Let's face it: the hardest part about traveling the world is dealing with visas. The process of getting one is already quite stressful. You need to set up an appointment, gather up all sorts of documents, and pay a hefty application fee! And even after all that, you're still not sure if you'll be granted the visa or not! Especially in a strict country like the US. Perhaps it'd be better if you're not required to get a visa, right? Well, fortunately, this is now possible under the ESTA Visa Waiver Program. Here's what you need to know about it.
What is ESTA?
First things first, you ought to know about ESTA. The acronym stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization, a fairly new system in the US that helps track visitors coming into the US. Anyone who wants to apply for it should have an electronic passport, represented by a chip installed in one's valid document. Just like how you can apply for a US Visa
, you can also apply for an ESTA
if you meet the qualifications. The process is fairly similar and this is the only way you can avail of its visa waiver program (VWP) when you want to travel to the US without a visa.
What is This Visa Waiver Program (VWP) All About?
As already mentioned, The ESTA Visa Waiver Program allows ESTA passport holders to enter the US without a visa. It only applies to citizens or residents of specific countries. The ESTA VWP can serve as an alternative to either a tourist visa or a business visa, which means entry visa the program can only last up to 90 days. Though unlike with a US visa, you can't extend its validity just so you can stay in the country for more than that. Once your ESTA visa waiver has expired, you'll be legally required to return to your country.
What Countries are Eligible for The VWP?
So which countries does the ESTA designate for its VWP? According to the US State Department
, there are currently around 40 countries in total. They include the EU member states (including Liechtenstein), the UK
, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Chile, and more. As long as you're a citizen or resident of any of these countries, you will be eligible for the VWP. Do note, however, that this list can still change over time. Though the program is already running, it's possible that there may be new countries added to the list or some that are removed.
What Makes You Qualified for The VWP?
It's worth noting that there's more to qualifying for the VWP than just your citizenship. Although it's the most important for your eligibility, you'll also have to meet a few certain conditions. As already mentioned, you'll need an electric passport. Your legal document has to have the chip symbol on the cover. Also, your trip to the US should only be around 90 days or less. You won't be able to stay in the country for more than that under the VWP. And lastly, you shouldn't already have a US visa. That defeats the purpose of getting into the VWP.
What are The Needed Requirements To Apply for This Program?
If you want to apply for this visa waiver program, the most important thing you need is a valid ESTA. It has to be valid for two years around the same time as your trip to the US. But what will you need in order to get an ESTA in the first place? Well, just like how you apply for a US tourist or business visa, it has its own set of requirements. They include a filled-up application form, a valid passport, a valid email address, your home address, contact details, and even an emergency contact person. In some instances, you may be asked to provide a national ID and your employer's address and contact info.
What Can Make You Ineligible?
It's also worth noting that there are certain conditions that may make you ineligible for both the ESTA and its VWP. One of them is if you've already been arrested and you have a criminal record. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, certain illnesses may also make you a health risk, which means you also won't be eligible for this program. And under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, if you've traveled to countries like Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011, this is also grounds for ineligibility for the VWP.
Let's be real here! Getting a US Visa is a whole lot of work and can get pretty stressful! Luckily, the ESTA Visa Waiver Program will allow you to enter the country without having to get a visa. So pray that you'll be eligible for it!