Visa Waiver Program
Visa Waiver Program
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables nationals of certain countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the U.K., to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa, if certain requirements are met. Under the VWP, time spent in Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands counts towards the maximum of 90 days stay allowed under the program.
Q: Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
A: Currently, 37 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom*.
Eligible nationals of all member countries must obtain an ESTA prior to travel to the United States. They must also have a passport that meets the requirements outlined below.
* Only United Kingdom passports notated with “British Citizens” and/or “with unrestricted right of abode in the United Kingdom” are eligible for VWP admission. Holders of passports indicating that the bearer is a British Subject, British Dependent Territories Citizen, British Overseas National or British National (Overseas) do not qualify for the VWP.
Q: What are the other requirements of the Visa Waiver Program?
A: Citizens of the above countries may use the VWP if:
- Traveling for business meetings or pleasure (not on federal government business or as members of the media). Transit through the United States is generally permitted, if the total time in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands is less than 90 days.
- Staying in the U.S. for less than 90 days (this includes time spent in Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands)
- Traveling on an unexpired machine-readable passport (MRP)
- Depending on when VWP travelers' passports were issued, other passport requirements will apply:
- Machine-readable passport (MRP) issued before 26 October 2005 - no further requirements
- MRP issued between 26 October 2005 and 25 October 2006 - digitized photograph on data page or integrated chip with information from the data page
- MRP issued on or after 26 October 2006 - integrated chip with information from the data page (note: Australian passports issued in Australia from 2006 onwards comply with this requirement)
- They have complied with the conditions of previous admissions under the Visa Waiver Program, and have not been found ineligible for a U.S. visa.
- If arriving by air or sea, they are traveling on an approved commercial carrier and have a return trip ticket to a foreign destination other than the U.S. or adjacent islands.
- If arriving by land, they can demonstrate the intent to stay 90 days or less in the U.S. and sufficient funds to support themselves in the U.S.
- VWP travelers who have been admitted under the Visa Waiver Program and who make a short trip to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island generally can be readmitted to the U.S. under the VWP for the original admission period.
- They do not have a criminal record.
Q: How Do I Enter the United States Using the VWP?
A: You must be a national of a participating country and satisfy the eligibility requirements as listed above (please see “What are the other requirements of the Visa Waiver Program?”).
If entering the U.S. by sea or air, you must travel on a signatory carrier. The VWP permits arrivals from Mexico and Canada at land border ports-of-entry. The documentary requirements are the same, except there is no requirement for round-trip tickets and signatory carriers, as there are no carriers involved. You must satisfy the inspecting officer that you have sufficient funds to support yourself during your stay and to depart the United States. If you enter at a land port-of-entry you must complete and sign the Form I-94W, Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival/Departure Form and pay the land border fee (currently USD 6.00) and you must be admissible to the United States as a nonimmigrant. Please note, ESTA approval may not be required when arriving by land into the United States. This is ultimately at the discretion of the Customs and Border Protection officer at the port of entry.
Q: What is a “Signatory Carrier”?
A: To meet the requirements of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) when arriving to the U.S. by air or sea, you must travel via a "signatory carrier" which has signed an agreement guaranteeing to transport you out of the United States if you are found to be inadmissible or deportable. Most commercial carriers that fly from Australia to the U.S. are signatory carriers. Please see the State Department website for a full list of signatory carriers.
Q: I forgot to hand in my departure record (form I-94W) when I departed the United States. What should I do with it?
Q: What else do I have to do when I depart from the United States?
A: Generally the U.S. does not have mandatory exit controls. However the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection is currently testing US-VISIT exit procedures at 12 major airports and 3 seaports. If you leave from one of these ports, you are required to confirm your departure. Your check out will include the scanning of your visa or passport and repeating the simple inkless fingerscanning process for first your left index finger and then your right index finger. A workstation attendant will be available if you need assistance. The exit confirmation will be added to your travel records to demonstrate compliance with the terms of your admission. Ultimately, most foreign visitors will be required to check out before leaving the United States. For more information on which ports are currently involved in this program, please see the page at the Department of Homeland Security's website.
Q: What if I enter on the Visa Waiver Program and then decide I want to stay longer than the 90 days?
A: You cannot extend the time on the Visa Waiver Program. The 90 days also includes any time spent in Canada, Mexico and adjacent Islands. Therefore you cannot cross the border into these areas and then return for another 90 days. You can however ask for re-entry on the Visa Waiver Program if you have left the continent.
Q: I am transiting through the U.S. on my way to another country. Can I use VWP?
A: Yes, as long as your total stay in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands is less than 90 days, and you meet the other VWP requirements. You can use the VWP if, for instance, you are transiting the U.S. on a journey between Australia and Europe.
