Visa Waiver Program

Overview

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries* to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel and meet all requirements explained below. If you prefer to have a visa in your passport, you may still apply for a visitor (B) visa.

Requirements for Using the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

You must meet all of the following requirements to travel to the United States on the VWP:

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Travel Purpose Must be Permitted on a Visitor (B) Visa

The following are examples of activities permitted while in the United States on the VWP. In addition, transiting through the United States to other countries is generally permitted for VWP travelers.

 

Business:

  • 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).

 

Tourism:

  • tourism
  • 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
  • employment
  • work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media
  • permanent residence in the United States

Must Be a Citizen or National of a VWP Designated Country*

You must be a citizen or national of the following countries* to be eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP.

  • 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*
  • United Kingdom**

 

**To be eligible to travel under the VWP, British citizens must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.

Each Traveler Must Have a Valid ESTA

In order to travel without a visa on the VWP, you must have authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S. bound air or sea carrier. ESTA is a web-based system operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to determine eligibility to travel under the VWP to the United States for tourism or business. Visit the ESTA webpage on the CBP website for more information.

Updating Your ESTA

In most cases, your ESTA will be valid for two years.  You also must obtain a new ESTA if you: (1) receive a new passport, including an emergency or temporary passport; (2) change your name; (3) change your gender; (4) change your country of citizenship; or (5) need to change your responses to any of the “yes” or “no” questions on the ESTA application.

Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015

Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, travelers in the following categories must obtain a visa prior to traveling to the United States as they are no longer eligible to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP):

  • Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).
  • Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
     

These individuals can apply for visas using regular appointment processes at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.  For those who require a visa for urgent travel to the United States, U.S. Embassies and Consulates stand ready to handle applications on an expedited basis.

If an individual who is exempt from the Act because of his or her diplomatic or military presence in one of the seven countries has his or her ESTA denied, he or she may go to the CBP website, or contact the CBP information Center. The traveler may also apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

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 reservations or travelling to the United States. More information is available on the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) website

Have the Correct Type of Passport

You must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after your planned departure from the United States (unless exempted by country-specific agreements). For families, each member of your family, including infants and children, must have his/her own passport. 

Sample Passport Image

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. E-Passports must be in compliance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). You can readily identify an e-passport, by a symbol on the cover. See the example below. More information about e-passports is available on the DHS website.

Passport with e-symbol

Emergency and Temporary Passports

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. 

More information on frequently asked questions about VWP can be found at the following websites:

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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 elegible 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. 

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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, additional 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 may  apply for a visa.

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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.

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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.

Designation as a VWP country* is at the discretion of the U.S. government. Meeting the objective requirements of the VWP does not guarantee a country* will receive VWP designation.

 

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Entering the United States

An approved ESTA allows you to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States, but an approved ESTA does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. Learn more on the CBP website.

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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.

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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.

Reference

* With respect to all references to “country” or “countries” on this page, it should be noted that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, Pub. L. No. 96-8, Section 4(b)(1), provides that “[w]henever the laws of the United States refer or relate to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities, such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with respect to Taiwan.” 22 U.S.C. § 3303(b)(1). Accordingly, all references to “country” or “countries” in the Visa Waiver Program authorizing legislation, Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1187, are read to include Taiwan. This is consistent with the United States’ one-China policy, under which the United States has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan since 1979.