When visiting the United States for a maximum of 90 consecutive days, travelers can enter the United States without a visa.
Indeed, they will only need to apply for a visa waiver (ESTA, which will allow them to legally enter the United States), via an online form.
However, this program is only effective in certain countries in partnership with the U.S. and is only open to travelers who meet the criteria established by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. We’ll come back to the Visa Waiver Program here, but for more specific questions, feel free to consult our dedicated ESTA FAQ.
Member countries of the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA)
Established on January 12, 2009, the Visa Waiver Program will have a total of 40 member countries by the end of 2021. Their nationals are thus potentially eligible to apply for ESTA. The list of countries is presented in alphabetical order:
- Germany, Andorra, Australia, Austria
- Belgium, Brunei
- Chile, South Korea, Croatia
- Spain, Estonia
- Finland, France
- Iceland, Ireland, Italy
- Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg
- Malta, Monaco
- New Zealand, Norway
- Netherlands, Portugal, Poland
- Czech Republic, United Kingdom
- San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland
Conditions to be fulfilled in order to benefit from the USA visa exemption
In order to benefit from the Visa Waiver Program, the traveler must be a citizen of one of the above mentioned countries. Dual nationals must travel with the passport of the exempted country. Dual nationals from Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan are automatically excluded from ESTA.
However, the traveler’s citizenship is not the only requirement to apply for an ESTA. You must also be in possession of a valid passport with an integrated chip, i.e. an electronic or biometric passport compatible with the electronic systems of the American administration. The passport number is also a piece of information that must be provided when applying for authorization, allowing the American authorities to verify your identity beforehand.
The duration of the stay in the United States must also not exceed 90 days, and it must be part of a tourist or professional trip (visiting the USA, doing a linguistic stay, participating in conferences…). It is also necessary to transit.
The applicant must travel to the U.S. by air or sea with a company approved by the U.S. government.
Fees and time limits for obtaining the ESTA
The visa waiver application is made on the Internet. The traveler must pay the ESTA fee of $21 (new rate since 2022) in U.S. taxes to finalize the online application. It is advisable to fill out the ESTA form before boarding, ideally as soon as possible and no later than 3 days before departure.
A response will be provided by the US authorities within 72 hours. So, if the ESTA status is pending, there’s nothing wrong with that: U.S. Customs conducts regular random checks.
Possible reasons for refusal of ESTA authorization
ESTA authorization will generally be denied to individuals who are in one of these situations:
- have a criminal record, even if acquitted or granted clemency;
- be suffering from a serious or contagious disease;
- have been denied admission in the past or have overstayed on a previous trip to the United States;
- having committed a traffic violation in the USA;
- have a passport whose validity expires during the trip (a new passport must be issued);
- have changed status while in the United States (e.g. from tourist to migrant worker);
- have traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Sudan or Yemen since March 1, 2011.
The U.S. Visa Waiver Program is open to all travelers who do not have any of these characteristics, and refusals are rare. But if not, and to hope to enter the country, the alternative is to apply for a visa. European nationals can contact the U.S. consulate or embassy in their home country. The U.S. Consulate is the only body that can issue a U.S. visa abroad.