What are the eligibility conditions for the Visa Waiver Program and travel to the United States?
Firstly, you should be a citizen of one of the member countries of the Visa waiver Program, not simply a resident.
Also, you should hold an electronic passport that is valid for at least your entire visit. This condition equally concerns children, even if they are very young. An electronic passport is identifiable by a symbol on the cover which indicates it contains an electronic microchip enabling a reliable identification at the border.
You should also pay careful attention to the validity of your passport, even if the latter is valid at the time of your travel reservation or when submitting your ESTA authorisation application, as it must also remain valid up to the date of your return from the United States.
There are however certain exceptions concerning the electronic passport. Those who hold emergency or temporary passports should also verify if the latter is marked with an electronic microchip.
Visitors from certain countries such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, the Republic of Korea, Slovakia, Malta and Greece should also hold a passport with an electronic chip.
The ESTA is not a visa that guarantees entry into the United States
The ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, is only a simple travel authorisation. It enables visitors to board a flight or a ship bound for the United States but its acceptance does not automatically grant access onto American territory.
In actual fact, the granting of permission to enter the United States lies solely with the immigration officers at the airport or port of entry where the visitor disembarks. If entry to American territory is refused on arrival at the United States then there is no appeal possible for visitors benefitting from the Visa Waiver Program.
The Visa Waiver program and the ESTA:
Here we should draw your attention to the fact that a simple passport, even if it is electronic, will not be sufficient to benefit from the Visa Waiver Program and travel to the United States. In fact, all citizens from member countries of this Visa Waiver Program should, before their departure, submit an ESTA travel authorisation application online in order to register with the American authorities.
This electronic document actually replaces the old visa and authorises a stay of 90 days maximum in the United States. You can apply for this authorisation online, directly on our website by following the instructions given.
Who cannot benefit from the Visa Waiver Program?
The visa exemption for travel to the United States does not concern citizens from VWP non-member countries, those who wish to stay longer than 90 days, those who visit the United States by private means of transport, those who wish to work on their arrival and those who hold diplomatic status or travel to the United States for an official visit.
For these it is necessary to apply for an official visa to visit the United States. The ESTA will not suffice for travel purposes.
How to benefit now from the Visa Waiver Program?
If you have checked that you fulfil the various conditions to access the Visa Waiver program, or VWP, then you can benefit immediately from the simplified procedure for obtaining travel authorisation to the United States. To do so you simply need to apply for an ESTA online.
To make this application start by ensuring you have your passport number (this passport should of course be valid at the time of your application and during your visit) and a valid credit card.
You should then access the application form on our website and start to complete it, first entering your personal information taking particular care to state your correct valid email address that will be used to send the response. You will be required to reply to a number of questions relating to your life and morality. It is imperative that you answer all these questions honestly to be sure that you are granted VWP eligibility.
Before submitting your application take the time to carefully verify the responses you have given and the truth and accuracy of the information entered. You should then make the payment corresponding to the fees for the transfer and processing of your file in order that your application is accepted and processed. This payment can only be made by credit card for reasons of rapidity and security.
When do you receive the travel authorisation linked to the Visa Waiver Program?
Once your application has been paid for and submitted it will be automatically transferred to the American authorities responsible for immigration. The processing of a standard ESTA application is fairly rapid and a definitive response is sent to you by email within a maximum of 72 hours.
As soon as you have received your ESTA authorisation you can travel to the USA totally legally and without the need to print anything. In fact, your electronic authorisation will be digitally connected to your passport number.
The ESTA authorisation has a validity of two years. During this period the holder can visit the United States numerous times without the need to renew their application unless their passport expires before this time. If the authorisation is still valid, the visitor simply needs to update any details for further visits to American territory. The ESTA is only valid for certain types of visit to the United States such as for business or touristic purposes.
Although it is not necessary to print your ESTA authorisation we still highly recommend you note down and keep the file number somewhere safe as it can be extremely useful in certain particular cases.
What to do if you do not possess a valid standard passport?
As previously stipulated, the passport is a necessary document to travel to the United States, even if you apply for an ESTA, as the latter is digitally linked to your passport.
Therefore, if you do not have a passport or your passport has expired then it is imperative that you carry out the procedure necessary to obtain one or renew it before applying for your travel authorisation online. To do this you will need to contact the passport office to complete a form and submit certain required documents.
