Visa Waiver Program

Citizens of certain countries do not require a visa to visit the United States for up to 90 days.

The Visa Waiver Program (WVP) enables citizens of certain countries to travel to the United States without US visas. South Africa is not a VWP country. If you are a passport holder of one of the following countries listed below and your passport meets certain requirements you may be able to travel without a visa.

Participating Visa Waiver Program Nations

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

(Please Note: Travelers must hold a passport from one of these countries. A permanent resident from these countries would not be eligible to use the program.)

To Qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, an Applicant Must: 

  • Be a bearer of an unexpired passport of one of the above listed countries. The passport must have six month validity unless the individual is from a country that has reciprocal agreement to not need a full six months.
  • Have a Machine-Readable Passport (check with the issuing country as to whether or not the passport is already Machine Readable.
  • Be traveling for business or pleasure for 90 days or less, and hold a valid return, or ongoing ticket beyond any U.S. territory including Canada or Mexico.
  • Obtain authorization for travel on the VWP via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) website.
    Please Note: There is a USD $14 fee charged to all qualified applicants registering through ESTA.
  • Have no other personal ineligibilities (such as prior arrests, or visa overstays in the United States.)  For a more detailed list see Ineligible VWP Travelers on this page below.

For more detailed information on the Visa Waiver Program, please visit the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

ESTA enhances the security of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and requires all VWP travellers to provide basic biographic, travel, and eligibility information online to receive advance authorization prior to their departure. ESTA authorization is required for VWP travellers. You may request ESTA authorization.

  • Travelers are advised to submit an application at least 72 hours prior to travel.
  • Most travelers can expect to receive an authorization within minutes.
  • There is a USD $14 charge to complete an ESTA application.
  • Travelers with a valid U.S. visa do not require an ESTA authorization.
  • For more informtion, please visit the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website.

Possible Responses:

  • Authorization Approved: Travel authorization
  • Travel Not Authorized: Traveler must obtain a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S Embassy or Consulate before traveling to the U.S. Individuals planning to travel on the Visa Waiver Program should seek ESTA approval well in advance of travel in order to allow time to schedule a nonimmigrant visa interview if required. Visa appointment wait times vary based on demand.
  • Authorization Pending: Traveler should check ESTA’s website at a later time for a final response.

An Approved Travel Authorization via ESTA is:

  • Required for all VWP travelers to prior boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S under the VWP;
  • Valid, for up to two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first;
  • Valid for multiple entries into the U.S. As future trips are planned, or if an applicant’s destination addresses or itineraries change after their authorization has been approved, they may easily update that information through the ESTA website, and;
  • Not a guarantee of admissibility to the U.S. at a port-of-entry. ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the U.S. under the VWP

 

ESTA will assess the traveler’s eligibility to travel to the United States on the VWP. ESTA does not assess if the traveler’s passport qualifies under the VWP. The assessment of the traveller includes questions regarding any previous arrests and convictions.  Both the traveler and the traveller’s passport must meet the qualifications in order to travel under the WVP.

Some travelers are not eligible to enter the U.S. without a visa. Travelers who must apply for a visa includes those:

  • Who have been arrested or convicted or a crime involving moral turpitude (PDF – 167kb) or a violation involving a controlled substance.
  • Who have contracted any serious communicable disease.
  • Who have been previously refused a visa or entry into the U.S., or have been deported from the U.S.

Does my passport meet the requirements for VWP?

To check if your passport qualifies for the visa waiver program, you may use the Visa Waiver Wizard found on U.S. Embassy London’s website, or you may use the following list of requirements:

All VWP travelers, regardless of age or type of passport used, must present a machine-readable passport with the following requirements:

  • Passport requirements depend on when the passport was issued for nationals of VWP countries excluding the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea, and the Slovak Republic:
    • Machine-Readable passports issued or renewed on or after 10/26/2006 must be an e-Passport which includes an integrated chip with information from the data page.
    • Machine-Readable passports issued or renewed between 10/26/05 and 10/25/06 must have digital photographs printed on the data page, or on a integrated chip with information from the data page.
    • Machine-Readable passports issued or renewed before 10/26/05 does not have any additional requirements.

Please Note: Only British passport holders whose passports which state “British citizen” can use the VWP. British passport holders whose passports that state “British Overseas Citizen” or “British Subject” are required to apply for a United States visa.

  • Nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea and the Slovak Republic require passports with an integrated chip containing the information from the data page (e-Passport).

A Machine-Readable Passport has certain biographical data entered on the data page in accordance with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Doc 9303, Part 1 Machine-Readable passports. These standards address issues such as the size of the passport, the size of the photograph and the arrangement of data that appears at the bottom of the page. Machine-Readable passports can be read by scanning the two lines of printed data through special readers.

An e-Passport incorporates data related to an individual’s identity; current ICAO guidelines call for e-Passports to include facial recognition data. The contours of individuals’ faces are digitally mapped and stored on the chip so that a comparison of facial data for the bearer of the passport and the facial data of the person to whom the passport was issued can be made. You can readily identify an e-passport, because it has a unique international symbol on the cover.

  • It is not possible to extend the 90 days, nor is it possible to change status while you are in the U.S. on the VWP.
  • If you enter the U.S. (even when transiting) any time spent in Canada or Mexico thereafter is counted as time spent in the U.S. If you then return from Canada or Mexico and enter the U.S. again, this does not mean you have another 90 days to use.
  • If entering by land from Canada or Mexico, the individual completes the Visa Waiver Program form issued by the immigration authorities at a port of entry to the U.S. border.
  • Visa free entry does not include those who plan to study, work or remain in the U.S. more than 90 days. Those travelers will require visas.
  • All decisions on admission to the United States are at the discretion of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the U.S. Port of Entry.  If the CBP officer believes that a VWP traveler does not meet the requirements, the officer may refuse to admit the traveler.  No appeal is possible.
  • All travelers, including children, require their own individual passports to travel to the United States, regardless of whether or not they use the Visa Waiver Program.
  • Business purposes permitted on the visa waiver program include:
    • Attending business meetings, purchasing property, negotiating and signing contracts, gathering and fulfilling orders, completing market surveys, and attending conferences and short courses.
  • Someone going to the U.S. to take part in a sporting tournament for prize money can go on visa waiver (or B1/B2 depending on the length of time they wish to stay for), as it is considered an amateur sport i.e.: Australian visiting for golfing tournament.
  • Please note that Canadian passport holders are not part of the Visa Waiver Program.
  • U.S. Territories include Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands.
  • Those travelling on Official Passports are not able to use the visa waiver program. They must apply for appropriate visas (A & G). However, please note, State government officials (excluding South African Government) travelling to the U.S. on State business, whether on diplomatic or official passports do not require a visa, unless they’re ineligible to use the VWP.
  • Children cannot study on the Visa Waiver Program. Children attending school would need to obtain the appropriate visa (See Top Questions for more information).
  • Those travelling on private planes, non-commercial flights or private yachts are not eligible to use the VWP. These travellers must apply for a visa.