Everything You Need to Know About the United States Visa Waiver Program

Ashley Ryan

As a freelance writer from Orange, CA, Ashley Ryan has written for Newport Beach Magazine, Laguna Beach Magazine, Bespoke Concierge, Montage Magazine and CBS LA/OC. She also works as an editor for Pure Wander, an online group travel website. With a degree in journalism and anthropology, she loves learning about new cultures—in her own backyard and around the world.

Visiting the United States is great for many things: road trips through massive national parks, Broadway shows in New York City, adventures along California’s seashores, and cultural exploits in Washington D.C. With so much to do and see, it’s no wonder it’s one of the best places to travel in the world.

But the U.S. often requires foreign travelers to obtain a visa before exploring the 50 states, Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. One way around the lengthy wait that comes with visa applications is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) via the ESTA.

So What Exactly is ESTA?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is a quick way to ensure you’re able to travel to the U.S. without having to deal with the hassle of a visa application. Applicants typically receive a decision within minutes, making it an efficient option.

As long as travelers only plan to visit the U.S. for tourism or business, and their stay will last less than 90 days, they’re potentially eligible to use ESTA to obtain a waiver. An e-passport passport is required as well, but as long as the passport doesn’t change after being approved, the visa waiver will be good for two years.

What is the Process?

The online application is easy to obtain—just visit the ESTA website to start the process. After entering personal, passport and security information, providing valid contact information and paying the application fee, the form is reviewed by ESTA agents. They review the information, submit it and wait for official acceptance or rejection.

If the application is approved, you will receive a confirmation complete with an attachment of the waiver.

If you are rejected for any reason, consider applying for a visa instead—the B-1 visa is great for those traveling for business while the B-2 visa is ideal for tourists and vacationers. Anyone traveling for school or seeking permanent residency is not eligible for the waiver program.

Who Can Apply?

Those eligible for a visa are also eligible for the waiver, in most cases.

Citizens from the following countries (so long as they are not also citizens of Iraq, Iran, Syria or Sudan) may be able to take advantage of the waiver: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, the 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, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom. All of these eligible countries have visa refusal rates of less than three percent.

What are the Benefits to Using ESTA?

The greatest benefit to using ESTA as opposed to applying for a visa is the time you will save. Because approval is same-day, it takes the waiting out of the game and allows you to find out right away if you’re able to head to the U.S. It is especially great for those spur-of-the-moment trips when you don’t have time to wait for visa approval.

The ESTA acceptance rate is higher than 95 percent—those that get rejected will get a refund, making it the best way to gain travel authorization for the U.S. If you get rejected, it costs you nothing—but chances are, you’ll be approved.

The program also has experts available to answer questions. Their responsive nature and dedication to the process make it a great service to use. If you have any questions at all, reach out to the ESTA agents to find the information you seek. They also have detailed guides available on their website to help you with the application and overall process.

As you prepare a checklist of everything you need to do before traveling to the U.S., consider applying for a waiver via ESTA to make your trip as seamless as possible.

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