Most people from other countries cannot travel to the United States without a visa. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of certain countries to enter the U.S. without a visa. Under the VWP citizens of 37 participating countries are permitted to travel to the United States without a visa in their passport. This saves visitors the time, trouble and expense of applying for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
While using the VWP has its advantages, it also has its limitations. Specifically, a person entering the U.S. under the VWP:
- is limited to no more than 90 days of authorized stay;
- may not apply for an extension of status;
- many not apply for a change of status;
- must have a round trip ticket to the point of origin;
- waives the legal right to challenge, contest or appeal a denial of admission;
- if a person is denied admission on VWP or overstays the period of authorized admission, then he/she can no longer use VWP and must apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy/Consulate.
Please note that the VWP only applies to persons entering the U.S. as visitors for business (B-1) or visitors for pleasure (B-2). The VWP does not apply to students, temporary workers, exchange visitors or any other non-immigrant category.
Examples of activities permitted in the United States under the VWP include:
For business visitors (B-1):
- consulting with business associates;
- attending meetings with customers or vendors;
- attending a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference;
- attending short-term training;
- negotiating a contract;
- other business activities tied to employment abroad.
For additional information about entering the U.S. as a B-1 visitor for business, click here.
For tourists and visitors for pleasure (B-2):
- tourism or vacation;
- visiting with friends or relatives;
- receiving medical care;
- participating in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations;
- participating in amateur musical, sports or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating;
- enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree;
- other personal activities of a temporary nature.
Persons traveling to the U.S. by airplane or cruise ship using the VWP must use a pre-clearance process known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA. ESTA is an automated web-based system used to screen travelers and to confirm eligibility to travel without a visa to the United States. Once a person is cleared through ESTA, the ESTA clearance can be used for two years or until the passport expires, whichever comes first. A visitor may travel to the U.S. repeatedly within the validity period without having to apply for another ESTA authorization. There is a $14 fee for ESTA, which can be paid on-line with a credit card.
For more information on ESTA, or for instructions on how to apply, please visit the ESTA Webpage on the Customs and Border Protection website.
For more detailed information about traveling to the U.S. under the VWP, or for questions about traveling to the U.S. as a visitor for business or a visitor for pleasure, please contact us.