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There are 38 countries which participate in the VWP. The program allows citizens from the participating countries to travel to, travel in and pass through to the U.S. as non-immigrants for both business and recreational purposes. The visits are capped at 90 days and there is no need to obtain an additional visa if the individual is traveling under the VWP.
The visa waiver program is a U.S. government program that enables citizens and nationals from the 38 Visa Waiver Countries to enter the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa. The advantage of entering the United States under the visa waiver program is that you can travel to the United States on short notice without obtaining a visa in advance.
Note: individuals traveling under the VWP agree to waive their rights to review or appeal.
You can obtain additional information by taking a look at § 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. § 1187, and 8 C.F.R. § 217
ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. ESTA is an online application system developed by the United States government to pre-screen travelers before they are allow to board an airplane or ship bound for the United States. Starting on January 12, 2009, any person entering the United States under the visa waiver program is required to hold an approved ESTA Travel Authorization.
In order to travel visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program, the requirements have been improved. This has been implemented so as to reinforce the safety and security with regards to incoming travels that are traveling to the U.S. under the VWP.
This is how the approval process works for travel:
You would need to use this website in order to apply for travel approval.
The following information is required on the platform:
Once you’ve entered the required information, your application to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program is processed by the system on the spot. You’ll need to wait a moment for the system’s automated response. This application approval is checked before boarding by the carrier. The carrier will confirm with the United States Customs and Border Protection that you do, indeed, have the approval to travel.
You are eligible to apply for admission under the Visa Waiver Program (Visa Waiver Program) if you;
Intend to enter the United States for 90 days or less for business, pleasure or transit
Have a valid passport lawfully issued to you by a Visa Waiver Program country
Have authorization to travel via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization
Arrive via a Visa Waiver Program signatory carrier
Have a return or onward ticket
Travel may not terminate in contiguous territory or adjacent islands unless the traveler is a resident of one of those areas
Are a citizen or national of one of the Visa Waiver Program countries (see list below)
[Department of Homeland Security – Customs and Border Patrol - ESTA]
All travelers entering the United States (by air or sea) under the visa waiver program are required to hold a valid ESTA travel authorization. The purpose of ESTA is to allow the US Department of Homeland Security to pre-screen all Visa Waiver Travelers before they leave their respective countries. U.S.-bound travelers are recommended to apply for a Travel Authorization at least 72 hours prior to departure.
Each individual who does not have a visa and is planning on traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program must have a pre-approved travel authorization, this includes infants. Authorization needs to be obtained before traveling and is required regardless of whether that travel is via air or sea. It is admissible for a third party to submit an application for the Visa Waiver Program traveler.
The full conditions on an ESTA are:
Unless revoked, travel authorizations are valid for two years from the date of authorization, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. However, this can change if the authorization is withdrawn for some reason. Your travel authorization will also automatically terminate when your passport expires if such happens before the end of the two-year period of your travel authorization.
An approved travel authorization only allows you to travel to the U.S. it does not guarantee your entry. Admission is determined by an officer, who will inspect you upon your arrival in the United States. The officer will then establish whether you may enter based upon whether you are admissible under the Visa Waiver Program, and U.S. Laws.
If your electronic travel authorization is approved, this approval establishes that you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program, but does not guarantee that you are admissible to the United States. Upon arrival in the United States you will be inspected by a Customs and Border Protection officer at a port of entry who may determine that you are inadmissible under the Visa Waiver Program or for any reason under United States law.
No, an approved travel authorization is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a United States visa when a visa is required under United States 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 a travel authorization.
These two documents are not the same and a travel authorization will not be recognized in place of either a non-immigrant or immigrant visa. If you hold a valid visa, you can travel to the U.S. under that visa and there is no need to apply for an additional travel authorization.
Eligible nationals or citizens of countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program require either a travel authorization or a visa to transit the United States. If a traveler is only planning to transit through the United States en route to another country, when he or she completes the travel authorization application in ESTA, the traveler should enter the words "In Transit" and his or her final destination location in the address lines in the Address While In The United States field on the application.
If an ESTA application is denied and the traveler wishes to continue with the trip, the traveler will be required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Any individual who is a citizen or national in one of the participating countries can apply for entry under the VWP. Here is a list of further requirements that add or detract from your eligibility.
