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 US-VISIT program.
Citizens or nationals of the following countries* are currently eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP:
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, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia and 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, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.
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 “whenever 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 be eligible to travel under the VWP, British citizens must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in English, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.
To enter the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must be:
- A citizen of one of the countries listed above, and in possession of a valid e-passport
- Possessing ESTA authorization
- Staying in the U.S. for 90 days or less
- Plan to travel for:
- Business – The purpose for your planned travel is to consult with business associates, travel for a scientific, educational, and 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), visits with friends or relatives, 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.
If entering the U.S. by air or sea must be:
- Holding a return or onward ticket. If traveling 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.
- Entering 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 U.S. by land:
If you are a citizen of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), and if you are coming to the U.S. by land, you do not need to apply for ESTA. You are only required to complete the paper I-94W form at the land border crossing. ESTA is currently required for air and cruise ship travel only.
Note: VWP citizens do not need an ESTA to travel on the ferries between Vancouver and Victoria, BC and Washington state. They are treated as a land border port.
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
Effective January 12, 2009, all nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the U.S. for temporary business or pleasure will require an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S. under the VWP. For more information, please see the ESTA page.
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).
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. Citizens of the countries listed on the Six-Month Club Update (PDF 21KB), including Japanese nationals, are exempt from the six-month rule and need only have a passport valid for their intended period of stay.
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 U.S.
Traveling with a Diplomatic or Official Passport:
Official or Diplomatic passport holders who travel to the United States for pleasure or transit, they may travel under the Visa Waiver Program. Foreign officials who are traveling to the United States on official business, they are required to obtain diplomatic/government visas, even if their stay in the United States is less than 90 days.
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 U.S., 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 U.S.
Note: 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 U.S. 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 U.S. Therefore, you should resolve the issue before traveling by contacting the court where you were to appear. If you do not know the address of the court, then information is available online at www.refdesk.com.
Visa-free travel does not include those who plan to study, work or remain in the U.S. for longer than 90 days or envisions that they may wish to change their status (from tourism to student, etc.) once in the U.S. 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.
Transit under Visa Waiver Program
Travelers who qualify for visa free travel under the Visa Waiver Program are eligible to transit the U.S. You must apply for ESTA. If transiting the U.S. to a destination in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, the traveler may re-enter the U.S. on the return journey using any mode of transport, as long as the total visit, including both periods of time spent in transit and in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, does not exceed 90 days. If you transit the U.S. to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands, spend more than 90 days there, you may re-enter the U.S. if you can demonstrate at a port of entry that your stay in the neighboring country was meaningful. If transiting to a destination outside of Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands, the return journey must be on a participating carrier, but need not be within 90 days, as the traveler will be required to make a new application for admission.
Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program
Beginning November 28, 2009, U.S. immigration law applies to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and the Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program came into effect. For details, see Guam Visa Waiver Program.
Applicants from Canada and Bermuda
Canada 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 electronic passports do not apply to nationals of Canada or Bermuda. Also, it should be noted that some nationals of Canada and Bermuda traveling to the United States require non-immigrant visas.
Learn more about the Visa Waiver Program at the Department of State’s website.