The basics
THE USA: Visa Guides - Must read

What is the Visa Waiver Programme?

We explain everything a European student needs to know about the VWP for the US

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The Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) allows citizens from a selection of countries to travel to the United States without a visa for up to 90 days. In order to travel without a visa on the VWP, you must have authorisation through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a US bound air or sea carrier. There are currently 38 countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme, including most European countries. However, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Croatia are still "roadmap countries" meaning that they are waiting to join the programme. See the full list of countries here.

 

For students

 

For international students the Visa Waiver Programme could be a great opportunity to visit America before deciding on a university or college. As students will not be eligible for a student visa before they have an acceptance letter from their school, this is a perfect way to travel to open days and research different options. Note: you will not have permission to start your studies on a Waiver Visa.

 

How do I apply?

 

Firstly, check that you are indeed eligible to apply for the visa. Secondly, you will have to apply for an ESTA, Electronic System for Travel Authorization prior to travel. ESTA is an automated electronic system that determines your eligibility to travel without a visa to the United States for tourism or business proposes. After 9/11 the Visa Waiver Programme had to be enhanced and the requirement to travel visa-free was changed to include ESTA. The Department of Homeland Security and the United States Customs and Border Protection have provided a secure public website with an automated form to complete in order to apply for a travel authorisation. Go to the ESTA webpage to apply and follow the instructions to answer all of the required questions and submit the application.

 

Once you enter the required information regarding your intention of travel and credit card information on the secure website, your application is processed by the system in order to decide whether or not you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme without a visa. Prior to boarding, a carrier will electronically verify with the United States Customs and Border Protection that you have an approved travel authorisation. Unless revoked, travel authorizations are valid for two years from the date of authorisation, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. The Authorization Approved screen displays your travel authorisation expiration date. Ideally travellers should do this as soon as they are planning a trip to visit the US. Note, there is also a fee involved in the application process.

 

You will not be granted the Waiver Visa if you are travelling to the US to study, for employment, to work as a journalist or to move there permanently. As long as you follow the rules outlined in the programme you should be good to go.

 

It is very important that your passport is up to date, and it is required that you have an electronic passport with a chip. You also need to be able to document that you have a return ticket or an onward ticket. Keen to find out more about visas to the US? Check out our US visa section. Happy travels!

The Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) allows citizens from a selection of countries to travel to the United States without a visa for up to 90 days. In order to travel without a visa on the VWP, you must have authorisation through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a US bound air or sea carrier. There are currently 38 countries eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme, including most European countries. However, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania and Croatia are still "roadmap countries" meaning that they are waiting to join the programme. See the full list of countries here.

 

For students

 

For international students the Visa Waiver Programme could be a great opportunity to visit America before deciding on a university or college. As the students will not be eligible for a student visa before they have an acceptance letter from their school, this is a great way to travel to open days and research different options. You will not have permission to start your studies on a Waiver Visa.

 

How do I apply?

 

Firstly, check that you are indeed eligible to apply for the visa. Secondly, you will have to apply for an ESTA, Electronic System for Travel Authorization prior to travel. ESTA is an automated electronic system that determines your eligibility to travel without a visa to the United States for tourism or business proposes. After 9/11 the Visa Waiver Programme had to be enhanced and the requirement to travel visa-free was changed to include ESTA. The Department of Homeland Security and the United States Customs and Border Protection have provided a secure public website with an automated form to complete in order to apply for a travel authorisation. Go to the ESTA webpage to apply and follow the instructions to answer all of the required questions and submit the application.

 

Once you enter the required information regarding your intention of travel and credit card information on the secure website, your application is processed by the system in order to decide whether or not you are eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme without a visa. Prior to boarding, a carrier will electronically verify with the United States Customs and Border Protection that you have an approved travel authorisation. Unless revoked, travel authorizations are valid for two years from the date of authorisation, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. The Authorization Approved screen displays your travel authorisation expiration date. Ideally travellers should do this as soon as they are planning a trip to visit the US. Note, there is also a fee involved in the application process.

 

You will not be granted the Waiver Visa if you are travelling to the US to study, for employment, to work as a journalist or to move there permanently. As long as you follow the rules outlined in the programme you should be good to go.

 

It is very important that your passport is up to date, and it is required that you have an electronic passport with a chip. You also need to be able to document that you have a return ticket or an onward ticket. Keen to find out more about visas to the US? Check out our US visa section. Happy travels!

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About Author

Anette Lien is a recent journalism graduate and an avid traveller. Hailing from a small town in Norway, she went on to study in India before settling down in London, UK. She has previously worked for a local newspaper, at various music websites and as an Expedia blogger. When she is not travelling, or writing about travelling, she enjoys going to small gigs with quirky, underground bands.

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