You are suitable if:
The passport needs to be equipped to be read by a machine, with a dedicated readable area in the personal information section. This is identified by the two lines of text with numbers and chevrons (<<<) at the bottom of that page.
The passport needs to have been issued to the holder on October 26, 2005, or after. VWP passports issued on or after the 10/26/2005 must carry a digital photo.
The passport needs to have been issued to the holder on October 26, 2006, or after. VWP passports issued on this date, or after should be an e-passport (electronic) that contains a digital chip. This digital chip carries unique identifiers about the holder of the passport.
Below are the exceptions to the necessary requirements
United Kingdom – to qualify for the VWP must be permanent residents and be able to prove permanent and ongoing stay in one of the following countries:
- The Channel Islands
- Northern Ireland
- the Isle of Man
- Slovenia – citizens of Slovenia only qualify for admission under the VWP by using the red Slovenian passport.
Electronic passports – As of the 1st July 2009 participating VWP countries’ emergency and temporary passports should be e-passports (electronic). Nationals originating from the following countries will need to provide electronic passports:
- Republic of Malta
- Czech Republic
- South Korea
- Taiwan - Taiwan passport holders must provide Passport Number and Personal Identification Number (PIN)
Nationals not from the above-mentioned countries will need to show their machine-readable passports.
If you were issued your passport, or it was renewed or extended on or after October 26, 2005:
No additional requirements
Between October 26, 2005, and October 26, 2006 – but goes without the following:
A digital photograph is required in the passport document. This is an image of the passport holder printed directly onto the passport page, i.e. not a glued on and laminated over photograph.
Is not an e-passport. A chip that is included in the passport that carries the passport holder’s data.
After October 26, 2006
If your passport was issued after October 26, 2006, your passport must be e-passport in order to be eligible for the visa waiver program.
Please review the CPB.gov website to get a better understanding of the requirements.
Because you waive your right to review and appeal under the VWP, the following conditions are to be noted:
Your status as a non-immigrant is non-changeable once you are given entry into the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.
If you are denied access to the U.S., you will need to return to your home country or a third country if you hold a return ticket from said country. You will be sent back on the same carrier you made use of to travel to the U.S.
No, they’re still very much different as the visa requirements for the B1 and B2 visas are somewhat more multifaceted and generally require an interview with the Consular officer. The ESTA does not require as much information prior to travel, whereas the application for a visa is accompanied by specific personal information as well as information regarding the applicant’s travel plans. Visa Waiver program participants are not subject to these questions when applying for a travel authorization and there are no plans to include the visa specific questions in future ESTA fields.
We suggest that a travel authorization application be submitted weeks or months before the date of travel. Applications are accepted any time before traveling to the U.S. and their authorization will last for a 2-year period unless the holder’s passport expires before the 2-years are completed.
Absolutely, Pre-arranged travel plans or specific travel plans are not a compulsory part of the application process.
No, this is not allowed. Each individual traveling on the Visa Waiver Program must travel on the passport they originally used to obtain authorization approval. It’s important to note that if the traveler is in need of a new passport, a new travel authorization application must be submitted to ESTA and a new fee will be charged for each new application. Therefore, it is important to ensure that your passport is current and will last the duration of your planned stay.
No, it’s no longer necessary. With the introduction of the ESTA, the process has been streamlined somewhat, allowing the DHS to do away with the formalities of filling out I-94W forms for Visa Waiver Program travelers. The now paperless process allows many carriers the ability to validate messages and applications directly related to the applicant’s ESTA status. Thus, it stands to reason that I-94W departure coupons are no longer being given to individual’s traveling under the Visa Waiver Program with a previously approved travel authorization.
In short, the ESTA is a security upgrade, and therefore no-one can by-pass this measure. It allows the DHS the advantage of deciding ahead of time whether an individual is, in fact, a plausible candidate for travel to the U.S. under the VWP. It still doesn’t determine entry into the United States as entry is only determined by the Customs and Border Protection officer.
