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US Visas - The Visa Waiver Program

Since 2001, the rules and regulations to get a visa to visit the USA have become more complicated. We apologize and promise that in the end, you will have such a kick-ass time here that you'll forget all the trouble you went through to visit us

So here's the lowdown. Many of you will qualify under the Visa Waiver Program - VWP for short. Tis program allows citizens of 35 countries to visit the United States for tourism purposes for stays of up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. First of all, VWP travelers need to apply for authorization though the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and upon arrival you will be screened at your port of entry into the United States. You will also be enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program. Note that not all travelers from these 35 countries are eligible to use the program.

Visa Waiver Program Countries

Hopefully your country is on the list but don't worry if it's not. It just means you have to apply for a visa. Here are the countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Nalta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

VWP Eligibility

If you live in one of these 35 countries, you are eliglible to use the Visa Waiver Program if:

  • You received an authorization to travel under the VWP through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
  • You have the correct type of passport valid for six months past your expected stay in the US (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions).
  • The purpose of your stay in the US is for tourism or business purposes of travel. Travel throughout the US is generally almost always allowed.
  • If arriving by air or sea, you are traveling on an approved carrier (click here) and have a return trip ticket to any foreign destination. (Almost all carriers are approved).
  • You can demonstrate the intent to stay 90 days or less in the US and demonstrate sufficient funds to support yourself while in the US.

A citizen of a VWP country must apply for a visa instead of the VWP if he/she:

  • Wants to stay in the US for more than 90 days, or thinks that he/she may want to change their status (from tourism to student, etc.) once in the US.
  • Wants to work or study in the US, wants to travel as a working foreign media representative, wants to come to the US for other purposes not allowed on a visitor visa, or intends to immigrate to the US.
  • Is a citizen of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea, or the Slovak Republic AND DOES NOT HAVE an electronic passport with an integrated chip (see below).
  • Is a national of one of the VWP countries not listed above AND DOES NOT have a machine-readable passport (MRP)(depending on the date the MRP was issued, renewed, or extended, it may also need to contain a digital photograph or an integrated electronic chip) See below for more details.
  • Intends to travel by private aircraft or other non-VWP approved air or sea carriers to the US.
  • Has a criminal record or other condition making them ineligible for a visa (click here for more info).
  • Has been denied admission to the US before, or did not comply with the conditions of previous VWP admissions (90 days or less stay for tourism or business, etc.).

To Use the VWP

To request entry into the US under the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must:

  • Meet the requirements listed above.
  • Present his/her own valid passport of the appropriate type.
  • Have an authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
  • Present a completed and signed I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record to U.S. officials at the port of entry. I-94W forms are provided by travel agents, airlines or cruise ships before arrival, or may be picked up and completed on arrival in the U.S.
  • Sometimes provide evidence of onward travel or other documentation on the purpose of their stay in the United States.
  • Sometimes pay a small land border fee.

Passport Types

All VWP travelers, regardless of age or type of passport used, must present a machine-readable passport. In addition, depending on when the passport was issued, other passport requirements apply:

  • Nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea, and the Slovak Republic require passports with an integrated chip containing the information from the data page (e-Passport). An e-Passport includes data related to the traveler's identity, namely facial recognition data.
  • Nationals of other VWP countries:
    • Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended on or after 10/26/06: passports must have integrated chips with information from the data page (e-Passport).
    • Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended between 10/26/05 and 10/25/06: passports must have digital photographs printed on the data page or integrated chips with information from the data page.
    • Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended before 10/26/05: no further requirements.

For more, up-to-date information, click here.

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