to your city.
In fact, by applying for an ESTA under these circumstances, you may experience one of the following drawbacks:
- The rejection of your ESTA application.
- A detailed review of your travel documents upon entry in to the United States.
- And / or a denial of entry into US territory, resulting in a forced repatriation.
Under the Visa Waiver Program, you may visit Canada, Mexico or any neighboring islands.
If you go to the US under the VWP, you can visit Canada, Mexico or an island near the USA for a short time.
When you are back on American soil, you will be readmitted under the ESTA, provided you still comply with the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program.
The limit of ninety days, maximum stay allowed by the VWP, still applies when you take said short trips.
Therefore, your stay including short trips, cannot be greater than 90 days.
What are the criteria for a nation to be included in the Visa Waiver Program?
For a country to be included in the Treaty of migration known as the Visa Waiver Program, it necessary that the nation meets several standards, such as:
- Provide a great partnership with the United States in the application of the law at the national and international level;
- Issuance of electronic passports;
- The percentage of refusals of type “B” visas should be less than 3%;
- Timely communication in the event of lost or stolen passports;
- Strict enforcement of anti-terrorism laws, national laws and border control;
- Maintain a high level of security against counterfeiting of identity documents.