The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of 36 participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business (visitor [B] visa purposes only) for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was established for various reasons. It eliminates unnecessary barriers to travel. This is key especially if individuals will not be in the country for a long period of time. It also stimulates the tourism industry. As a result, different country economies can thereby experience short-term and long-term growth. The program permits the Department of State to focus consular resources in other areas as well.
VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Nationals of VWP countries must meet eligibility requirements to travel without a visa on VWP, and therefore, some travelers from VWP countries are not eligible to use the program. VWP travelers are required to have a valid authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to travel, are screened at the port of entry into the United States, and are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISI program.
Per the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs, there are currently 36 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Here are the countries as shown below:
To be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program, a country must meet various security and other requirements. One requirement is an enhanced law enforcement and security-related data sharing with the United States. Also, timely reporting of both blank and issued lost and stolen passports. A country is required to maintain high counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and document security standards as well. Finally, even with meeting the requirements, a country’s entry into the VWP is at the discretion of the U.S. Government.
Many may wonder who can enter the U.S. under this program. Review this VWP Quick Reference Guide (for new member countries) and make sure you review this webpage for detailed information. Nationals of the 36 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may use VWP if:
- They have received an authorization to travel under the VWP through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
- They present the appropriate type of passport valid for six months past their expected stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). This is a requirement in addition to other passport requirements for all categories of passports — regular, diplomatic, and official – when the traveler is seeking to enter the United States for business or tourist purposes, for a maximum of 90 days;
- The purpose of their stay in the United States is 90 days or less for tourism or business (Visitor (B) visa) purpose of travel. (If in doubt, travelers should check with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate to verify that what they plan to do is considered tourism or business.) Transit through the United States is generally permitted. Important Notice: Foreign media representatives planning to engage in that vocation in the United States are not eligible for VWP travel, as the purpose of their stay does not qualify as “business”. These professionals must obtain a nonimmigrant media (I) visa. Note also that travelers planning to work or study cannot travel on VWP, and they must obtain the appropriate visa to travel to the United States
- If arriving by air or sea, they are traveling on an approved carrier (See the approved carriers list) and have a return trip ticket to any foreign destination;
- They can demonstrate the intent to stay 90 days or less in the United States and demonstrate sufficient funds to support themselves while in the United States.
VWP travelers who have been admitted under the Visa Waiver Program and who make a short trip to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island generally can be readmitted to the United States under the VWP for the balance of their original admission period. See the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website for additional details. Also VWP nationals resident in Mexico, Canada or adjacent islands are generally exempted from requirements to show onward travel to other foreign destinations.