ESTA & Visa Waiver Program

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of 40
specific countries
to travel to the United States for business or tourism for 90 day stays without a visa.
As part of the VWP, the 40 VWP countries must also permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries
for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes.

What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is the online
application portal
for citizens of any of the 40 VWP countries to apply to the VWP through the United States
Department of Homeland Security. In order to travel to the United States under the VWP, an applicant must submit
their application material using ESTA and receive authorization to travel on to the United States on the VWP.

What Countries Citizens May Use the VWP?

There are 40 countries that are currently a part of the VWP, with Croatia being the most recent addition in 2021.
Citizens of any one of these 40 countries may apply for VWP by submitting an application through ESTA. The 40 VWP
countries in the VWP are listed below, along with the year each was admitted to the VWP:

  • Andorra (1991)
  • Australia (1996)
  • Austria (1991)
  • Belgium (1991)
  • Brunei (1993)
  • Chile (2014)
  • Croatia (2021)
  • Czech Republic (2008)
  • Denmark (1991)
  • Estonia (2008)
  • Finland (1991)
  • France (1989)
  • Germany (1989)
  • Greece (2010)
  • Hungary (2008)
  • Iceland (1991)
  • Ireland (1995)
  • Italy (1989)
  • Japan (1988)
  • Korea, Republic of (2008)
  • Latvia (2008)
  • Liechtenstein (1991)
  • Lithuania (2008)
  • Luxembourg (1991)
  • Malta (2008)
  • Monaco (1991)
  • Netherlands (1989)
  • New Zealand (1991)
  • Norway (1991)
  • Poland (2019)
  • Portugal (1999)
  • San Marino (1991)
  • Singapore (1999)
  • Slovakia (2008)
  • Slovenia (1997)
  • Spain (1991)
  • Sweden (1989)
  • Switzerland (1989)
  • Taiwan (2012)
  • United Kingdom (1988)

Citizens of the United Kingdom must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales,
Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.

What are the Requirements to Participate in the VWP?

There are a few requirements that applicants must meet in order to be eligible for the VWP, including:

  • Citizenship in 1 of the 40 VWP countries;
  • Must have an e-passport, which is an enhanced secure passport with
    an embedded electronic chip;

    • Passport must be valid for 6 months after intended departure from the United States.
  • Application using ESTA;
  • Not in current possession of a visitor’s visa;
  • Intended travel period is for 90 days or fewer;
  • Application is for a new authorization for one person or a group of applications for two or more persons;
  • Travel purpose must be permitted on a visitor (B-1 or B-2) visa:
    • Business purpose (B-1 visa) includes:
      • Consulting with business associates;
      • Attending a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference;
      • Attending a short-term training without being paid to do so except for expenses incidental to
        staying in the United States;

      • Negotiating a contract.
    • Tourist purpose (B-2 visa) includes:
      • Tourism;
      • Vacation / Holiday;
      • Visiting with friends or relatives;
      • Receiving medical treatment;
      • Participating in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations;
      • Participating as an amateur in musical, sports, or similar events or contests without receiving
        payment to do so;

      • Participating in a short recreational course of study that is not for credit toward a degree

In addition, applicants are not eligible for the VWP if:

  • They are travelling to the VWP for the purpose of:
    • Study for credit;
    • Employment;
    • Work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, or other information media;
    • Permanent residence in the United States.
      • They are nationals of VWP countries and are also nationals of the following countries:
        • Iran
        • Iraq
        • North Korea
        • Sudan
        • Syria
  • They are nationals of VWP countries but have traveled to or been present in the following countries since March
    1, 2011:

    • Iran
    • Iraq
    • North Korea
    • Sudan
    • Syria
    • Somalia

What is an e-Passport?

An e-Passport is an electronically enhanced secure passport because it contains an embedded electronic chip that
holds the same information printed on the passport’s data page, including the holder’s name, date of birth, and
other biographic information.

