Visa Waiver Programme

The Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) was created by the U.S. Congress in 1986. The goal of the programme was to enable a greater number of short-term tourist and business travellers as well as reduce the burden of local U.S. State Department resources in processing tourist visa applications. Over the years, the programme has evolved to include more member countries as well as include more travel restrictions. This page provides information on the VWP criteria for admitting new member nations, membership history, future membership outlook as well as provide an overview of the ESTA, the electronic travel authorisation which allows a VWP country's citizens to visit the U.S. without a visa.

What qualifies a potential country into joining the Visa Waiver Programme?

    • Countries that can be considered a sovereign state
    • Countries with a High Human Development Index (HDI)
    • Countries that share security data with the United States
    • Countries that are considered to have high-income economies
    • Countries with a low level of passport fraud and those that track lost or stolen passports
    • Countries with strict passport security requirements by using biometric electronic passports
    • Countries with a low number of citizens over-staying their visas and low number of immigration law violators
    • Countries with low non-immigrant visa refusal rate, specifically under 3% as specified in Section 217 (c)(2)(A)
    • Countries that have established credible counterterrorism, law enforcement, border control, and other security-focused organisations that seek to limit domestic crime and terrorism.

Countries currently on the Visa Waiver Programme

Country or Countries Date Admitted to VWP
  United Kingdom,   Japan 1988
  France,   Italy,   Netherlands,   Sweden,   Switzerland,   West Germany (later Germany in 1990) 1989
  Andorra,   Austria,   Belgium,   Denmark,   Finland,   Iceland,   Liechtenstein,   Luxembourg,   Monaco,   New Zealand,   Norway,   San Marino,   Spain 1991
  Brunei 1993
  Ireland 1995
  Australia 1996
  Slovenia 1997
  Portugal,   Singapore 1999
  Czech Republic,   Estonia,   Hungary,   Latvia,   Lithuania,   Malta,   Slovakia,   South Korea 2008
  Greece 2010
  Taiwan 2012
  Chile 2014
  Poland 2019

Countries removed from the Visa Waiver Programme

Country Date admitted to VWP Date removed from VWP
  Argentina 1996 2002
  Uruguay 1999 2003

Countries being vetted to join the Visa Waiver Programme

  Argentina,   Brazil,   Bulgaria,   Croatia,   Cyprus,   Israel,   Romania,   Turkey,   Uruguay

What do citizens of VWP countries need to do when visiting the U.S.?

Citizens of VWP countries will need an approved ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorisation to visit the United States for short term tourism, business, transit, or medical purposes. ESTA was created in 2008 and its purpose was to electronically process travel authorisation applications online for citizens of VWP countries. By submitting an online application, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) can pre-screen travellers against terrorist and no-fly lists whilst an application is still active in the system. Travellers will need to meet all the necessary ESTA requirements in order to ensure their application will be approved.

Important information about ESTA

  • An ESTA is not a visa, it is a visa waiver.
  • The ESTA is required if arriving by air or cruise ship
  • An approved ESTA does not guarantee admission as there are continuous checks on an applicant's admissibility after the ESTA is granted.
  • Only passport holders of eligible countries can apply.
  • The ESTA can be used for tourism, business, transit, medical and other purposes for a period of 90 days. The ESTA allows travellers to carry out business and tourism without applying for a visa. The ESTA is valid for admission in all 50 U.S. states as well as the U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the Caribbean.
  • Travellers wishing to apply for an ESTA should aim to submit their applications online 72 hours before their departure to the U.S. A traveller must have his / her ESTA before embarking on the air or sea vessel to the United States.
  • Upon approval, an ESTA is valid for two-years or the date of passport expiry, whichever date is sooner.
  • Denied ESTA applicants may be still eligible to apply for a B2 Tourist Visa or B1 Business Visa to visit the United States.
  • Children and infants must each apply for an ESTA and must have their ESTA applications approved to travel to the United States.
  • Individuals who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011 or those who are current or previous dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan or Syria may no longer be eligible for ESTA and should consider applying for a visa to visit the U.S. if their ESTA is denied.

For more information on ESTA applicant requirements, visit the following page: ESTA Requirements


[1] "Visa Waiver Programme". U.S. Department of State. Retrieved 2017-05-16.

[2] "TRAVEL ADVISORY; Accord Allows Trips to Japan Without a Visa". The New York Times. 30 October 1988. Retrieved 2017-05-16.

[3] "United States General Accounting Office: Implications of Eliminating the Visa Waiver Programme" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-05-16.

[4] "Visa Waiver Programme". Retrieved 2017-05-16.