The Visa Waiver program or VWP for the United States

The Visa Waiver Program is a system implemented by the United States a few years ago that provides visa exemption. But what exactly is this system and how can people benefit from it? This is what we will examine here in detail with explanations on how the Visa Waiver Program works and how to proceed with an ESTA authorisation application to visit the United States.  

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This website is not affiliated to the American Government. You may complete the procedure without supplementary costs on the official website

The difference between a visa and an ESTA:

Before 2009, all persons who wished to travel to the USA, whatever the reason or duration of their visit, were systematically required to proceed with a visa application with the appropriate authorities, generally via the American Embassy. However, since 2009, the United States authorities have simplified the procedure for certain visitors by implementing the ESTA system.

The ESTA is an entirely electronic or digital procedure and therefore much simpler than a traditional visa, but it does require that you meet certain conditions.


Who are the targeted applicants for the United States travel Visa Waiver program?

As you have probably understood the Visa Waiver Program is a visa exemption programme enabling certain people to travel to the United States without having to apply for a traditional visa. The standard procedure is replaced by a travel authorisation application that is completed online and named ESTA. This new system only concerns certain people who fulfil the following conditions:

  • Firstly the applicant should be a citizen of one of the member countries of this programme such as the United Kingdom or Ireland.
  • The visitor should hold a valid biometric or electronic passport; the passport used for the ESTA application should be the same as that used for the entirety of the actual visit.
  • The visit to the United States should not exceed a period of 90 days, whatever the reason (holiday, family, work...).


The Visa Waiver Program and ESTA autorisation:

As you are reading this part of our article then you have undoubtedly read the conditions stated above that make you eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. To prepare for your upcoming visit to the United States you will therefore be able to benefit from the ESTA authorisation it is associated with. ESTA stands for ‘Electronic System for Travel Authorisation’ and basically does what its name says.

In fact, just holding a simple passport does not authorise you to travel to the USA and you should still obtain this travel authorisation before your departure date. If not, you will not be allowed to even board your flight or ship headed for the United States.


How to benefit from the Visa Waiver program and apply for an ESTA:

The procedure to follow to benefit from visa exemption and use the ESTA system is extremely simple. For example, contrary to the traditional visa system, you do not have to visit the American Embassy to make an application as the entire procedure takes place online.

For this you should visit a website such as ours and open the application form which is available in several languages. This application form is actually a questionnaire which requires information concerning your identity, the reasons for your visit to the USA and some other questions to determine if you represent a threat in any way to the American government or people.

Once you have completed the application form you should take the time to check the information entered carefully before submission. When you submit your application you will be required to pay for the administration fees.

 The response from the American authorities will then be sent to you by email within a maximum of 72 hours.


How to obtain an ESTA and be exempt from a visa for the USA:

If you fulfil the conditions cited above and you wish to benefit from the Visa Waiver Program by completing an ESTA application, nothing could be simpler. Firstly you should ensure that you have all travel documents and information that may be necessary close at hand to complete the online application form, particularly your passport number.

You should then click on the link on our website to access the ESTA application form. You should answer all the questions asked truthfully and honestly.

You should also make payment of the administration fees using a credit card in order to validate and submit your application.

Once your application has been submitted it will be sent to the American immigration authorities who will examine it and send you their decision by email to the email address you indicated in your application. This response will arrive within a maximum of 72 hours from its submission.

You should be aware that if your application is refused you still have the possibility of reapplying 10 days after receiving the refusal notification, or to apply for a traditional visa through the American Embassy.


Should you take the ESTA with you?

Once the American authorities have validated your ESTA application you have no other procedures to complete for your departure to the USA. It is therefore pointless to print your ESTA as this paper document will not be requested. As this system is entirely electronic your digital file will be kept securely and the immigration personnel as well as those from your travel company will be notified of your situation and your authorisation to travel.


How long is an ESTA authorisation valid for?

Once you have obtained your first ESTA authorisation you do not need to print it and can use it for numerous visits to the United States. This electronic authorisation is actually digitally linked to your passport number for the entirety of its valid period of two years.

This means that you can reuse this authorisation during these two years without needing to complete another online application. However, it is necessary that your personal information is the same as when you originally applied and your passport number is still valid. If this is not so or in the case whereby one or several of your original responses to the application questions are not the same then you will need to proceed with a new application.


How to renew an ESTA authorisation?

If your ESTA has reached its expiry date or if the information stated in your application form has changed and you wish to revisit the United States then you will need to renew your authorisation. This is also the case if you have changed your passport following a renewal, loss, or a change of identity or address requiring an update of the number of this official document that is necessary for the ESTA application procedure.

To do this you will need to complete the application form in the same way as with your first application. Of course, you will also have to pay the fees and costs inherent in the transfer and processing of your application again. You will then receive a new authorisation by email within 72 hours.

This new authorisation will again be valid for all your visits and transits through the United States for a period of two years following its issuance.


What to do if you are not eligible to benefit from the Visa Waiver Program?

As stated in the article, the American Visa Waiver Program is only available to visitors who fulfil certain particular conditions such as being the citizen of one of the member countries of this ESTA program, possessing a valid biometric or electronic passport and planning to visit for less than 90 days.

But even if you do not fulfil these conditions this does not mean that you cannot visit the United States. In fact, the Visa Waiver Program basically simplifies the authorisation procedure for certain visitors but others can still apply for a visa in the same way as before the implementation of the ESTA program. For this you will need to visit the American Embassy of the country you live in and request an application form. You should complete and submit it together with the documents requested and the payment that varies between €130 and €260. Ensure that you complete this procedure several weeks before your trip to ensure that you receive your visa before your departure date.

Other more complex reasons for the refusal of your ESTA authorisation do not enable you to apply for a visa or will also result in a refusal of this application. These include the non compliance of information given with the current American legislation. It is therefore recommended that you make a second application for an ESTA, respecting a delay of ten days after the refusal of the initial ESTA application, before you apply for a standard visa.

On this website you will also find the list of all the ESTA system member countries so you can verify if you are eligible for the American Visa Waiver Program that we have detailed above.


In which cases is a traditional visa required for a visit to the United States?

In certain particular cases you will be required to possess a traditional visa to visit the United States and a simple ESTA authorisation will not enable you to travel to this destination. Here are the major cases concerned by this particularity:  

  • Citizens of a country that is not a member of the ESTA program: If you do not live in one of the ESTA system member countries then you cannot benefit from this program.
  • Not in possession of a passport that can be read electronically: If your passport cannot be read electronically by a machine then you cannot link it to your ESTA travel authorisation and will need to apply for a visa or new passport.
  • A stay of more than 3 months: If you plan to stay in the United States for longer than 90 days or three months then you can only do so with a traditional visa.
  • Visits to work in the United States: In the same way, if you visit with the objective of working in the United States then you will absolutely need a visa authorising you to do so and the ESTA cannot do this.

To apply for your visa you need to visit the American Embassy in your home country and complete an application.  

Apart from these particular cases, you can certainly forgo the traditional visa and benefit from the ESTA system instead. This offers numerous advantages, particularly in terms of saving time as your application is accepted or refused within a maximum of 72 hours, but there is also a financial saving as the price of a traditional visa generally exceeds €130 and can amount to €260 depending on the individual case.

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