E-Passports also contain a biometric identifier, and the United States requires that electronic chips also contain a
digital photograph of the passport holder. Moreover, e-Passports look a lot like a regular passports, except that
e-Passports have a unique international symbol on their cover

What is the Process to Apply for the VWP?

With the ESTA, the process to apply for the VWP is relatively straightforward. Below are the steps to apply:

Step One: Determine Eligibility and Gather Documentation

Before taking the time to apply for the VWP, potential applicants should first determine that they are eligible for
approval under the VWP, including by ensuring their citizenship to a VWP country and that they meet all travel
purposes and e-Passport requirements.

Step Two: Apply Online Through ESTA

In order to travel to the United States without a visa, eligible applicants must apply on the ESTA website by creating a new application. Applications submitted
through ESTA must be requested and obtained at least 72 hours before the applicant’s intended trip. However, it is
recommended that applicants submit their application through ESTA as soon as possible because applicants who are
refused a visa waiver will be required to apply for a non-immigrant visa before travelling to the United States, a
process that can be prolonged.

When submitting an application through ESTA, an applicant must provide certain identifying information, including:

  • Passport information from a valid VWP country passport;
  • Valid email address for traveler(s);
  • Valid home address and phone number for traveler(s);
  • Emergency point of contact phone and email for traveler(s);
  • Any aliases or other names used by traveler(s), if applicable;
  • National ID or Personal ID number(s) issued to traveler(s), if applicable:
  • Global Entry ID number(s) issued to traveler(s), if applicable;
  • Traveler(s)’ employer address and phone number, if applicable;
  • Traveler(s)’ United States point of contact name, address, and phone, if applicable;
  • Valid payment method for application fee, including MasterCard, VISA, American Express, Discover (JCB or Diners
    Club only), and Paypal.

Can Multiple Authorizations be Submitted Through ESTA at Once?

Yes. A group of up to 50 may simultaneously submit their applications to be paid with a single payment and a single
contact person. After submitting information about the contact person and travelers, a Group ID will be assigned to
the group application. Travelers who apply as a group are not required to travel to the U.S. together.

For How Long Will My ESTA Be Valid?

Generally, authorization for the VWP through ESTA will be valid for two years.

When Do I Need to Update My ESTA?

Individuals will need to obtain new authorization through ESTA if their current authorization has expired or under
the following circumstances:

  • Traveler(s) receive a new passport, including emergency or temporary passports;
  • Traveler(s) change their name;
  • Traveler(s) change their gender;
  • Traveler(s) change their country of citizenship;
  • Traveler(s) need to change any of the “yes” or “no” questions on their ESTA application.

Can I Travel to Canada or Mexico on the VWP While in the
U.S.?

Yes. Individuals who are authorized to travel to the U.S. under the VWP may take a short trip to Canada, Mexico, or
a nearby island during the 90 day U.S. stay originally granted to the traveler(s) upon their initial arrival in the
U.S. Thus, traveler(s) will generally be readmitted to the U.S. from Mexico or Canada so long as it is within the 90
days of travel permitted under the VWP.

How Much Does the VWP Cost?

It costs $14 to submit the ESTA online.

Sweta Khandelwal

Sweta completed her Masters in Law from the University of California, Los Angeles and her JD from the Faculty of Law, Delhi University in India and has been practicing law for 15+ years getting visas, green cards, and citizenship for 1000+ clients, 100+ companies across 50+ nationalities.

Sweta has been recognized as a ” Super Lawyer, Rising Star,” and as amongst the ” Top 40 under 40″ immigration attorneys in California (American Society of Legal Advocates). She is also the recipient of the Advocacy Award by the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Sweta is also a chartered accountant — the equivalent of a CPA. This makes her uniquely positioned to understand the immigration needs of her business clients in the broader context of their corporate objectives.

Sweta is actively involved with immigration issues and immigrant communities in various capacities. She has assumed key roles at the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), both at the local and national level. She has been a past chair at the Santa Clara Valley Chapter at AILA and has also been involved in various practice area committees at AILA National. Sweta has addressed multiple conferences/forums in the United States and worldwide on immigration and business issues.