The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables
nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or
business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. The program was
established in 1986 with the objective of eliminating unnecessary barriers to
travel, stimulating the tourism industry, and permitting the Department of
State to focus consular resources in other areas. VWP eligible travelers may
apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so. Not all countries participate in the
VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are eligible to use the program.
VWP travelers are screened prior to admission into the United States, and they
are enrolled in the Department of Homeland Security’s US-VISIT program.
Which countries participate in the Visa Waiver
Currently, 34 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as shown
Republic of Korea
Which travelers may use
the Visa Waiver Program to enter the United States?
Nationals of the 27 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may
use VWP if:
- The purpose of their stay in
the United States is 90 days or less for tourism or business (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. Transit
through the United States is generally permitted. Note that foreign media
representatives planning to engage in that vocation in the United
States are not eligible, as the purpose of their stay does not qualify
- They present a machine-readable passport (MRP) valid for
six months past their expected stay in the United States (unless
country-specific agreements provide exemptions). This includes all
categories of passports -- regular, diplomatic, and official, when the
traveler is seeking to enter the United States for business or
tourist purposes, for a maximum of 90 days
- Depending on when VWP
travelers’ passports were issued, other passport requirements will apply.
These passport requirements are:
- Machine-readable passports issued or
renewed/extended on or after 10/26/06 – integrated chip with information
from the data page (e-Passport)
passports issued or renewed/extended between 10/26/05 and
10/25/06 – requires digital photograph printed on data
page or integrated chip with information from the data page
- Machine-readable passports
issued or renewed/extended before 10/26/05
- no further requirements
- 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; and
- If arriving by air or sea,
they are traveling on an approved carrier (almost all major airlines and
cruise ship companies are currently approved carriers - copies of carrier
lists may be requested from the Department of Homeland Security’s National
Fines Office at 1525 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA. 22209), and have a
return trip ticket to any foreign destination.
- They can demonstrate the
intent to stay 90 days or less in the United States and demonstrate
sufficient funds to support themselves while in the United States.
When does a national of a VWP country need to apply for a visa
instead of using the VWP?
Nationals of VWP countries must meet the conditions noted in the section
above (Which travelers may use
the Visa Waiver Program to enter the United States?) in order
to seek admission to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program. Travelers who
do not meet these conditions must apply for a visa. In particular, a visa must
be requested if the traveler:
- Wants to remain in the United
States for longer than 90 days, or envisions that they may wish to
change their status (from tourism to student, etc.) once in the United
- Wants to work or study in the
United States, wants to come to the United States for other purposes
not allowed on a visitor visa, or intends to immigrate to the United
- Does not have
a machine-readable passport (MRP) issued or renewed/extended before
10/26/05, or is unable to meet other requirements outlined above for passports
issued on or after October 26, 2005 or October 26, 2006;
- Intends to travel by private
aircraft or other non-signatory air or sea carriers to the United States;
- Has been refused a visa or
admission to the United States before, or did not comply with the
conditions of previous VWP admissions (90 days or less stay for tourism or
business, etc.); or
- Has a criminal record or
other condition making them ineligible for a visa (see Classes of Aliens Ineligible for Visas).
What do I need to enter the United States
under the VWP?
To request entry into the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program, travelers must
meet the requirements listed above (Which Travelers May use the Visa Waiver
Program to Enter the U.S.).
Each VWP traveler must present his/her own valid machine-readable passport.
In addition to their passport, VWP travelers must also present a completed
and signed I-94W Nonimmigrant Visa Waiver Arrival-Departure Record to U.S.
officials at the port of entry. I-94W forms are free and often provided by
travel agents, airlines or cruise ships prior to arrival, but may be picked up
and completed on arrival at the U.S. port of entry. Travelers may also be asked
to provide evidence of onward travel or other documentation on the purpose of
their stay in the United States. Travelers entering through land ports of
entry must pay a small land border fee as prescribed in 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1).
What do I need to know about VWP
machine-readable passport (MRP) and e-Passport requirements?