If your passport does not enable you to obtain an ESTA authorisation then you must apply for a visa. To do so you will need to contact the American Embassy in your home country.
Important note: These two types of procedure can be long, even taking up to three months before obtaining a passport or a valid visa. It is therefore important to carefully prepare for your visit well before the departure date in order to avoid any unpleasant last minute surprises.
How to visit the United States without using the Visa Waiver Program?
If you cannot benefit from the Visa Waiver program or your ESTA authorisation application has been refused then the best solution is to visit the American Embassy in your home country and apply for a standard visa. Although this procedure is generally far longer it can, under certain circumstances, enable you to travel legally to the USA without using the Visa Waiver Program.
Important note: As with the ESTA, the visa is subject to certain conditions and is not available to everyone who requests it. It is therefore possible that you may be refused a visa as well.
Visa and infringements of immigration laws
In the United States there are two types of visas: The ‘non-immigrant’ visa and the Green Card or ‘immigrant’ visa. If you cross the American border with a tourist visa it is strictly forbidden to work or marry during your stay or you risk being accused of ‘visa fraud’. Those holding a temporary work visa should not apply for a Green Card too early as this can also be considered as ‘visa fraud’.
A delay of 80 days needs to be allowed before applying for an immigrant visa. If these rules are breached there is a real possibility of permanent expulsion from American territory, with no hope of returning. Another law that should definitely not be broken in the USA, exceeding the limited stay period in the USA by even one day can result in a prohibition of visits that can last up to three years or even permanently.
Procedures to be followed on entering the USA
On entering American territory, each visitor undergoes a control by a border police official. Their digital fingerprints and a photograph are registered by the airport authorities on arrival in the United States. This system enables the authorities to guarantee security and identify possible clandestine immigrants, criminals or potential terrorists.
Questions relating to work, the financial situation and the return date are also asked of each passenger. It is therefore important to carry a credit card and a copy of your visit itinerary to avoid any problems related to insolvency.
When and how to obtain a visa for the United States?
In certain cases, European visitors that wish to visit the United States cannot benefit from the ESTA Visa Waiver programme and need to obtain a traditional visa. This visa is actually obligatory for all foreign visitors wishing to enter the United States without a travel authorisation. This visa is added to your passport and issued in your country of residence.
Those who need to obtain a visa to visit the United States are generally those who cannot benefit from the ESTA Visa Waiver programme and therefore do not fulfil the prerequisite conditions as in the following cases:
- People who do not live in one of the member countries of the programme.
- Visitors who wish to stay for more than 90 days in the USA.
- People who wish to work or study in the United States.
To complete a visa application you will need to visit a website that offers this type of application form online. You should then determine which type of visa you need as there exist a number of different types, we will explain the details of these later on.
You can then complete an official application form online, providing certain information about your situation and the reason for your visit to the USA. You will need to upload a photograph of yourself that respects certain criteria. It should be full face, less than 6 months old, with a white background and measure 5 x 5 cm.
Various documents will be requested depending on your situation. You should then pay for the visa application costs and fees online using your debit or credit card. Once your online application has been submitted the website will inform you on how to send the necessary documents by post or how to plan an interview to obtain your visa.
The time taken to process visa applications is variable, it can take only a few days for basic applications but a few weeks for more complex cases. As these processing times are so variable it is best to apply well in advance to be sure you receive your visa in plenty of time to be able to continue the preparations for your visit.
What are the different types of visa applications for the United States:
As we briefly mentioned earlier, there are different types of visa depending on the reason for your visit and your particular situation. Here are the details of different specific cases and their corresponding visas:
- Visas for tourism, business, studying, exchange programmes and temporary work.
- Visas for diplomats and officials that possess a diplomatic passport.
- Visas for participants of the Fulbright programme and exchange programme visitors sponsored by the governments.
- Visas for investors.
- Visa for beneficiaries of the interview exemption programme.
It is essential that you know which type of visa you should apply for before visiting the appropriate website. In this way you are more likely to obtain your travel authorisation in time and continue uninterrupted with your plans to visit the United States.
Of course, if your visit to the United States is for less than 90 days in length and you fulfil the prerequisite conditions then it would be to your advantage to use the visa waiver programme and apply for an ESTA travel authorisation online. To do so simply visit our partner’s website and complete the online application form which will only take you a few minutes.