Travel to the USA has gotten easier for people from the Visa Waiver Program countries BUT there are still some factors that you have to deal with before you can travel to the US. Travelers from Visa Waiver Program countries sometimes believe that “visa waiver” is similar to the “free travel” that the Schengen countries enjoy but it is not quite the same.
There are several steps that even VWP citizens are required to take before they travel to the USA.
One of the reasons that travel to the USA is a little more difficult than it is to other areas of the world is because there is a tight focus on secure travel to the US for everyone. As part of the security every traveler has to meet certain criteria.
The chart below helps you to see at a glance what you need to do depending on whether you are from a VWP country or not. The information is expanded following the chart.
|Criteria||VWP Country Citizen||Non-VWP Country Citizen|
|Valid Passport||✓ -E Passport required|
|Length of stay||90 days max||Depending on visa|
|Health certification||✓ -self reporting||May require documentation|
|Background check to travel||✓ -self reporting||May require extensive documents|
As you can see in both cases you will need to have a valid passport. If you are a VWP citizen you will need to have an E-passport. Your passport will have to be valid for the duration of your trip. In other words if you plan on being in the USA for the full 90 days (applies to VWP country citizens) your passport will have to be valid through those 90 days.
Visa or ESTA Approval?
If you are traveling from a VWP country you do NOT need to apply for a visa if you are traveling for:
- To visit family or friends
- Your trip is planned for 90 days or less
VWP country citizens do not need to have a visa BUT that does not mean you are not just free to travel to the USA without approval. You need an ESTA approval. You can apply online in minutes to get the approval but you must have the approval before you travel. You can click HERE to apply for your approval. The process is very fast, you may have your approval in about 24 hours.
There are some questions you will need to answer to get your approval and you will have to have your valid passport available. You will have to enter the passport number in the designated area on the application. You will also need to attest to certain things as part of the application like:
- Absence of communicable disease
- Parental birth place
- Recent travels
Of course using the ESTA online system is a lot easier than what NON-VWP country citizens have to do. In the Non-visa waiver program countries you MUST apply for a visa for travel to the USA. The process to apply for a visa and get it approved can be very lengthy. It can take months.
Your Good Health
Even if you are from a Visa Waiver Program country you have to be in good health. If you have been diagnosed HIV positive or have other communicable diseases you will have to disclose your health issues. The difference is that with the ESTA online system you just have to answer the questions about your health status but you do NOT need to supply documentation.
Those traveling from a NON VWP country will have to provide a health certificate which of course involves going to the doctor and getting a clean bill of health.
The ESTA online system allows you to affirm to your background, it is quick and easy. Applying for a visa is a little different and may require that you get a police clearance. The ESTA online system does not require that you provide any supporting documents.
Before You Make Plans
Before you make your travel plans you will need to have an authorization to travel. In some cases you can be barred from even boarding a plane or ship that is headed to the USA without it. The ESTA online system allows you to apply for your approval up to 72 hours before your travel date and the approval is valid for up to 2 years but you are best to apply leaving yourself ample time before you travel so you do not have to deal with any “glitches” and have to change your travel plans.
The Advantage of Applying Early
Travel to the USA can be costly but if you have your documents in order ahead of time you will have more time to shop for your travel and save big! There are other advantages to getting your approval out of the way as soon as possible:
- Peace of mind
- Easier travel arrangements
You will feel far more confident in booking your travel arrangements when you have the proper approvals. You will not have to worry about the travel authorization once you have it. Since the ESTA is valid for 2 years you can easily apply very early on and get the approval.
There is one other very good reason to apply early for the ESTA, the rules are constantly changing, taking advantage of the program now while the rules are still relatively simple is the best way to get the approval you need quickly.
There is a list of countries whose citizens are banned from travel to the USA. According to the USA State Department the following laws have been enacted when it comes to travel to the USA:
“Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country).Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.”