Travelling to the United States does not necessarily require a visa as there has been a visa waiver programme with the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) since 2008. This system allows travellers from certain countries that meet certain conditions to travel to the USA without a visa, simply by means of an authorisation that is applied for online and attached to the passport by computer. The list of countries included in this scheme was chosen by the US government because they are deemed safe by US Homeland Security. In this article we will explain everything about this system and give you the complete list of visa-free countries for the USA.
Which countries are part of the USA Visa Waiver Program?
Of course, the vast majority of countries in the world are not eligible for the ESTA service to travel to the USA and only those countries on the list determined by the US government are entitled to this exemption. Of course, many of these countries are EU countries, probably because there are many tourists from these countries.
If you want to know more about the countries on this list, here are the details:
Andorra, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Croatia, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and United Kingdom.
It is therefore imperative that you are a national of one of these countries to be able to travel to the United States without a visa with a simple ESTA authorization. But what does it really mean to be a national of one of these countries? It simply means that you must be a national of that country and that your passport must be issued by that country, even if you live in another country. You must also have a valid passport, which must be a biometric or electronic passport, which is systematically the case for passports issued after 1 April 2016. This condition is necessary because the ESTA authorisation will be electronically linked to this passport in an electronic and computerised manner. We therefore invite you to check that your passport meets these standards before applying for ESTA.
Countries that do not require a visa or ESTA to travel to the USA:
We are now going to look at countries whose nationals can travel freely to the United States without a visa or ESTA. These are special cases, including American nationals, even if they have dual nationality, on the sole condition that the passport used is an American passport.
The same applies to Canadian nationals who, like American nationals, can travel freely to the USA without an ESTA or visa. However, there is an additional exclusion, as permanent residents of Canada who are also nationals of one of the ESTA member countries will have to apply for this electronic authorisation before they can enter the territory.
Finally, dual nationals, one or both of whom are nationals of one of the countries listed above, must apply for this authorisation, provided of course that they are travelling on a passport issued by one of these countries.
Travellers who are no longer eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme since 2016:
If you were aware of the conditions of access to the Visa Waiver Programme a few years ago, you may not be aware of some of the changes that took place in 2016.
It should be noted that the ESTA electronic travel authorisation system was set up mainly to simplify the administrative procedures for certain categories of travellers and to maximise territorial security by adding a check of this authorisation before boarding the plane. This system is therefore bound to evolve over time and according to the United States' international relations in order to maintain a constant quality of border controls. Thus, because of the recent attacks in Europe, the system has been updated and the programme has been strengthened to exclude certain travellers.
These exceptions concern travellers who have visited Iran, Syria, Iraq or Sudan since 1 March 2011 and people who have the nationality of one of these countries, even if they have dual nationality with a nationality on the list of member countries. The latter travellers must therefore apply for a visa in order to be able to travel to the USA. Of course, full-time civil servants and military personnel who are on official business in one of these countries can continue to benefit from ESTA authorisation and are therefore exempt from the visa requirement for the USA.
What other conditions must be met to obtain an ESTA?
If you are a traveller from one of the ESTA visa waiver countries listed above, then you will be able to travel to the USA through the ESTA system.
However, you must also stay in the US for less than 90 days and not travel to the US for work or study.