For the 20 million people from participating countries who visit the United States each year, the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a huge convenience. This is in lieu of applying for a visa, for visits up to 90 days.
Some purposes of travel do not qualify for the VWP, such as students (studying for credit) or media representatives, nor for the purpose of employment or immigration.
The 38 countries approved for the Visa Waiver Program are:
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, UK
The following are highlights of the Visa Waiver Program requirements:
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA):
- As of January 12, 2009, all travelers under the VWP must obtain authorization via ESTA prior to their arrival in the United States.
- The passport must be valid for 6 months after the date of departure. Note: You can’t extend your stay under the VWP.
- The passport must have a machine-readable section on the biographic page.
- As of April 1, 2016, all visitors must have an e-passport with a digital chip, even for emergency and temporary passports. It will have the universal international symbol on the cover.
- As of January 21, 2016, a citizen of an approved VWP country who has been to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 is ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program (with limited exceptions granted on case-by-case basis).
- Additionally, a person who has dual citizenship with with Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria is ineligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
To clarify, these people are not prohibited from entering the United States. It just means that they have to apply for a visa to enter.
- On June 23, 2016, Customs and Border Protection posted a 60-day request for comments on the Federal Register regarding an initiative to (optionally) request social media identifiers/handles on the Visa Waiver Program application.
Be sure to verify the current requirements before you travel, as they frequently change in order to balance security, cost and ease of travel for visitors.