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 first obtaining a visa, when they meet all requirements explained below. Travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel. 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:
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 additional, transiting or traveling through the United States to Canada or Mexico is generally permitted for VWP travelers.
- 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).
- 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:
The following are examples of activities not permitted on the VWP and require visas for travel to the United States:
- study, for credit
- work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media
- permanent residence in the United States
Citizen or National of VWP Designated Country*
Citizens or nationals of the following countries* are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP, unless citizens of one of these countries are also a national of Iraq, Iran, Syria, or Sudan.
**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 Authorization Under 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 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) automated web-based system to determine eligibility to travel without a visa to the United States for tourism or business. Visit the ESTA webpage on the CBP website for more information.
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 are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States 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 will still be able to apply for a visa using the regular appointment process at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. For those who require a U.S. visa for urgent business, medical, or humanitarian 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 four 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.Certain other travelers who fall under this restriction may qualify for a waiver of the requirements. More information about possible waivers is forthcoming.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 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. For families, each member of your family, including infants and children, must have his/her own passport.In addition, as of April 1, 2016, 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 are issued by the proper passport issuing authority and must be in compliance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). You can readily identify an e-Passport, because it has a unique international symbol on the cover. More about e-Passports is available on the DHS website. See the example below:
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:
May I apply for a visa instead of using the VWP?
Travelers who are eligible for the VWP may apply for a visitor (B) visa, if they prefer to do so. If you do not meet all of the criteria explained in this webpage, then you must apply for a visa. 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 extend your stay beyond 90 days or change your status once in the United States (for example, you intend to request change of status to student or temporary worker, etc.), then you need to apply for a visa.
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 choose to apply for a visa.
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.
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.
Entering the United States
An approved ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) allows a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program participating country to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. An approved ESTA does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the United States, the CBP official will place an admission stamp in your passport. Learn more on the CBP website.
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