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ESTA: U.S. Electronic System Travel Authorization - U.S. 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 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 additiona, transiting or traveling through the United States to Canada or Mexico 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

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)

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
  • employment
  • 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.
  1. Andorra
  2. Australia
  3. Austria
  4. Belgium
  5. Brunei
  6. Chile
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Denmark
  9. Estonia
  10. Finland
  11. France
  12. Germany
  13. Greece
  14. Hungary
  15. Iceland
  16. Ireland
  17. Italy
  18. Japan
  19. Latvia
  20. Liechtenstein
  21. Lithuania
  22. Luxembourg
  23. Malta
  24. Monaco
  25. Netherlands
  26. New Zealand
  27. Norway
  28. Portugal
  29. San Marino
  30. Singapore
  31. Slovakia
  32. Slovenia
  33. South Korea
  34. Spain
  35. Sweden
  36. Switzerland
  37. Taiwan*
  38. 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 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, Sudan, 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).
  • 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 (unless exempted by country-specific agreements). For families, each member of your family, including infants and children, must have his/her own passport.
machine readable 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:
ePassport 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.