Visa Waiver Program
On this page:
- Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
- Applicants from Canada and Mexico
- ESTA Refusal
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business (visitor visa purposes) for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are eligible to use the program. VWP travelers are required to apply for authorization though the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), are screened at their port of entry into the United States, and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s OBIM program.
Nationals of member countries can travel without a visa for tourist and business travel of 90 days or less provided they meet the following requirements:
- Possess a passport with an integrated chip (e-passport);
- Register on-line through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA); and,
- Meet the standard VWP conditions mentioned below.
For citizens of Canada, Mexico, and British Overseas Territories of Bermuda, please visit State Department's Travel website.
* 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.
To enter the United States on the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must:
- Be a citizen of one of the countries listed above, and in possession of a VWP-compliant passport;
- Possess the ESTA authorization;
- Stay in the United States for 90 days or less; and,
- Plan to travel for:
- Business- The purpose for your planned travel is to consult with business associates: travel for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention, or conference on specific dates; settle an estate; or negotiate a contract.
- Pleasure/Tourism- The purpose of your planned travel is recreational in nature, including tourism, vacation (holiday), amusement, visits with friends or relatives, rest, medical treatment; activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature; and participation by amateurs, who will receive no remuneration, in musical, sports and similar events or contests.
- Transit- If you are traveling through the United States.
AND if entering the United States by air or sea must:
- Hold a return or onward ticket. If travelling on an electronic ticket, a copy of the itinerary must be carried for presentation to the immigration inspector. Travelers with onward tickets terminating in Mexico, Canada, Bermuda or the Caribbean Islands must be legal residents of these areas.
- Enter the United States aboard an air or sea carrier that has agreed to participate in the program. This includes aircraft of a U.S. corporation that has entered into an agreement with the Department of Homeland Security to carry passengers under the Visa Waiver Program.
If entering the United States by land from Canada or Mexico, the documentary requirements are the same, except there is no requirement for round-trip tickets and signatory carriers. You must satisfy the inspecting officer that you have funds to support yourself during your stay and to depart the United States.
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
As of April 1, 2016, those who are able to travel to the United States via the Visa Waiver Program must have a valid electronic passport. This rule applies even to those who possess a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). Electronic passports have this symbol on their cover:
Additionally, nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to, or been present in, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and/or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the VWP. Dual nationals of VWP countries and Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan are also no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States under the VWP.
This restriction does not apply to VWP travelers whose presence any of those countries was to perform military service in the armed forces of a VWP country, or in order to carry out official duties as a full-time employee of the government of a VWP country.
The Secretary of Homeland Security may waive this VWP restriction if he determines that such a waiver is in the law enforcement or national security interests of the United States. Such waivers will be granted only on a case-by-case basis. As a general matter, categories of travelers who may be eligible for a waiver include:
- Individuals who have traveled to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and/or Yemen on behalf of international organizations, regional organizations, or sub-national governments on official duty;
- Individuals who have traveled to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and/or Yemen on behalf of a humanitarian non-governmental organizations (NGO); and
- Individuals who have traveled to Iraq, Iran, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, and/or Yemen as a journalist for reporting purposes.
- Individuals who traveled to Iran for legitimate business-related purposes following the conclusion of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (July 14, 2015); and
- Individuals who have traveled to Iraq for legitimate business-related purposes.
An updated ESTA application form is available. The new form contains additional questions to address the new travel eligibility requirements called for in the Act. We encourage travelers seeking an ESTA to use the enhanced system, which will assist in making individual determinations on the potential granting of a waiver. There is no separate application for a waiver.
Current ESTA holders should check their ESTA status prior to travel on CBP’s website, https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/.
Passport Validity: Visitors traveling to the United States are required to be in possession of passports that are valid for six months beyond the period of their intended stay in the United States unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions. If you are traveling visa free under the Visa Waiver Program, your passport needs to be valid for at least 90 days. If your passport is not valid for 90 days, you will be admitted into the United States until the date on which the passport expires.
If you are a traveler from a VWP country and your passport does not meet these requirements, you may want to consider obtaining a new VWP-compliant passport from the passport issuing authority in your country of citizenship. Otherwise you cannot travel under VWP and you must obtain a visa in your valid passport for entry into the United States.
Some travelers may not be eligible to enter the U.S. visa free under the VWP. These include people who have been arrested, even if the arrest did not result in a criminal conviction, those with criminal records (even if subject of a pardon, amnesty, or other act of clemency), certain serious communicable illnesses, those who have been refused admission into, or have been deported from, the United States or have previously overstayed on the visa waiver program. Such travelers must apply for a visa. If they attempt to travel without a visa, they may be refused entry into the United States.
Under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, those who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, and/or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country) OR travelers who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan and/or Syria are no longer eligible to travel on the VWP. For details regarding changes under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 (the Act), please visit the http://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program website.
Travelers with minor traffic offenses which did not result in an arrest and/or conviction for the offense may travel visa free, provided they are otherwise qualified. If the traffic offense occurred while you were in the United States and you have an outstanding fine against you or you did not attend your court hearing, it is possible there may be a warrant out for your arrest and you will experience problems when applying for admission into the United States. Therefore, you should resolve the issue before travelling by contacting the court where you were to appear. If you do not know the address of the court, then information is available from the Internet at: www.refdesk.com.
Visa-free travel does not include those who plan to study, work, or remain in the United States for longer than 90 days or envisions that they may wish to change their status (from tourism to student, etc.) once in the United States. Such travelers need visas. If an immigration officer believes that a visa-free traveler is going to study, work or stay longer than 90 days, the officer will refuse to admit the traveler.
Applicants from Canada and Mexico
Canada, Mexico and Bermuda are not participants in the Visa Waiver Program. The Immigration and Nationality Act includes other provisions for visa-free travel for nationals of Canada and Bermuda under certain circumstances. See Citizens of Canada and Bermuda. Since they are not part of the Visa Waiver Program, VWP requirements for machine-readable or biometric passports do not apply to nationals of Canada, Mexico or Bermuda. Also, it should be noted that some nationals of Canada and Bermuda traveling to the United States require nonimmigrant visas.
Travelers who have been refused an ESTA cannot travel under the VWP. Please apply for a visa before departure.
Any inquiries on the ESTA process should be directed to the Department of Homeland Security.