“The DHS was under obligation to put an electronic travel authorization system into operation, along with other security measures to further advance the protection of the VWP when the 9/11 Act amended Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act” [Department of Homeland Security – Customs and Border Patrol - ESTA].
Information regarding Visa’s, the requirements, how to go about applying, and more.
Here is a breakdown of each of those steps for a clearer understanding of how to go about your application process:
Fill out and complete your application online
You will need to supply information on:
- Basic personal information
- Passport information (your passport needs to be one issued from a VWP participating country)
- Employer information
- Address and contact person or organization within the U.S.
- A contact that can be used in emergency situations
- Credit Card information
- Answers to eight pertinent security questions
If you are making a group application, please be sure to fill out an application for each individual who will be traveling to the United States. This includes infants. Each individual who wishes to travel to the U.S. under the VWP is required to have a travel authorization.
Double check your details here, especially your passport information.
Submit your application
Send your application after ensuring that your answers are indeed correct. If you need to make a quick correction, you can go back to the application by choosing the previous button BEFORE submitting your application.
Take down your application number and store it somewhere you’ll remember it
Your application number will come in handy at a later stage if you need to check your application status or to update your application details. Along with your application number, you will need to supply your passport number and date of birth to access this information.
Make your payment
Again, be sure to check your information before making payment as there are certain data fields you will NOT be able to change post-payment submission. You have up to 7 days to make your payment after initiating your application whether your application is a single application or a group application.
To make your payment, simply enter the required credit card information. Payment is required for processing the application, and then upon acceptance and approval of your travel authorization, a fee is required for approval.
You’re likely to receive your application status immediately; otherwise you will need to wait approximately 72 hours if you do not receive it immediately. The system will automatically issue you information that you can use to check your application status in the event that your status has come back with a pending notification.
You can receive one of the following three responses to your application:
Congratulations, if you receive this message it means that you can now travel to the U.S. using your approved travel authorization under the banner of the VWP. Please note that this still does not guarantee your entry into the U.S. You will receive confirmation of the application approval and your payment receipt.
You have not received authorization to travel to the U.S. under the VWP. However, a failed travel authorization does not necessarily revoke your entry into the U.S. entirely. If you still wish to travel to the U.S. you will need to obtain a visa for this purpose. You can find more information on visa applications on the www.travel.state.gov platform.
If your application is NOT accepted and you receive the travel not authorized status, it simply means that you cannot travel to the U.S. under the VWP and you will need to find another avenue for travel.
If you receive this status you could wait up to 72 hours for a definitive answer. Don’t fret though as it doesn’t necessarily denote a negative outcome. You can stay updated by checking your status using your previously stored application number, passport number and date of birth. To check your status, please navigate to the “Retrieve previously submitted Authorization” section.
9/11 was the catalyst to many changes within the travel industry and that includes the Visa Waiver Program. Since then the VWP has had to adapt and enhance its security measures in order to effectively screen out security risks even before they travel to the United States. The ESTA was effectively introduced by “The Secure Travel and Counterterrorism Partnership Act of 2007 (part of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007)”or, the 9/11 Act [Department of Homeland Security – Customs and Border Patrol - ESTA].
The DHS is confident that the new extra data fields will improve the screening and filtering process.
Here is some guidance pertaining to the security questions.
You will be asked a question regarding your mental/physical healthy, whether you have drug-related problems or if you have any one or more of the following diseases:
Contagious diseases which could massively impact the Public Health include those mentioned above.
You should answer “yes” to the question pertaining to physical or mental disorders if:
- You are currently suffering from a physical/mental disorder and have a family history of the specific disorder in question. Also, if your disorder has in the past, or may in the future pose as a threat to your personal property, or the safety of the people who come into contact with you.
- You previously had a mental disorder with the above description.
You should answer “no” to the question pertaining to physical or mental disorders if:
- You do not have any physical or mental illness at this time.
- You have had in the past, or have at this present time a physical or mental illness which has NOT resulted in behaviour that is obstructive to your property, your safety and/or the safety of those around you.
- You have, at this present time, a physical or mental illness and have displayed the attributes generally associated with the illness, but these traits have NOT resulted in behaviour that is obstructive to your property, your safety and/or the safety of those around you.