However if for example you are transiting the U.S. on the way to a 6 month stay in Canada, you cannot use the VWP, as your total time in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the adjacent islands will be over 90 days. In this case you should apply for a B-1/B-2 visitor visa, or a transit visa.
Q: Can I visit Guam on the Visa Waiver Program?
A: Both the VWP and the new Guam-CNMI Visa Waiver Program allow eligible citizens to make a temporary visit to Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) provided that they:
- Visit for business or pleasure for a period of not more than 45 days
- Travel aboard a signatory carrier
- Have a round-trip, nonrefundable, and nontransferable ticket
- Have a completed and signed Form I-736, Guam Visa Waiver Information
- Do not apply for an extension of stay, adjustment of status or change of nonimmigrant status
The following countries are eligible for the Guam-CNMI VWP: Australia, Brunei, Hong Kong*, Japan, Malaysia, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of Korea, Russia, Singapore, Taiwan and the United Kingdom (Citizens of Hong Kong now require a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passport and Hong Kong identification for admission).
The following countries are no longer eligible for the Guam-CNMI VWP: Indonesia, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Western Samoa
Visitors who are not eligible for either the VWP or the Guam-CNMI VWP must possess a valid passport and U.S. visa.
Q: Am I allowed to visit the United States after I've been to Cuba?
A: Entry (even with a valid visa) is determined by U.S. Immigration officials at the port of entry. You may wish to take supporting documents about the purpose of your trip.
Q: Can I visit Micronesia on the Visa Waiver Program?
A: The U.S. government is no longer responsible for immigration matters in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), but as a guide, Australian citizens are generally admitted visa-free for a stay of 30 days. Upon arrival visitors must present a completed 'FSM Immigration Arrival and Departure Record' which is given out by the carrier prior to arrival. Travelers wishing to stay in Micronesia longer than 30 days must also complete an entry permit. Visitors must demonstrate the ability to travel onwards from the FSM and to leave the FSM at the end of the visit. Please see the visit FSM website for further information.
Q: When does a national of a VWP country need a visa instead of using VWP?
A: Travelers who do not meet the above conditions must apply for a visa and may not use the VWP. If they attempt to travel visa-free they risk being refused entry into the United States. In particular, a visa must be requested if the traveler:
- Wants to remain in the U.S. for longer than 90 days, or wishes to change status (from tourism to student, etc.) once in the U.S.
- Wants to work or study in the United States, wants to come to the U.S. for other purposes not allowed on a visitor visa, or intends to immigrate to the U.S.
- Does not have a machine-readable passport (MRP) meeting one of the conditions outlined above.
- Intends to travel by private aircraft or other non-signatory air or sea carriers to the U.S.
- Has been refused a visa or admission to the U.S. before, has been deported, or did not comply with the conditions of previous VWP admissions.
- Has a criminal record (particularly those involved with drugs)
- Has a communicable disease or other condition making them ineligible for a visa.
Q: What is a machine-readable passport? What is an e-passport (or biometric passport)?
A: A machine-readable passport has certain biographical data entered on the data page in accordance with international standards. A key feature is the two lines of printed machine-readable data that appear at the bottom of the page. Australian passports issued in Australia from 2006 onwards comply with requirements for biometric passports.
Travelers should contact their country's passport issuing agency or authority if they have any doubts related to whether their passport is machine-readable. Useful information about passports from particular countries, including temporary passports, can also be found on the Department of State's webpage on VWP.
Q: Are all VWP countries now issuing e-passports to their citizens?
A: The vast majority are and many have been for some time. However, a few countries offer their citizens a choice of either an e-passport or a traditional passport, if they are still in production.
Q: My children are included in my machine-readable passport. Can I use the VWP?
A: Families seeking to enter the U.S. under the VWP need to obtain an individual machine-readable passport for each traveler, including infants, as machine-readable passports typically have biographic data for only one traveler in the machine-readable zone. Thus, children included in family or parents' passports may be denied visa-free entry into the U.S. since only the primary traveler's biographic data is included in the passport's machine-readable zone.
Q: I am not sure if the purpose of my trip falls under the VWP.
A: If in doubt, travelers should check with the nearest Embassy or Consulate to verify that what they plan to do is considered tourism or business.
Q: I am going to the U.S. on an exchange visitor (J) visa. Can I transfer to the VWP without leaving the U.S. when my J visa expires, so I can travel around the country?
A: No, you cannot change to the VWP from any other visa category while you are in the U.S. You can only be admitted to the VWP on arrival in the U.S.
Q: I have entered the U.S. on the VWP but now find I need to stay longer than the 90 days. Can I transfer to another type of visa without leaving the U.S.?
