U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials report that eight million international travelers have successfully applied to travel to the U.S. under the Visa Waiver Program using the Electronic System of Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA, which launched on August 1, 2008 and become mandatory on January 12, 2009, allows VWP travelers to apply electronically for visa-free travel to the U.S.
ESTA approvals are required for VWP travelers only, and there is no cost to apply. Individuals should go to the official government site at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov to apply online and should not be misled by unauthorized companies claiming to be able to “facilitate” registration through other sites for a fee. These companies have no affiliation with the U.S. government, the agency said.
“We are pleased that this technology is proving very helpful to our Visa Waiver Program visitors,” said Assistant Commissioner for Field Operations Thomas S. Winkowski. “ESTA adds a necessary layer of security for visa-free travel as well as for the travel industry, and we want to continue to encourage individuals to visit the many wonderful destinations the United States has to offer.”
Citizens traveling under the Visa Waiver Program, or VWP, are required to apply online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov prior to their visit to the U.S. Travelers may apply before they have firm travel plans, since an approved ESTA is generally valid for two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first. VWP travelers must also present a DHS-approved passport to CBP officers upon entry.
Citizens participating in the VWP must travel only for business, pleasure, or transit; stay in the U.S. for 90 days or less; and, if arriving by sea or air, hold a valid ticket for return or onward travel and enter the U.S. aboard an air or sea carrier designated as a participant in the VWP. For additional information on these requirements, visit www.cbp.gov/esta.
While ESTA is an important step in modernizing the VWP and is intended to eventually replace the paper I-94W form filled out by travelers in flight, that form is still required in the interim as CBP works together with the airline industry to fully automate the process.
The VWP aims to facilitate tourism and short term business visits to the U.S.. After program expansion in 2008, there are now 35 countries that are approved for participation in the VWP: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Hungary, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.