- You have had a physical or mental illness in the past and have displayed the attributes linked to the illness, and they have resulted in behaviour that is obstructive to your property or the safety of yourself and those around you.
Drug Abusers and Drug Addicts
It’s possible that an individual found to be a drug abuser or addict may not be a plausible candidate for travel to the U.S. You will need to answer this question carefully and honestly.
Consult the following resources for a clearer understanding on the topic:
You will be asked a question regarding whether you’ve ever been arrested or convicted of a heinous crime which led to serious damage to property, or grave harm to another person or government authority?
This generally points to such offenses that are morally depraved, vile, and corrupt and goes against all socially accepted behaviour, morals, and values.
The age of the offender and the date on which the offense took place could possibly play a role in whether the offense is considered a crime with regards to the above-mentioned elements.
You will be asked the question regarding to law violations related to drug use, possession and distribution.
Consult the following resources for a clearer understanding on the topics:
There is no need to print out your travel authorization, no, as the system is fully electronic and your carrier will be able to obtain your ESTA status information from the DHS. It might be a good idea to print out the paper so as to have confirmation on hand and keep a record of your application number.
We have implemented security technology to ensure the privacy of all data and other vital information on the website. Operates within full observance of the international regulations of the Standard Payment Card Industry – Data Security Standard (PCI-DSS) laid down by the main credit companies for protecting their clients' personal information.
These are the minimum requirements:
It’s possible, yes.
Here are the possible scenarios which could require a new travel authorization:
It’s not necessary as it’s only required to hold a valid travel authorization upon arrival and for entry into the United States.
Simply enter the most current information for your extra passport, even if it has expired. If you do not own a passport for the Non-VWP country, then leave the passport field blank after choosing the country from the drop-down menu.
Its best not to as data for every mandatory field is required. Mistaken information won’t necessary result in a denial of an application, but may require extra time to process before a definitive answer can be given to the applicant.
Your employment info helps to establish that you are not planning on entering the United States as an immigrant. Your status for travel authorization is still, only within a non-immigrant capacity and as an individual you need to exhibit your intention of returning to your country of origin.
Before payment is made and the process is finalised, you can update all information with exception to the passport number and passport issuing country. To make changes to these two fields, you will have to initiate a new application and pay the fees associated with the application.
If payment has already been made, you can only update the following:
- Your email
- Address in the U.S.
If the passport on which you based your travel authorization application has changed for whatever reason, you will have to begin the application process for a new travel authorization. Please note that application fees are payable on the new application.
There are a number of other details you can update on your application without applying for an authorization. Take a look at the list here.
All applicants are given an opportunity to review the information they supply and to ensure that it is 100% correct before submitting the application. You will be asked to reconfirm your passport number as well. You can still make changes before making payment and giving over your application to the ESTA. This includes all data except the passport number and passport issuing country, so it’s vital to ensure that this information is correct.
If you’ve made a mistake on your application regarding your passport and biographical information, you will need to begin the process of a new application. This new application is subject to the application fees. There are other admissible changes that can be updated.
For eligibility question mistakes please see the following link: Fix a mistake on ESTA Form
You can still make changes to the above-mentioned errors, provided the application has not yet been processed with payment. If you have already made a payment, you will have to begin the application process again. You will be required to pay the fee for the new application.
Not to worry, you’ll notice the “retrieve application” option on the welcome page. Once you’ve clicked on this option, you’ll notice that it takes you to a new screen where you can choose between retrieving a single application or a group of applications.
You will need the following information to retrieve a single application:
When you have entered the information after being prompted, you can select continue to go on to your application page.
You will need the following information to retrieve a group application:
- Group ID (If you do not have this number or are uncertain in any way, you can choose the option titled “I do not know my Group ID”. The Group ID number will be sent to the original application email. I.e. the email address used when the group was first created.)
- Contact’s First Name
- Contact’s Family Name
- Contact’s date of birth
- Contact’s Email
Once all the information has been entered, you can go on to access the group application.
There is a fee for both the processing of the application as well as the authorization of the application.
Processing Fee: there is a fee payable upon submitting the application for processing. Note that each new application requires a new fee; however, more than one application can be paid for under a single payment.
