Visa Waiver Program: how to travel to the USA without a visa

30 Nov 14:24

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) has transformed the American tourism sector. In actuality, this programme permits people of certain states to visit the United States without obtaining a tourist visa. As a result, obtaining an ESTA will suffice to allow you to go to America for business or tourism for a maximum of 90 days.

Although this programme allows you to bypass the wait at the consulate or embassy, there are certain limitations to keep in mind. In this post, we will first define the Visa Waiver Program and how it came to be a programme. Finally, you will find important information on the program’s benefits and limitations.

What is the Visa Waiver Program and how was it born?

The Visa Waiver Program, also known as the “entry visa exemption programme” in Italian, was established in 1986. The initiative’s initial goal was to promote tourism in the United States for short-term business visits.

However, following the terrorist events on September 11, 2001, the US government temporarily halted the programme. As a consequence, the programme enters a new phase, with extra limits and controls in place to counteract potential terrorist risks.

In 2006, the electronic System for Travel Authorisation, or “electronic travel authorization system,” was also born. The electronic travel authorisation is now one of the program’s pillars. Indeed, ESTA permits you to enter the United States without a physical visa in your passport, as part of the Visa Waiver Program.

In turn, the terrorist events in Paris in November 2015 prompted the programme to implement further restrictions. As a result, it has been obligatory since then to notify US authorities of any past travels to specific nations.

All the benefits of the Visa Waiver Program

Citizens of participating nations, such as Italy, gain significantly from the initiative:

  • The ability to stay in the United States for up to 90 days. The travel is confined to tourist, business, transportation, and medical appointments.
  • There is also the opportunity to visit US territory such as Guam, Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands, and the Mariana Islands.
  • Multiple entries and a validity period of two years from the date of approval of the travel authorisation. If the passport’s residual validity is less than two years, the authorisation will be valid until the passport expires.
  • Electronic travel permission is now accessible in a matter of hours, eliminating the need to visit a consulate or the American embassy and wait weeks for a tourist visa. Everything is completed entirely online.

Visa Waiver Program: which countries are participating?

The VWP now has 39 nations participating. Countries with a high human development index and high GDP are often included in the programme.

All participating nations also let US residents to enter their countries’ territory without a visa. Electronic permission may be necessary in some circumstances, such as Australia.

The list of all countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program may be found on a dedicated and up-to-date page.

Citizenship, residency and visa-free travel

Only nationals of programme nations can use ESTA to travel to the United States. This implies that only Italian nationals are eligible to participate in Italy’s Visa Waiver Program.

As a result, it is not feasible to go to the United States with simply an Italian residency permit and an ESTA. You will need to apply for a tourist visa if you are not a citizen of one of the programme countries.

Expansion of the VWP program

The US government has the ability to include additional countries in the programme. Indeed, the European Union has stated its desire for all member nations to participate in the visa-free travel project. This occurred recently with Poland’s entry.

Argentina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Israel, Romania, Turkey, and Uruguay are among the countries that may join the US Visa Waiver Program in the future.

Visa Waiver Program requirements

Please keep in mind that your country’s membership in the VWP does not guarantee you the ability to travel to the United States without a visa. In reality, further qualifications and constraints must be met in addition to having citizenship from one of the subscribing states.

Valid e-passport

You must have an electronic passport in order to travel without a visa and apply for an ESTA electronic travel authorization. As a result, it must have a microchip carrying all of the information reported on the passport. This enables US customs officials or self-service kiosks to readily verify your identify upon your arrival in the US.

ESTA kiosk

In the case of Italian citizens, the passport must be valid for the duration of the trip to the United States. Citizens of some states, on the other hand, must travel with a passport that is valid for at least 6 months after entering the country. Click on the link to read the entire page dedicated to the passport for travelling to the United States.

Previous travel restrictions

You will not be eligible for the advantages of the US Visa Waiver programme if you have visited to specified high-risk countries. This limitation applies to travel to Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia on or after March 1, 2011.

This restriction does not apply to military or diplomatic personnel from any of the countries participating in the program. If you have recently visited one of these countries, you must apply for a regular tourist visa before travelling to the United States.

Restrictions for dual citizenship

Likewise, nationals of VWP nations holding dual citizenship from Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria will be unable to travel to the United States via the ESTA.

As a result, if you are an Italian citizen with dual citizenship in one of these countries, you must apply for a tourist visa.

Travel motivation

As previously stated, it is only feasible to go to the United States using the Visa Waiver Program in the following circumstances:

  • tourism;
  • brief business travel;
  • transfer to another location;
  • for medical reasons

Working, seeking for job, or studying is strictly prohibited throughout the stay. Furthermore, upon landing in the United States, you may be required to demonstrate that you have no intention of immigrating to the nation.

It is helpful to have proof of social and economic ties to one’s home country for this purpose. It is also recommended to have sufficient evidence of financial ability to sustain oneself for the duration of the trip.

