What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program, or VWP, enables you to travel to the USA without a visa using an electronic travel authorisation. Read this article to learn how the ESTA electronic travel authorisation system actually works.

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Visa Waiver Program

The Visa Waiver Program is the name of an official travel authorisation scheme that incorporates the ESTA system, or Electronic System of Travel Authorisation, ESTA. But what exactly is this Program and who can benefit from it? This is what we shall examine here with some explanations and practical advice.

Visa Waiver Program: Key points

  • The Visa Waiver Program was set up to simplify entry into the USA for certain travellers.
  • The Visa Waiver Program makes it possible to obtain ESTA electronic authorisation instead of a visa for the USA.
  • The Visa Waiver Program is intended for nationals of certain countries who meet certain conditions.


What is the US Visa Waiver Program?

Let us start this article by explaining in detail exactly what the Visa Waiver Program is. In the introduction we explained that this visa exemption Program was also known as the Electronic System of Travel Authorisation or ESTA. As indicated by its name this system enables certain people to visit the United States without the need to apply for a visa.

The Visa Waiver Program is basically the support for an Electronic Travel Authorisation that can be obtained in only a few hours using an online application form. To benefit you simply need to ensure you fulfil certain conditions that we will examine later in this article.

The Visa Waiver Program was implemented by the American government in agreement with the other member countries of this scheme and offers real advantages compared to a traditional visa. It of course enables you to save precious time when preparing for a visit to the United States as the whole procedure is completed online and you do not need to visit any administrative offices but it also simplifies the processing of tourist applications destined for this country by the authorities responsible for examining the applications.


Who can benefit from the Visa Waiver Program and what are the conditions?

But, to be specific, who can benefit from the Visa Waiver Program and visit the USA without having to undertake the lengthy and sometimes complex visa application procedure? To be eligible to apply for an ESTA online you need to fulfil the following conditions:

Firstly, it is obligatory that you are a resident of one of the 22 country members of this Program. The United Kingdom and most of the European countries are members. You can find a list of all the member countries on the official American VWP website. Being a resident of one of these countries implies that that you live there permanently and hold a passport issued by that country.

This brings us to the second condition to fulfil: The passport. You will also need to possess a biometric or electronic passport that is valid at the time you apply and for the entirety of your visit to the USA. In fact, the electronic travel authorisation that is obtainable through the Visa Waiver Program is digitally attached to your passport number. Your passport is also one of the documents that is obligatory if you plan to travel outside the European Union, thereby including visits to the United States.

Still relating to the conditions to fulfil to be exempt from a visa to visit the United States, we remind you that that your visit to the country cannot exceed 90 days, or three months. Any visit longer than this requires a visa. Also, the reason for your visit to the USA should be for tourism or business, you cannot work or study in the country using this electronic travel authorisation.

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What is the procedure you should follow to benefit from the Visa Waiver Program now?

Now that you know exactly what the Visa Waiver Program is and if you fulfil the conditions to be eligible for an ESTA that we explained earlier then maybe you wish to benefit and apply for this travel authorisation now. In this case we will now clarify the details relating to the application procedure.

To obtain an Electronic Travel Authorisation for the United States you should first go to a specialised website such as the one we recommend here which offers you the opportunity to access the application form in your native language.  

To complete this form you will simply need your passport number and credit or debit card to pay the fees and costs associated with the submission and processing of your application online as this procedure is payable.

You will then be asked various questions relating of course to your identity, your place of residence, your status and your profession. Another series of questions asked will concern previous visits, your habits, your state of health and your judicial situation. It is of course imperative that you answer all the questions truthfully and clearly.

Once you have completed the application form you will have the opportunity to verify all your answers before definitively submitting your application. You will then be required to complete payment online for the costs and fees for the transfer and processing of your application by credit or debit card using a secure server.

You will then have nothing further to do and you will receive the response to your application directly by email. If your ESTA application is approved it will automatically be digitally linked to your passport and you can visit the USA easily without the requirement to present any other document.

Once you have obtained your ESTA you can use it multiple times during its two year period of validity. It is therefore possible to enjoy several visits to the United States using the same ESTA authorisation, on the condition of course that the information stated on your original application has not changed. It should be stated here that you can also use your ESTA for flights to other destinations that require a stopover or transit through an American airport.


Does the Visa Waiver Program work for the United Kingdom?

Yes, the Visa Waiver Program works for the United Kingdom. British citizens wishing to travel to the United States for a stay of 90 days or less can apply for ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) authorisation. ESTA authorisation is an electronic authorisation that allows citizens of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Programme to travel to the United States without a visa.

To apply for ESTA authorisation, British citizens must complete an online form and provide personal information such as their name, date of birth, passport number and email address.

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Which other documents will you need to visit the United States?

As we have just examined, the Visa Waiver Program enables you to visit the United States without needing to apply for a visa. However your ESTA obtained through this Program is not the only document you will need to visit this country. 

