If you’re planning a trip to America, you might be wondering, ‘What is the Visa Waiver Program?’ and ‘Does it apply to me?’. The term Visa Waiver Program (VWP) gets bandied around a lot, as it is a great system that allows travellers to enter the United States without a visa. This ensures much quicker and cheaper entry than it would if you had to apply for a full standard travel or business visa.
Here we’ll go through what the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is, who it applies to, what the restrictions are and how you go about using it.
The Visa Waiver Program is a system set up by the US Government Customers and Border Protection Agency. It allows travellers to visit the United States for tourism or business reasons, or while in transit, for up to 90 days without having to obtain a visa. The program is connected to the well-known acronym ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). If you hear both ESTA and Visa Waiver Program together, you now know for certain that it's about visa-free travel.
The Visa Waiver Program applies to travel to the United States as well as the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean. Other US territories also apply the use of the Visa Waiver Program. You can check the Department of Homeland Security website to find out the entry requirements and restrictions for each.
The Visa Waiver Program is available for citizens from 39 countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and a whole host of other European countries. A list of the countries entitled to apply for an ESTA is available here.
To qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, travellers from these countries must:
There are some restrictions on applying for an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program, and these include things like:
These restrictions don’t necessarily mean you will not be allowed entry into the United States. But you may have to apply for a visa rather than entering under the Visa Waiver Program.
Visitors who are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program can go online and apply for an ESTA. Once you have filled in your details and completed the payment, the US CBP will review your application and either grant or deny your application. If you are eligible for ESTA (both in terms of your nationality and citizenship, as well as your personal and criminal history), there should be no reason that your ESTA is denied.
Unless you (1) get a new passport; (2) change your name; (3) change your gender; (4) change your country of citizenship; or (5) need to change your responses to any of the “yes” or “no” questions on the ESTA application, your ESTA will be valid for a period of two years. If any of the above apply to you, you will need to reapply and pay again for a new ESTA.
So, there you have it, everything you need to know about the Visa Waiver Program, whether it applies to you and how you go about getting to the United States. You can now plan your trip to the United States with ease knowing what an ESTA is and how to apply for one.