Visa Waiver Programs

Criteria for inclusion in the VWPP are a very low rate of refusals of visitor visa applications, reciprocal treatment of American nationals, and a determination by the US Attorney General that a country’s inclusion would not damage US law enforcement interests.

  • Travelers from participating countries need only:
  • Have valid passport issued by the participating country and be a citizen (not only a resident) of that country;
  • Be seeking entry for 90 days or less;
  • If entering by air or sea, have a round-trip transportation ticket on a carrier that has signed an agreement with US government to participate in the waiver program, and arrive in the US aboard such a carrier.
  • Have proof of financial solvency.

Entry at a land border crossing point from Canada or Mexico is permitted. Travelers who apply for entry at a land border crossing point are not required to present round trip transportation tickets or arrive at the border entry point aboard a participating carrier. All other requirements apply.

Visitors applying for entry under this program are admitted either as WT (Waiver Tourist) or WB (Waiver Business). Regulations are equivalent to those governing B-1 (Business) or B-2 (Tourist) visas except that, unlike B-1 and B-2’s, those in WB or WT status are not allowed to remain more than 90 days (no extensions) and cannot change their status.

Certain travelers still need to apply for a visa, such as those who plan to work or study, stay more than 90 days, or who might otherwise be ineligible for a visa.

Travelers previously denied visas, or who have criminal records, or who believe they may be ineligible for a visa should contact the nearest US embassy or consulate before attempting to travel on the VWPP.

February 2009: Pre-authorization requirement

Beginning January 12, 2009, all travelers using the Visa Waiver Program VWP) will be required to obtain pre-authorization in order to travel to the U.S.  The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be accessible on the Internet at: https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov and is used to determine eligibility for travel under the VWP. The web-based system will prompt you to answer biographical and eligibility questions usually requested on a paper green I-94W form (the kind you normally receive on the airplane as you are entering the U.S.)

Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recommends that they be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel. Each authorization will be valid for two years or until your passport expires.

All travelers seeking admission into the United States under the VWP must also present a machine-readable passport (MRP).

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business without having to obtain a visa if the trip is completed in 90 days or less. The program is reciprocal and U.S. citizens are not required to obtain visas to enter VWP countries (in most cases).

A total of 34 Countries enjoy visa waiver status, including seven countries added within the last month: Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Hungary, the Republic of Korea and the Slovak Republic.

Why was the program instituted?

Currently administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the program was established in 1986 with the goal of easing travel barriers and stimulating the tourism industry. For instance, in 2006, 60 percent of foreign visitors were from VWP countries.

The new role security plays

Member countries must meet specific security requirements and comply with airport and aviation security measures, providing air passenger information and various background checks. According to the DHS, the VWP provides an incentive for countries wishing to participate in the program to enhance their security standards and deepen their cooperation with the United States on security-related issues.

ESTA: New Registration Rule for Visa Waiver Travelers

A new security measure takes effect January 12, 2009, requiring VWP travelers to register before traveling to the U.S. The security measure is completed online via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S. ESTA registration is available online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov for citizens and eligible nationals of VWP countries. The links below provide detailed information and program FAQs.

Resources: Information About ESTA

VWP and ESTA Action Items

To recap, beginning January 12, 2009, travelers from VWP countries must register before traveling to the United States. In addition, VWP travelers have specific passport requirements. Learn more from the DHS VWP Traveler Guide (PDF).