You will of course need to hold a valid passport as well to enter American territory, as with any country outside the European Union. This passport cannot be replaced or substituted by a simple piece or proof of identity.

Also, when completing your ESTA application if you wish to benefit from the Visa Waiver Program you will need to supply a passport number on your application form. But not all types of passport are accepted, you will need to hold a biometric or electronic passport to benefit from this system. Luckily the vast majority of passports currently used in the European Union are this type.

Apart from a passport and an ESTA authorisation no other official document will be requested or required for your visit to the United States. It is also not required that you print your travel authorisation as this will be digitally linked to your passport. The airport personnel and border officials then simply need to scan your passport to view your ESTA travel authorisation on their screen and validate your boarding or entry into American territory.


In which cases does a visa remain obligatory to visit the United States?

Although the Visa Waiver Program represents a truly revolutionary advance in administrative procedures for visiting the United States, it is necessary that you fulfil certain conditions to be able to benefit from it. In certain cases you can therefore not use this system to obtain a travel authorisation.

However there are situations whereby you may still visit the USA but by using a traditional visa. Here therefore are the cases in which you should envisage a visa application.

Firstly, if you plan to visit the United States for a period of more than 90 days then you can apply for a specific visa. This equally relates to visits to the United States for work or to follow studies there. If you reside in a country that is not a member of the ESTA system then you cannot benefit from the Visa Waiver Program and need to apply for a traditional visa, this can be completed online but may require a visit to the embassy or consulate.

There are in fact different types of visa that can be used to visit the United States depending on the type and reason for your visit, here are the details. 

Firstly, visas for tourism, business, studies, exchange Programs or temporary work are the most popular. There are also diplomatic visas and visas for officials that hold a specific passport, visas for investors and many other visas that cover specific reasons for visits. 

When contemplating a visa application you should first find the correct visa that corresponds to the reason for your visit and your situation before starting to complete the application form.

Apart from these particular situations, if you simply wish to visit the United States for less than three months and you fulfil the other conditions for approval it would be best to apply for an ESTA online as this procedure would be far more rapid and simpler than that for a visa.

It should also be noted that the approval of your visa depends of course on other criteria that will be examined by the American authorities.


What is the procedure for completing a classic visa application?

We have just examined what to do to obtain an ESTA authorisation and visit the United States through the Visa Waiver Program. But in the situation whereby you cannot benefit from this system we will now examine the process for a traditional visa application.

The first step is to visit a website that offers online visa application forms, in the same way as with an ESTA application. As previously explained, you will be required to choose the type of visa that corresponds to your situation and reason for your visit as the application forms and information required are not the same for each type of visit.

Once you have selected the type of visa you require you can access the official online form that you should complete carefully paying attention to all the questions asked. Contrary to an ESTA application you will be asked to supply certain documents and items to support your visa application. For example you will be required to upload a full face photograph of yourself that should respect certain precise criteria such as a size of 5cm on the side. This photograph should have been taken less than 6 months before you complete your application.

Other documents or items may be requested from you depending on the type of visa that you apply for. Here again, the payment is completed online using a debit or credit card. You should then follow the procedure that will be explained for sending your documents and items. These should normally be sent by post. It should also be noted that in certain cases you may be required to visit the consulate or embassy.

The time necessary for obtaining a visa is of course longer than the time taken for obtaining an ESTA. It may be possible to obtain a visa in only a few days but in certain cases it can take several weeks. It is therefore important that you leave plenty of time for this procedure to be sure that you obtain your travel authorisation in time for your visit.  

Unfortunately, if you are unable to obtain a visa or an ESTA then this means that your situation is not acceptable regarding the American immigration laws and you are not authorised to visit the USA.  

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As a web writer and globetrotter with a passion for travel and tourism, I have acquired in-depth knowledge of the procedures that are essential for travellers. I help travellers to complete all the formalities required for a successful trip, particularly when it comes to obtaining a visa online. With several years' experience in this field, I'd like to offer you some valuable advice to help you discover the world with complete peace of mind.


Frequently asked questions

What is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and what does it involve?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a U.S. government program that allows nationals of certain countries, including the United Kingdom, to travel to the United States without the need for a visitor visa. Eligible travellers may enter the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. The VWP facilitates temporary travel to the United States for nationals of participating countries.

What are the benefits of the Visa Waiver Program for British travellers?

The benefits of the VWP for British travellers are numerous. By using the VWP, you can avoid the time-consuming and costly process of applying for a visitor visa. You can plan short-term tourist or business trips to the United States with an electronic authorisation called ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation). ESTA is generally easier and quicker to obtain than a traditional visa, allowing for more flexible travel.

What are the requirements to be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program as a British traveller?

To be eligible for the VWP as a British national, you must meet a number of criteria, including: a. Have a valid British passport. b. Travel to the United States for tourism, business or transit purposes for a maximum of 90 days. c. Obtain ESTA authorisation prior to travel. d. Have a clean criminal record and not pose a threat to the security of the United States. e. Not have been previously refused entry or excluded from the United States.