Visa Waiver Program and ESTA

What is the U.S. Visa Waiver Program?

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.

Which countries are in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program?

Nationals of member countries can travel without a visa for tourist and business travel of 90 days or less provided they meet the certain requirements. Foremost, you must be a citizen or national of VWP-participant country.

The following 38 countries are Visa Waiver Program participants:

  • A Andorra Australia Austria

  • B Belgium Brunei

  • C Chile Czech Republic (Canadian citizens are visa exempt and therefore not participants in this program)

  • D Denmark

  • E Estonia

  • F Finland France

  • G Germany Greece

  • H Hungary

  • I Iceland Ireland Italy

  • J Japan

  • L Latvia Liechtenstein Lithuania Luxembourg

  • M Malta Monaco

  • N Netherlands New Zealand Norway

  • P Portugal

  • S San Marino Singapore Slovakia Slovenia South Korea Spain

  • Sweden Switzerland

  • T Taiwan

  • U United Kingdom

Please note: Citizens of Bermuda, Canada, the Marshall Islands, or Micronesia do not need to apply for an ESTA. ESTA is required only for citizens or nationals of VWP countries. These citizens can enter the U.S. with just their passport, anytime they want, typically for a maximum of 6 months. Contact our immigration attorney in Los Angeles for a FREE consultation if you have questions about the Visa Waiver Program or visa exempt individuals.

What are the requirements to be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program?

To enter the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must:

  • possess a passport with an integrated chip;

  • register on-line through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA);

  • meet the standard VWP conditions;

  • be a citizen of one of the countries listed above;

  • plan to travel for business, pleasure, or transit; and,

  • only remain in the U.S. for 90 days or less.


if entering the United States by air or sea (but not land) must be:

  • holding a return or onward ticket. If travelling 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 this 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 from Canada or Mexico, the documentary requirements are the same, except there is no requirement for round-trip tickets and signatory carriers. You must satisfy the inspecting officer that you have funds to support yourself during your stay and to depart the U.S.

How can I be certain that my travel purpose is in accordance with VWP regulations?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of participating countries to travel to the United States without obtaining a visa, for stays of 90 days or less for tourism or business. Transiting or traveling through the United States to Canada or Mexico is generally permitted for VWP travelers. The following are examples of activities permitted while in the United States on the VWP.

Business visit in the U.S.:

  • consult with business associates

  • attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference

  • attend short-term training (you may not be paid by any source in the United States with the -exception of expenses incidental to your stay)

  • negotiate a contract

Tourism in the U.S.:

  • Tourism

  • vacation (holiday)

  • visit with friends or relatives

  • medical treatment

  • participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations

  • participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating

  • enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)

What travel purposes are not permitted on the Visa Waiver Program?

These are some examples of activities not permitted on the VWP and require visas for travel to the United States:

  • study, for credit

  • employment

  • work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media

  • permanent residence in the United States

If in doubt, we strongly encourage you to contact our experienced U.S. immigration lawyers now for a FREE consultation with an expert.

How do I apply for the Visa Waiver Program?

There is no application process as such. All travelers entering the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP must receive an Electronic System for Travel Authorization for Visa Waiver Travel (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship. This can be requested online here.

Is there any documentation I should carry at the time of travel on VWP?

A temporary visitor for business or tourism will need to supply documentation to establish that he or she:

  • has a residence abroad which he or she does not intend to abandon;

  • is coming to the U.S. for a definite temporary period;

  • will depart upon the conclusion of the visit;

  • has permission to enter a foreign area after his or her stay in the U.S.; and,

  • has access to sufficient funds to cover expenses of the visit and return passage.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Visa Waiver Program and ESTA

Is ESTA the same as a United States Tourist or Non-immigrant Visa?

No. An approved ESTA is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a U.S. visa when a visa is required under U.S. law. Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for ESTA.

What should a traveler do if he or she is not approved for travel through ESTA?

If an ESTA application is denied and the traveler wishes to continue with the trip, the traveler will be required to apply for a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Visit the State Department website for more about visa application procedures.

My VWP application was denied. Should I reapply for on ESTA?

Unless the circumstances have changed, the traveler will not qualify for an ESTA and will need to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please contact our experienced immigration attorneys for a FREE consultation and see if we can help you.

I have a B1/B2 visa. Do I need to apply for the Visa Waiver Program?

If you already have a B1/B2 or any other valid visa and you are traveling for the purpose in which it was issued, you do not need to apply for an ESTA authorization

What if I enter on the Visa Waiver Program and then decide I want to stay longer than the 90 days?

You cannot extend the time on the Visa Waiver Program. The 90 days also includes any time spent in Canada, Mexico and adjacent Islands. Therefore you cannot cross the border into these areas and then return for another 90 days. You can however ask for re-entry on the Visa Waiver Program if you have left the continent.

If I travel to Canada or Mexico, can I re-enter the U.S on the VWP, and if so does the 90 days then start again?

VWP travelers who have been admitted to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program and who make a short trip to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island generally can be readmitted to the U.S. under the VWP for the original admission period. They do not, however, get a new 90-day admission period. Therefore, the length of time of your total stay, including the short trip, must be 90 days or less. See the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website to learn more. Citizens of VWP countries who reside in Mexico, Canada, or a nearby island are generally exempted from the requirement to show onward travel to another country when entering the United States.

I have entered the U.S. on the VWP but now find I need to stay longer than the 90 days. Can I transfer to another type of visa without leaving the U.S.?

No, you cannot transfer from the VWP to any other type of visa, and you cannot extend the VWP 90 day admission period. You must leave the U.S., Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands within the VWP 90 day admission period, and either apply for a visa relevant to your new situation, or re-enter on the VWP if your next stay will be less than 90 days and you still meet the other requirements. Re-entering on the VWP is however at the discretion of immigration officials at the port of entry, who can deny admission.