Visa Waiver Program Requirements
The Visa Waiver Program, also known as the VWP, allows nationals of participating countries to enter the USA for tourism, business or transit purposes of 90 days or less without needing a visa. Such travelers must obtain a valid and approved ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) before travel and to meet the requirements outlined below.
To travel to the USA on the VWP, you must meet all of the requirements. Below are activities that are allowed while in the USA on the VWP. You should also know that transiting through the US on the way to other countries is generally allowed for those traveling on the VWP. An ESTA can be used for tourism, business, or transit purposes of up to 90 days per visit. Additional uses of ESTA can be found on the ESTA details page.
- Tourism purposes
- A vacation or holiday
- To visit family and friends
- To obtain medical treatment
- To participate in social events hosted by social, fraternal or service organizations
- Amateur participation in sports, music, contests or other similar events, provided the traveler is not being paid to do so
- To enroll in short, recreational study, not being used for a course degree (for example, a cooking class as part of a vacation)
- Consulting with associates for business
- Attending a conference or convention, including those for science, education, professional or business purposes
- Attending short term training, though you cannot receive any payment by any USA source other than incidental expenses related to your visit
- Negotiating a contract
- Studying for credit
- To work at a foreign radio, film, press or as a journalist or any other type of informational media
- To take up permanent residence in the USA
Travelers Must Have an Approved ESTA
To travel on the VWP without a visa, travelers must be authorized through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA before embarking on a sea or air carrier bound for the USA. ESTA is a system on the web that is operated by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, and is used to determine eligibility to travel to the USA for tourism or business on the VWP.
Visa Waiver Program Eligibility
To be eligible to travel to the USA on the Visa Waiver Program, a traveler must be a national or citizen of one of the following countries: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom.
Learn about your eligibility to apply for an ESTA visa waiver by taking the assessment.
If you have previous criminal or adverse immigration history, you might be denied an ESTA and require a U.S. visa.
ESTA Passport Requirements
Passport Validity Period
Your passport must be valid for at least 6 months after you plan to leave the U.S. There are some exemptions for country specific agreements. If traveling as a family, each member, including infants, must have his or her own passport.
Electronic Passports Only
You must also have an e-passport to qualify to use the VWP. This kind of passport has a secure embedded electronic chip that enhances security. The chip is scanned to identify the passenger and match his or her identity to the passport. All e-passports must comply with regulations set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization, or ICAO. The symbol on the cover identifies the e-passport.
Temporary and Emergency Passports
To enter the United States with a temporary or emergency passport on the VWP, said passport must be an e-passport. This goes for any traveler who is transiting through the U.S.
For more information, vist the ESTA Requirements.
How to Apply for ESTA
Common Questions About ESTA
Below are a few common questions and answers about ESTA. A full FAQ of more questions and answers can be found here.
How to Update Your ESTA
If approved, your ESTA will be valid for two years or until the date your passport expires, whichever comes first. There are some circumstances where you will need to get a new ESTA. These include getting a new passport, or a temporary or emergency passport; undergoing a name change; a change to your gender; a change to your country of citizenship; or a change of your answers to the ESTA eligibility questions.
Determine if you need a U.S. Visa or an ESTA
If you intend to stay in the United States for more than 90 days, or if your travel purposes are not for tourism, business or transit purposes, then a U.S. visa would be a more suitable travel authorization. You can apply for a B2 or B1 visitor’s visa if you do not qualify to travel using an ESTA or wish to stay in the United States for more than 90 days. If you plan to travel on a private aircraft or non-approved VWP sea or air carrier, you must apply for a visa.
Canada, Mexico and Islands
For people admitted to the USA with the VWP, short trips to Mexico, Canada and nearby islands are permitted. You can then re-enter the USA with the VWP, provided your stay still remains at 90 days or less, total. Citizens of countries in the VWP who live in Mexico, Canada or the nearby islands don’t usually have to prove onward travel to another country upon entry into the USA. See the CBP website for more information.
How a Country Joins the VWP
There are requirements that must be met for a country to become part of the VWP. They include, but are not limited to the following:
- Enhanced data sharing with the USA for law enforcement or security related purposes
- The country issues e-passports
- Less than 3 percent visa refusal rate for 214(b)
- Timely reporting of lost or stolen passports, both blank and otherwise
- Efforts to enforce high counter terrorism, law enforcement and document security
Designation of a VWP country is at the sole discretion of the USA government. Meeting these requirements does not guarantee VWP designation.
Denied ESTA Applications
Your ESTA request is denied once you receive confirmation of the “Travel Not Authorized” notice. In these cases, you may still be able to travel to the United States using a U.S. visa.
Entering the U.S.
Having an approved ESTA allows a traveler to reach a U.S. port of entry (usually an airport) and then request permission to enter the U.S. However, an approved ESTA does not guarantee entry. CBP officials at the port of entry retain the authority to deny or permit a traveler to enter the United States.
You are not allowed to extend your stay in the U.S. if you arrived using the VWP program. You must leave the U.S. on or before the date stamped when you entered the U.S. Check the USCIS website for more information.
Changing Your Status
You cannot change status once in the U.S. if you are traveling on the VWP. Check the USCIS website for more information.
Travel to Guam or the Northern Mariana Islands
Citizens who live in Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom are not required to possess an ESTA or visa to visit Guam or the Northern Mariana Islands, due to the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program. However, travelers must fill out a Form I-736 before they travel. Chinese citizens don’t need a visa if they fill out the I-736 form to gain temporary entry to the Northern Mariana Islands.
Improving the VWP and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015
Under the Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 and the VWP travelers in the following categories cannot travel to the USA without first obtaining a visa and are no longer allowed to enter the USA on the VWP.
- Nationals, who after March 1, 2011, have spent time in or traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Syria, Sudan, Yemen or Somalia. There are some exceptions made for travel that serves a military or diplomatic purpose in service of a VWP country.
- Nationals of VWP countries who also hold national status in Syria, Sudan, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iraq or Iran.
Such individuals should use regular appointment processes at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate to obtain a visa. Visas needed for urgent travel to the USA are handled by U.S. Embassies and Consulates on an expedited basis. If a traveler’s diplomatic or military status makes them exempt from the Act in one of the seven countries and their ESTA is denied, the traveler can visit the CBP website or contact the CBP Information Center. The traveler can also apply at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a nonimmigrant visa.