You need to know about important changes in passport and e-Passport requirements for travelers who are
nationals of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries applying for admission to the
United States. Depending on when VWP travelers' passports were issued, the
following passport requirements apply:
- Machine-readable passports issued or
renewed/extended on or after 10/26/06 – requires integrated chip
with information from the data page (e-Passport).
- Machine-readable passports
issued or renewed/extended between 10/26/05 and 10/25/06 – requires
digital photograph printed on the data page or integrated chip with
information from the data page.
- Machine-readable passports
issued or renewed/extended before 10/26/05 – no
If you are a traveler from a VWP country and your passport does not meet
these requirements, you may want to consider obtaining a new
VWP-compliant passport from the passport issuing authority in your country
of citizenship. Otherwise you cannot travel on VWP and you must obtain a
visa in your valid passport for entry into the United States.
What is a machine-readable passport? What is an
e-passport (or biometric passport)?
An e-passport is a machine-readable
passport has certain biographical data entered on the data page in accordance
with standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), Doc
9303, Part 1 Machine-Readable Passports. These standards address issues like
the size of the passport and photograph, arrangement of data fields, and the
two lines of printed machine-readable data that appear at the bottom of the
page. Machine-readable passports can be read by scanning the two lines of
printed data through special readers. Below is an example of how the
biographical data page in a machine-readable passport might look:
Travelers should contact their country’s passport issuing agency or
authority if they have any doubts related to whether their passport is
An e-Passport incorporates data related to an individual’s identity; current
ICAO guidelines call for e-Passports to include facial recognition data. The
contours of individuals’ faces are digitally mapped and stored on the chip so
that a comparison of facial data for the bearer of the passport and the facial
data of the person to whom the passport was issued can be made. You can readily
identify an e-Passport, because it has a unique international symbol on the
What should I know about machine-readable
passports and family travel?
Families seeking to enter the United States under the VWP need to
obtain an individual machine-readable passport for each traveler, including
infants. Machine-readable passports typically have biographic data for only one
traveler in the machine-readable zone. Because of the October 26, 2004
requirement that passport data be presented in machine-readable format,
children included in family or parents’ passports may be denied visa-free entry
into the United States since only the primary traveler’s biographic data
is included in the machine-readable zone of the passport.
Entering the United States under the Visa
Waiver Program (VWP) – what happens at the port of entry?
Detailed information about admissions and entry to the United States under the
Visa Waiver Program can be found on
the DHS Customs & Border Protection. Since September 30, 2004 VWP
travelers have been enrolled in the DHS US-VISIT program when they arrive at
U.S. ports of entry. Travelers should be aware that by requesting admission
under the Visa Waiver Program, they are generally waiving their right to review
or appeal a CBP officer’s decision as to their application for admission at the
port of entry. Likewise, if the traveler is later found to have violated the
conditions of admission under the Visa Waiver Program, they do not have the
right to contest a removal order.
Is there a fee to use the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)?
There is a small land border fee for VWP travelers arriving at land ports of
entry, per 8 CFR § 103.7(b)(1).
What about Canadian, Mexican or Bermudan
citizens and VWP?
Canada, Mexico and Bermuda are not participants in the Visa Waiver Program.
The Immigration and Nationality Act includes other provisions for visa-free
travel for nationals of Canada and Bermuda under certain circumstances. Since
they are not part of the Visa Waiver Program, VWP requirements for
machine-readable or biometric passports do not apply to nationals of Canada,
Mexico or Bermuda. Also, it should be noted that some nationals of Canada and
Bermuda traveling to the United States require nonimmigrant visas.
Is there a reference under U.S. law for the recent VWP passport
Yes. The USA-PATRIOT Act legislated that each Visa Waiver Program traveler
must have a machine-readable passport. The Department of Homeland Security
(DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP) began full enforcement of this
policy on June 26, 2005. Additionally, the 2002 Enhanced Border Security and
Visa Entry Reform Act created a requirement that VWP travelers present
machine-readable passports (MRP) which are tamper-resistant and incorporate
biometric identifiers in compliance with guidelines established by the
International Civil Aviation Organization.
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