Return ticket

You must have a return ticket with you to travel with ESTA under the US Visa Waiver programme. This might be a plane ticket to your own country or another destination on your schedule.

It is critical, however, that your journey does not terminate on a territory or island adjacent to the United States.

Also, watch the video on the prerequisites for participating in the travel-free travel programme, which was edited by the Application ESTA staff:

Security and compliance with immigration laws

Compliance with US immigration regulations is the final essential criterion for benefiting from travel without an entrance visa. As a result, it is necessary:

  • having never broken the terms of a previous US visa or ESTA authorisation;
  • not endanger the country’s economic well-being, security, or public health

Electronic authorization and tourist visa: what are the differences?

The Visa Waiver Program allows you to travel to the United States using ESTA, an electronic authorisation that may be obtained easily online. However, keep in mind that the ESTA is not a visa. As a result, there are significant distinctions between an electronic travel permission and a tourist visa.

No extension requests

While it is possible to file for a visa extension, this is not available when travelling with an ESTA. In reality, the stay cannot be more than 90 days.

The request for Adjustment of Status (“change of status” in Italian) for marriage with a US citizen or for asylum is an exception.

Admission guarantee

The granting of your ESTA does not ensure admission to the United States. It is ultimately up to US immigration officials to make this choice. The ESTA merely grants the authority to board a plane or ship going for the United States.

Possibility of appeal

When you come to the United States on a visa and the authorities reject you entry, you have the right to appeal the decision. This, however, is not feasible while using ESTA.

As previously stated, the ruling is final and binding on American immigration officials. It is critical to follow the rules outlined above precisely for this reason. Make sure you have a return ticket and enough money to get by on the trip.

Cost and practicality

When travelling under the Visa Waiver Program, the cost of obtaining an ESTA is substantially cheaper than that of obtaining a tourist visa. It is not essential to go to the consulate or submit passport images and other paperwork because the request may be done online.

Multiple entries

After obtaining the ESTA, you will be permitted to enter the United States several times for the period of the authorization. You will then have the opportunity to tour Mexico, Canada, and the islands adjacent to the United States before returning to the nation.

Naturally, each stay in the United States is limited to 90 days. However, returning to the United States after visiting Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands does not allow you to “reset” the 90-day clock.

How to get a tourist visa for the USA?

You will not be allowed to travel using ESTA if you are not a citizen of one of the countries participating in the visa waiver programme. You will next need to apply for a tourist visa to the United States.

This procedure is significantly more complicated since it necessitates:

  • online completion of the DS-160 form
  • a consular charge must be paid;
  • a passport photograph;
  • documents detailing the reasons for the journey In any event, they are identical to those provided for under ESTA.
  • a valid passport
  • Attend an interview in one of the consular divisions of the US embassy in Italy. The consular sections of the American consulates in our country are located in Rome, Florence, Naples, and Milan.

CBP Global Entry program and ESTA: what are the differences?

It is critical to distinguish between the Global Entry programme and the ESTA permission. These are unquestionably distinct initiatives. In some cases, ESTA and Global Entry can be used in conjunction.

The Global Entry Program card

The Global Entry programme is a project of the United States’ immigration authorities, Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This permits applicants from certain states to:

  • When you arrive in the United States, you may avoid the lines at customs.
  • decrease your time spent waiting at the airport;
  • failure to complete or submit any papers upon arrival in the United States;
  • obtain comparable advantages in other nations;
  • You can also use the TSA PreCheck programme.

However, Global Entry does not ensure entry into US territory and does not substitute a visa. A visa or electronic authorisation appropriate for the purpose of your journey is always required. On this website, which is solely dedicated to the Global Entry Program, you may find all of the program’s specifics.

Complementary use of Global Entry and ESTA

As previously stated, Global Entry and ESTA can be used in conjunction in specific instances. However, this is not always achievable. In fact, only a subset of the nations that participate in the Visa Waiver Program also participate in the Global Entry programme.

Global Entry nations include the following: the United States, Argentina, India, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Panama, Singapore, South Korea, Germany, Switzerland, Mexico, Taiwan, and Canada.

As a result, Italy is not a participant in this initiative. If you are an Italian citizen, you will not be able to use both Global Entry and ESTA at the same time. This is possible if you have dual Italian citizenship and live in a country that participates in the Global Entry program.

Visa Waiver Program – Visa-free travel to the USA

The Visa Waiver Program permits millions of people each year to enter the United States without a visa. Citizens of 39 countries, including Italy, can visit the United States with a simple electronic permit thanks to the VWP.

This automated process significantly reduces the bureaucratic processes that were previously required to obtain a tourist visa to the United States. Not only that, but security criteria for entering the United States have increased dramatically.

For travellers like you who want to experience American culture and beauty, just make sure you meet all of the program’s requirements.


Concerned about ESTA? Please read our Frequently Asked Questions section.

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