A: No, you cannot transfer from the VWP to any other type of visa, and you cannot extend the VWP 90 day admission period. You must leave the U.S., Canada, Mexico and adjacent islands within the VWP 90 day admission period, and either apply for a visa relevant to your new situation, or re-enter on the VWP if your next stay will be less than 90 days and you still meet the other requirements. Re-entering on the VWP is however at the discretion of immigration officials at the port of entry, who can deny admission.
Q: Is there a limit to how many times I can enter the U.S. on the VWP? Must there be a minimum period between one period of travel on the VWP and the next?
A: No, but entry or re-entry into the United States is at the discretion of immigration officials at the port of entry.
Q: If I travel to Canada or Mexico, can I re-enter the U.S on the VWP, and if so does the 90 days then start again?
A: VWP travelers who have been admitted to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program and who make a short trip to Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island generally can be readmitted to the U.S. under the VWP for the original admission period. They do not, however, get a new 90-day admission period.
Q: I am a journalist traveling to the U.S. for work. Can I travel under VWP?
A: Foreign media representatives planning to engage in that vocation in the U.S. are not eligible, as the purpose for their stay does not qualify as "business". These professionals must obtain a nonimmigrant media (I) visa.
Q: Does my passport need to be valid for more than 6 months to use the VWP?
A: Australian passports are exempt from this rule (so are New Zealand and British passports, among others. See the State Department's webpage on the VWP for the full list.
Q: I was arrested/convicted of a crime years ago. Can I use the VWP?
A: ESTA will assess your eligibility for travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. The assessment includes questions regarding previous arrests and/or convictions. If you have been arrested for or charged with a crime, including offences involving the use of a controlled substance, you may require a U.S. visa and, in some cases, a waiver of ineligibility. If you choose to apply for electronic travel authorization via ESTA, the system will advise you whether you must visit a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to apply for a visa. For further details on ESTA and to see if you are eligible for the VWP please refer to the ESTA website.
Q: I had a drink driving charge. Do I need a visa?
A: ESTA will assess your eligibility for travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. The assessment includes questions regarding previous arrests and/or convictions. However, a conviction for Driving under the Influence is not considered a crime of moral turpitude with regard to the Visa Waiver Program. If you choose to apply for electronic travel authorization via ESTA, the system will advise you whether you must visit a U.S. Embassy or Consulate to apply for a visa. For further details on ESTA and to see if you are eligible for the VWP please refer to the ESTA website.
Q: I am HIV positive. Do I need a visa to travel to the United States?
A: On November 2, the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (HHS/CDC), published a Final Rule in the Federal Register that will remove HIV infection from the list of communicable diseases of public health significance, with this final rule going into effect on January 4, 2010.
This means that as of January 4, HIV positive status is no longer considered to be an ineligibility for travel on the Visa Waiver Program.
For further information please see the Federal Register release.
Q: How do I apply for the VWP?
A: There is no application process as such. All travelers entering the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP must receive an Electronic System for Travel Authorization for Visa Waiver Travel (ESTA) prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship. This can be requested online.
Q: Is there any additional documentation which I should carry at the time of travel?
A: A temporary visitor for business or tourism will need to supply documentation to establish that he or she:
- Has a residence abroad which he or she does not intend to abandon
- Is coming to the U.S. for a definite temporary period
- Will depart upon the conclusion of the visit
- Has permission to enter a foreign area after his or her stay in the U.S.
- Has access to sufficient funds to cover expenses of the visit and return passage
What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)?
A: Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) became mandatory on January 12, 2009, requiring VWP travelers to provide basic biographic, travel, and eligibility information online to receive advance authorization prior to their departure for the United States. Most travelers can expect to receive authorization within a few minutes; however, travelers are advised to complete an ESTA as soon as they begin to plan their travel, and at least 72 hours in advance to avoid any last-minute delays.
The system does not affect travelers who have obtained a valid visa from a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas.
The Government of Australia has a similar program, called the Electronic Travel Authority.
Online ESTA Assistance
Advisory Statement (PDF 71kb)
If you are unsure how to answer a question:
- Review the ESTA Help Menu for general information
- Choose the Help Question Icon beside each question
- Additional Help for Questions A-G is provided for some of the "Do any of the following apply to you?" questions where the meanings are less clear
More information about visas is available from:
Please see our telephone information page for general advice on visas (charges apply).
ESTA Requirements Now in Effect
All nationals and citizens of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries, including Australia, are required to obtain a travel authorization prior to initiating travel to the United States. This requirement commenced January 12, 2009. Authorization may be obtained online through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), an internet application administered by the Department of Homeland Security.
As of September 9, 2010, a fee of $14USD will be charged to submit an ESTA application. VWP travelers should be aware that unauthorized third-parties have established websites, which charge visitors an additional or higher fee for information and for submitting ESTA applications. These websites are not endorsed by, associated with, nor affiliated in any way with the U.S. government.
VWP visitors should apply now for the travel authorization.