US Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program allows people from 38 countries to visit the U.S for up to 90 days for business and tourism purposes

US Visa Waiver Program

The U.S is a great place to visit and do business in, attend conferences or tour the most famous places in. There are several ways that this can be done, and one of them is to get a US Visitor Visa, so either a B-1 visa or a B-2 visa. Many people wonder though do I need a visa for USA, and some people do not.

If you fulfill the necessary criteria and you are from countries with which the U.S has good relationships with, you will not need a visa. The only document you will need to go into the U.S is the stamp on your passport which states that you are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

This article will go through the Visa Waiver Program, what it is, its requirements, necessary documents, and other details.

What is the US Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program was created in 1986 by the Department of Homeland Security and the State Department. It is a document in the form of a stamp on your passport which allows citizens of 38 countries to enter the U.S without a visa. The program was created to improve security for the people who go into the U.S and also so that U.S citizens can go to the other 38 countries freely. It brings mutual benefits and most importantly, makes traveling a lot safer.

The Visa Waiver Program allows people to go to the U.S only for a limited amount of time, so up to 90 days, and only for certain purposes. These purposes must be the same as those for the B-1 visa or the B-2 visa.

Things you are allowed to do with the Visa Waiver Program

With the VWP you are allowed to go into the U.S for these activities only:

  • Negotiate contracts
  • Consult with business associates in the U.S
  • Settle estates
  • Attend conferences, educational, professional, or business events
  • Have a vacation in the U.S
  • Tour various cities in the U.S
  • Visit friends or family
  • Participate in social events hosted by various organizations
  • Visit the country for medical treatments
  • Participate in events or contests related to music or sports, for which you will not receive payment
  • Enroll in short study courses for which you will not receive credit (ex. cooking classes)

Things you are not allowed to do with a Visa Waiver Program

However, you are not allowed to travel with these activities in mind:

  • Become a full or part time student
  • Perform and get paid for it
  • Work in press or journalism
  • Engage in any form of employment
  • Enter as a crewmember on an aircraft or ship
  • Seek permanent residence in the U.S

The benefits of the Visa Waiver Program are many. You will not be required to apply for a visa, which takes time, effort, and a lot of documents. With minimal effort on a computer, you can get approved for the VWP and be on your way to making your travel arrangements for the U.S. You will avoid the long processing times too, so if you are travelling for business and need to be in the U.S as soon as possible, you can do so with the VWP.

Additionally, if you enter the U.S with a VWP, you can also visit Canada, Mexico and other nearby islands for the time that your VWP is valid. So if you reenter the U.S during the timeframe that the VWP is valid, you will not have any problems. You are not allowed to do so with other visas.

What are the US Visa Waiver requirements?

In order to qualify for the US Visa Waiver Program, you must fulfill the following criteria:

  • Be a citizen of the 38 allowed countries
  • Have a visa waiver ESTA approval
  • Have an e-passport
  • Prove that you will return to your home country after your VWP stamp expires

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an electronic program that the U.S has developed to make applying for the Visa Waiver much faster. The only step you need to take is go to its website and enter your personal information and you will get a response on whether you qualify for the Visa Waiver or not

The e-passport is a document which you need in order to apply for the ESTA and the VWP. The e-passport is different from regular passports in two ways:

  • It is Machine Readable, which means that in the page with your personal information, there are also various number at the bottom (See Picture 1 below)
  • It has chip and it is distinguished by a symbol in the front cover (See Picture 2 below)
e-passport with chip


machine readable passport


Visa Waiver Countries

To become part of the Visa Waiver Program, a country must meet these conditions:

  • Issue e-passports
  • Have enhanced law enforcement and security data sharing with the U.S
  • Report stolen and lost passports
  • Refuse less than 3% of B visas
  • Have good counterterrorism, border control, law enforcement, and other security standards

The following have met these conditions and are US Visa Waiver countries. If you are from one of these countries, you can apply only for the Visa Waiver and not for a visa.

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

Note: This list was last updated on February 28, 2014, when Chile joined the Visa Waiver Program.

IMPORTANT: Changes to the Visa Waiver Program in 2016

In 2016, the U.S started implementing a change in the Visa Waiver Program under the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015”. Since then, certain travelers would no longer be eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.

The following groups of people are affected by that change:

  • Nationals of visa waiver countries who have been in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia or Yemen since March 01, 2011. It should be noted that there are some exceptions for diplomats and military personnel.
  • Nationals of visa waiver countries who also hold a nationality of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.

What documents do I need for the Visa Waiver USA?

The only documents you need to have to get the Visa Waiver stamp on your passport is the ESTA approval and the e-Passport. Your e-Passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your planned departure from the U.S.

After you get the ESTA approval, you can start making travel arrangements to the U.S.

How long is the validity of the Visa Waiver?

The Visa Waiver Program allows its holders to stay in the U.S for a maximum of 90 days. The VWP is a document only for temporary stays and you do not qualify to stay longer than that. This is the main difference with the US Visitor Visas with which you are allowed to stay for 6 months and then extend your stay in the U.S.

Can I extend my stay with a Visa Waiver?

Unfortunately, if you enter the U.S under the Visa Waiver Program, you will not be allowed to extend your stay. The maximum amount of time that you will be allowed to stay before your documents expire is 90 days.

Additionally, if you, for example, find a job and want to work in the U.S, you cannot apply to change your status. So if an employer is willing to sponsor you to an H-1B visa, you cannot accept the job since you will not be allowed to change your status while in the U.S. You must return to your home country and then apply for a different visa from there.

What if I cannot get a Visa Waiver?

If for any reason, you are not eligible for a Visa Waiver or you have been denied it, then you have one other option. You can apply for a US Visitor Visa, such as the B-1 visa or the B-2 visa. You must fulfill the necessary criteria and file the documents and wait for the visa to process. If you are denied the visitor visas too, then you have to check your eligibility and make sure that you qualify for a visa to the U.S.

Additionally, if you are planning to stay in the U.S for more than 90 days, then it is better to apply for the visitor visas which are valid for 6 months and allow you to file for an extension. Otherwise, you will get the Visa Waiver, then you will have to return to your home country and get the same document again. You will save much more time by applying for the B-1 visa or the B-2 visa.

Another instance where you cannot get a Visa Waiver is if you are travelling on a non-VWP approved air or sea carrier or a private aircraft.

Can I get a Green Card on an American Visa Waiver?

The Visa Waiver only gives you the right to enter the U.S for purposes which fall under the B-1 visa or the B-2 visa. This means you can only go there for tourism or business and stay for a maximum of 90 days. Additionally, you have to prove that you will return to your home country. Because of this, it is very difficult, if not impossible to get a Green Card while on a Visa Waiver.

The only possible ways to get permanent residence is if you have family in the U.S and you apply to join them, or if you marry a U.S citizen. Even if you find a job in the U.S, you will not be able to change your status to a different visa which allows you dual intent.

Can I bring my dependents with a USA Visa Waiver?

Each Visa Waiver that is given is individual and does not apply to a group of people. So if you and your family, such as spouse and children want to go to the U.S together, you must each be eligible for the Visa Waiver and get one for each member.

Even toddlers must fulfill the criteria for the Visa Waiver and must have a valid passport to be able to get the Visa Waiver. Therefore, you cannot bring your dependents to the U.S with only one Visa Waiver, but must get one for each individual.