Visa Waiver Countries

The United States' Visa Wavier Program allows travellers holding passports from designated Visa Wavier countries to visit the U.S. using an ESTA Travel Authorization when arriving by air or sea. You must complete the ESTA application online before travelling to the U.S. You will typically complete Form I-94W at the U.S. port of entry or in transit to it.

If you do not hold a passport from a Visa Wavier country, you will not be eligible for the ESTA program, and will need to apply for and receive a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa before travelling to the U.S.

You must be a citizen of a Visa Wavier country to travel to the U.S. on an ESTA Visa. If you re a permanent resident of such a country, but not a citizen, you will not be eligible for an ESTA Visa. To become a Visa Wavier country, a country must be designated as a "program country" by the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, who will consult with the U.S. Secretary of State in making the designation. Among the requirements for the Visa Wavier country designation are a very low rate of visa refusals for non-immigrants, and adequate passport security.

The following section provides background information on the Visa Wavier program, and discusses which countries are in the program:

Background Information on the Visa Wavier Program

In 1986, The U.S. Congress created the Visa Wavier program. Its purpose was to make it easier for tourists and short-term business visitors to come to the U.S., and to let the U.S. State Department use its consular resources to deal with high-risk issues. The first Visa Wavier country was the United Kingdom (July 1988); Japan was added to the program in the same year (16 December). The following countries were added in October of 1989: France, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland, and West Germany.

1991 saw Andorra, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, New Zealand (the first VWP country from Oceania), Norway, San Marino and Spain join the program. Brunei became the second Asian country in the program in 1993.

The Republic of Ireland was added to the VWP list on 1 April 1995, followed by Argentina (the first VWP country in Latin America) and Australia in 1996. Slovenia joined in 1997 (30 September). Portugal, Singapore, and Uruguay were added in 1999 (9 August). In 2002, Argentina was removed from the list, and in 2003, Uruguay was also removed.

The George W. Bush administration tightened entry requirements after the September 11 attacks. Under new legislation, starting from 1 October 2003, visitors covered by the Visa Wavier Program were required to present a machine-readable passport when they entered the U.S. This law was not implemented, however, until 26 October 2004, since several VWP countries still issued passports that were not machine-readable. (Over one third of French and Spanish passports fell into this category.) This delay, however, did not apply to Belgian passports, since their integrity and security were in question.

All VWP travellers entering the U.S. with passports issued on or after 26 October 2006 were required to have biometric passports. At the time that the law went into effect, Andorra, Brunei, and Liechtenstein were still not issuing biometric passports.

The Electronic Travel Authorization, or ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) program was announced in November of 2006. Its purpose it to allow VWP travellers to provide advance information about their visit, and to allow electronic authorization for the visit. (It is not, however, a guarantee of admission to the U.S.)

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