Many of us may already be aware of the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) yet it is important to have an understanding of the programs’ requirements to ensure that your travel to the US goes as smoothly as possible.
The VWP allows designated nationals and passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days for some business and tourist travel.
List of designated countries
The following 38 countries are VWP participants:
If travelling under the US Visa Waiver Program, designated nationals must hold an electronic, machine-readable passport that is valid for 6 months after the planned departure from the US. For families, each family member, including infants and children, must have their own valid passport.
British passports with nationality stated as something other than ‘British Citizen’, or where the passport has been extended by 12 months under exceptional measures put in place in 2014, do not qualify for entry to the US under the US Visa Waiver Program. Instead a visa will need to be applied for from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
As of 31 March 2014, nationals of Chile were included in the program.
Requirements for using the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
The purpose of travel must be one that would be permitted under the Visitor (B) Visa requirements. Transiting or travelling through the United States to Canada or Mexico is generally permitted for US Visa Waiver Program travellers. Such travellers will be readmitted to the US under the VWP for the remainder of the original 90 days. The length of time of the total stay, including the short trip, must be 90 days or less.
The following are examples of activities permitted while in the United States on the VWP.
- consult with business associates
- attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference
- attend short-term training (this should not form long term employment training and there should be no payment by any source in the United States with the exception of expenses incidental to the stay)
- negotiate a contract
- vacation / holiday
- visit with friends or relatives
- medical treatment
- participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organisations
- participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
- enrolment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)
Travellers will also need to have a round trip ticket indicating return passage to a country outside of the US.
Travel that would not be permitted on the VWP
Travel that is not permitted under the VWP includes:
- study, for credit (for example, a degree course)
- work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media
- permanent residence in the United States
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
In order to travel without a visa under the VWP, authorization from the US authorities must be sought through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (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 which determines eligibility to travel without a visa to the United States for tourism or business. ESTA is not a visa or visa replacement and is valid for 2 years or until the expiry of the passport, whichever comes first.
ESTA has recently been updated to request further information about aliases that a person may or may have had. Further, previous questions requiring travellers to provide pertinent details about HIV-positive results have now been removed.
If travelling to the US by private aircraft, then a visa to enter the US will need to be sought.
The requirements under the VWP are relatively straightforward and if followed can lead to a highly enjoyable travel experience in and around the United States.
However, it is important when travelling to the US that you fulfil the conditions of your visa or admission criteria. Failure to do so can impact upon your permission to travel to or continue your travels in the US. Previous may lead to the refusal of an ESTA.