The U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. There is a list of approved Visa Waiver Program countries that may take advantage of this benefit. In exchange, the participating countries also permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes. This generally makes travel more convenient and eliminates the cost of the visa.
To participate in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, visitors must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be a citizen or national of one of a VWP Designated Country;
- The purpose of your travel must be consistent with a B visa;
- Be holding a valid return or onward ticket, dated within the 90-day period;
- Have a valid ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization); and
- Have a machine-readable passport with the e-Passport symbol.
Be certain that the purpose of your visit would qualify for a B visa. Review the acceptable uses of a B-1 visa and B-2 visa. Generally, B visas may be used for temporary business purposes (e.g. meetings, conferences, trainings) or pleasure (e.g. tourism, vacation, family/friend visits). The Visa Waiver Program should be not used to enter the U.S. for school, employment or apply for permanent residence.
There is no visa fee. However, visitors must pay $14 to register in ESTA. Visitors under the VWP are granted a 90-day stay. Unlike a visa, you are not permitted to extend your stay in the United States beyond the initial admission period of the program. There is no numerical limit on the number of Visa Waiver Program visitors each year.
What is the Visa Waiver Program?
The U.S. Visa Waiver Program is a rigorous security partnership that promotes secure travel to the United States, while also facilitating Americans’ travel to VWP partner nations. It lowers the burden for visitors from countries with low rates of overstay, thus stimulating global travel. An estimated 23 million travelers arrived through the program from various countries in 2017, generating $190 billion in economic activity in the United States.
Visitors must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization approval prior to travel and meet all requirements explained below. Travelers who prefer to have a visa in their passport may still apply for a visitor (B) visa.
The U.S. Visa Waiver Program is modeled very similarly to the B1-/B-2 combination visa. Therefore, the purpose of VWP travel must be consistent with a B-1 visa (Temporary Business Visitor) or B-2 visa (Temporary Pleasure Visitor).
There are numerous benefits of traveling through the Visa Waiver Program, but visitors should be aware of some limitations:
- Unlike a B visa, you may not extend your stay when visiting through the VWP.
- If you enter the U.S. under the VWP, you are not permitted to change status to another visa in the U.S.
Under the U.S. 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 VWP:
- Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, 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 Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
While you do not apply for a visa, you must obtain permission to travel to the United States through through the Visa Waiver Program. If you anticipate a trip to the U.S., you will need to apply through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization. The ESTA application is a web-based system operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to determine eligibility to travel under the VWP.
Spouse and Children
If the spouse and children of a VWP traveler are also citizens or nationals of the same VWP country, they must obtain their own ESTA. If the dependent children are not eligible for VWP travel, they must obtain the appropriate visa before visiting the United States.
Visa Waiver Program Countries
There are presently 39 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program:
Czech Republic (2008)
Korea, Republic of (2008)
New Zealand (1991)
San Marino (1991)
United Kingdom* (1988)
*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.