Authorization Fee: There is a fee payable upon approval of your submitted application. You will receive authorization to travel to the U.S. once your application is approved and an extra approval fee will be added to the credit card payment. Note that this payment is only payable if your application is indeed approved.
No authorization application will be accepted without payment, and all payments are to be made by the one of the following credit cards:
Yes, the ESTA system makes room for group applications that can be concluded with one payment. Group applications are applications which have two, or more, applicants applying at the same time. However, applying as a group does not mean that individuals in the group must travel together.
The total amount of applications you can submit per single payment is 50.
Yes, for both single and group payments, you can apply now and make your payment within 7 days of application. After 7 days, your access to your application will be revoked and you will have to submit a new application or applications when it comes to group submissions.
Yes. The ESTA system does not hold onto any credit card information post transaction, meaning that employees and other “eyes” cannot get hold of your information.
The Authorization payment amount will be allocated once all the applications have been worked through and they have a status of either Approved or Travel not authorized. You’ll proceed to the next step only once all applications have been processed.
You will need the following information on hand:
After completing your first application, you can add a new application or add an unpaid application by clicking the respective options for those two choices.
The information to the ESTA submitted by applicants can only be accessed by those who are required to deal with it. All data is strictly controlled and the standards of security are privy to the industry standards found in similar screening programs for travelers.
Data is not shared frivolously and remains within rules set out by the Privacy Act System of Records Notice and these regulations can be found on the DHS website. There are a few instances where data may be shared outside of the ESTA framework. Those instances include:
The carriers only have access to your status. They receive no personal information other than that directly pertaining to the travel authorization.
Generally the information remains active for as long as your travel authorization is active, which is a period of two years. This can be shorter if your travel authorization expires sooner than expected for any reason, for example, your passport expires before the official expiry date of your travel authorization, whereby your TA will automatically expire along with your passport.
After your Travel authorization has expired, the DHS will hold onto the data for a further year.
After this period, your information will then be archived for a further twelve years.
Data being used for the following reasons will be kept for the span of the activities they are in use for:
ESTA data that is provided to replace the I-94W form and its data will be held for the duration of 75 years.
All data is archived after expiry of the travel authorization. This is to ensure the availability of the information so that it can be recovered should it be needed for national security, investigation, and other related law enforcement purposes.
There is limited access to the data after it has been archived and it will be recalled only for the purposes mentioned above.
If you still wish to travel even though your application was denied, then you will need to apply for a non-immigrant’s visa. You can visit www.travel.state.gov for more information on how to go about applying for the appropriate visa. Luckily, in this situation, a denial of a travel visa through ESTA does not automatically revoke your eligibility for a further visa application with an embassy or consulate. If your application is not approved, the matter cannot be brought before a court in order to reconsider the application that was originally denied by ESTA.
If your application has been denied, it’s highly unlikely that it will be approved the second time around if your circumstance have not changed since the date of the first application. Travelers who have not qualified for ESTA are not qualified to travel under the Visa Waiver Program, thus they will have to apply for a non-immigrant’s visa at their nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
It is vital to note that re-applying with different or fake information in a bid to meet the requirements for a travel authorization will permanently disqualify the traveler for approval to go to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program.
You can make a request for redress online at the DHS Travel Redress Inquiry program website. However, because the ESTA program has been shaped in such a way so that only individuals who are not qualified to travel under the VWP, or whose travel to the U.S. would be a security risk, aren’t issued a travel authorization, there are simply no guarantees that you request will be successful.
Embassies and Consulates cannot give you any information, nor resolve issues regarding your travel authorization denial.
The availability of next-day appointments simply cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, it’s imperative to apply for an ESTA approval well ahead of time. The suggested minimum is 72 hours before travel departure, however, to be on the safe side, do apply long before that. You can get more information about the visa appointment process at your nearest consular, or at www.travel.state.gov.
You can navigate to the Retrieve Application Page where you’ll find a button for retrieving one application. You can use this option to access any individual application even when the group is locked.
An ESTA visa waiver is required for tourism, business or transit travel of less than 90 days.. Failure to obtain an ESTA can lead to denial of entry at the border and a large fine. It is advised to apply as soon as possible.