Understanding the Visa Waiver Program

Group of different skin-color with USA flags

People who wish to travel to the U.S. without the need to obtain a visa may qualify for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Through this program, individuals visiting the country for business or tourism purposes for periods of 90 days or less may be able to enter without a visa. The following is a guide to this program, including the various requirements for qualification.

What Are the Requirements for the VWP?

To qualify for the VWP, applicants must be visiting the U.S. for purposes that a visitor (B) visa permits. For example, applicants could be entering the country for business or tourism. Business purposes may include negotiating contracts, consulting with associates, or attending training or events related to the applicant’s occupation. Meanwhile, tourism could entail vacationing, visiting family or friends, or seeking medical treatment, among other intentions.

Applicants also need to be either a national or a citizen of a VWP-designated country. These countries include Andorra, Australia, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, and many others. The U.S. Department of State’s website has a full list of qualifying countries, along with other details about the VWP.

Obtaining an ESTA

For individuals to enter the country without a permit through the VWP, they need to receive authorization via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before they can board a U.S.-destined air or sea carrier. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) operates this online system to determine who is eligible to travel to the country through the VWP.

ESTAs are valid for two years, after which time individuals will need to renew them. Visitors to the U.S. will also need to acquire a new ESTA if they have either:

  • Changed their name
  • Received a new passport of any kind
  • Changed their gender
  • Changed their country of citizenship
  • Changed any answers to “yes” or “no” questions appearing on the ESTA application

Valid Passports

In addition to an ESTA, applicants will need a passport that will be valid for a minimum of six months after they have left the U.S. Each member of a visitor’s family will require his or her own passport. E-passports are also required, which feature embedded electronic chips that can match the passport to the visitor. 

If a visitor meets each of these requirements, he or she may be able to enter the country under the VWP and avoid the need to obtain a visa.