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US Visa Waiver Program – The Rules for Travelers


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Travelers to the USA coming from countries that fall under the visa waiver program are not required to have a visa when entering the country. 

More than 30 states participate in the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) program (source: cnn.com). European countries, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Australia are some of the nations on the list. Citizens from these countries may enter the US and stay for a period of up to 90 days for the purposes of either business or tourism. 

During their visit, travelers are allowed to enter into Canada, travel to Mexico, and outlying islands, with the time spent at these places included in the maximum 90-day stay (source: applyesta.co.uk). Below, we will look at the rules that travelers have to follow under the ESTA program.

A valid passport

The first requirement for the USA Visa waiver program is a valid, machine readable passport from your home country. These passports should include two rows of alphanumeric characters at the bottom edge of the photo page. 

However, it should be noted that the final decision to allow you into the United States rests with the immigration officer examining your passport. Therefore, it is advisable to show a lot of courtesy to them.

When approved, a via waiver form known as I-94W will be stapled directly into the traveler’s passport. But upon leaving the country, the individual is required to surrender the form.

Travelers arriving via air or sea

According to www.esta-united.co.uk, travelers arriving into the USA through sea or air are required to apply for pre-approval through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). 

It is however important to make the application about 72 hours prior to the trip. When you get the approval notice, the document is valid for 2 years. 

And as we mentioned above, the ESTA approval is not a guarantee to be admitted into the United States. This is because you will still have to go through the immigration officer at the port of entry.

Travelers arriving on land

The USA visa waiver process is very different for travelers arriving into the USA through land either via Canada or Mexico. The pre-approval through the ESTA online platform is not required. Instead, the I-94W form is filled directly at the border point.  

It is however important to note that the traveler has to pay a fee of $6 when entering the USA on land. The US visa waiver application at the point of entry takes less than one hour. However, this can extend to 3 hours in cases of heightened traffic.  

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