The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of 39 countries to travel to the United States for business or tourism purposes without a visa for up to 90 days. These purposes must be the same as those for the B2 visa
If you fulfill the necessary criteria and you are from countries with which the US has good relationships with, you will not need to apply for a visa. The only document you will need to go into the US is the stamp on your passport which states that you are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
The 39 Visa Waiver Countries are the following:
South Korea (2008)
New Zealand (1991)
San Marino (1991)
United Kingdom (1988)
In order to qualify for the US Visa Waiver Program, you must fulfill the following criteria:
· Be a citizen of the 39 allowed countries.
· Have a visa waiver ESTA approval.
· Have an e-passport.
· Prove that you will return to your home country after your VWP stamp expires.
The ESTA application is quite simple and can be summarized in a few steps
1. Complete the ESTA form.
2. Submit the necessary documents
3. Make your payment.
1. Completing the ESTA Form
The ESTA form will inquire on your personal information and especially your passport identification numbers. This information is:
· Your name and last name.
· Parent information.
· Contact information.
· Employment information, etc.
· It then cross-references that information to various legal databases to determine whether you are a security threat or not.
2. Submit the necessary documents
Due to this the documents that you need to apply for the ESTA are:
· A valid e-Passport for 6 more months after your intended departure from the US.
· Valid payment method (VISA, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, or PayPal).
After you enter your information and complete all the steps, you must wait for the application to be processed.
3. Pay the ESTA fees
In order to apply for the ESTA, there is a cost that applicants must pay. The total ESTA cost is $14 per applicant. The fee is broken down in two parts:
· Processing Fee: is $4 per applicant and is charged to anyone who applies for the ESTA
· Authorization Fee: is $10 per applicant and is charged to anyone who gets an approval for their ESTA. If your ESTA is denied, then you will only have to pay $4 and the additional $10 is not charged to you.
Payment methods differ, but the system accepts only credit cards and PayPal, so make sure that you have one of these options to pay with.
The ESTA is comparably cheaper than applying for a visa which costs around $160 for the B-1 visa or the B-2 visa. That is why ESTA is much more preferred for short time travellers who are part of the US Visa Waiver Program.
The ESTA application processing time is extremely short. In most cases, if your information does not reveal any potential security threats or previous criminal history, you will receive a response within 72 hours.
If your ESTA is approved after application, it will either be valid for 2 years or until your passport expires
Necessary documents when entering the US
The only documents you need to have to get the Visa Waiver stamp on your passport is the ESTA approval and the e-Passport. Your e-Passport must be valid for at least 6 months after your planned departure from the U.S.
After you get the Electronic System for Travel Authorization approval, you can start making travel arrangements to the United States.
Having a valid ESTA, it does not guarantee entry into the US. That decision is up to the officials at the US port of entry. Whether you are allowed into the country or not is at the discretion of border protection.
Unfortunately, if you enter the US with an ESTA, you will not be allowed to extend your stay. The maximum amount of time that you will be allowed to stay before your documents expire is 90 days.
Additionally, if you, for example, find a job and want to work in the U.S, you cannot apply to change your status. You must return to your home country and then apply for a different visa from there.