April 16, 2009

Entering the U.S. Visa Free: Visa Waiver Program and ESTA

I know that I've talked about requirements for Canadians and Americans to enter the U.S. but for others there are other steps to take. For people from most countries you'll need to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy/consulate in your country, but for a fortunate few you can simply submit an online application and, assuming you're accepted, enter the U.S. visa free. See the Visa Waiver Program and ESTA information below.

Overview – What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business [visitor (B) visa purposes] for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established in 1986 with the objective of eliminating unnecessary barriers to travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas. VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. 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 US-VISIT program.

Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?

Currently, 35 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as shown below:

AustriaItalySan Marino
Czech RepublicLiechtensteinSlovenia
DenmarkLithuaniaSouth Korea
Germanythe NetherlandsUnited Kingdom
HungaryNew Zealand