US Visas – Entrance Requirements for the United States in Simple Terms

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for Travelers to the USA

There has long been confusion over the visa requirements to visit the US of A, often resulting in denied access and much frustration. At a recent Travel Show I was able to discuss how the visa works with some of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents. Hopefully this will clear up some of the confusion and lead to easier travel to and from the United States.

Simply Put

To enter the U.S. you require a 90 day visa. Before you simply filled out a form on the plane and went to customs, now you are required to fill out the authorization online first at least 72 hours before you leave, , you must also remember to fill out the little green card that is handed out on the plane and which customs will staple into your passport. I heard of a traveler who was questioned in the airport for 6hrs because he had lost the little green card.

Why Confusion?

Much of the confusion comes from how the 90 days works. In possible preparation for creating a North American Union, the 90 days include time in Mexico and Canada, if you enter the States first. In other words if you fly into the U.S. and plan to go to Canada or Mexico your 90 days will continue regardless of whether or not you are in the States. However if you go to Canada or Mexico first, before entering the U.S. you are fine, the countdown begins only once you have stepped foot onto U.S. soil.
So if you plan to fly home out of the U.S. watch your time carefully. However, the border agent I spoke with did say that if you return a few days late to the states after working in Canada and have proof of having worked there, you will most likely be allowed into the country. But if you popped into Canada the day before your 90 days were up you will most likely be denied entrance due to suspicious circumstances…

Also with the new ESTA program, see below, many believe that this application means you are automatically allowed into the U.S. In truth it means that you are only authorized, there is still a chance you will be denied entry at customs.

Official Lingo

Beginning August 1, 2008, the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be accessible via internet for citizens and eligible nationals to apply for advance authorization to travel to the United States.

Effective January 12, 2009, all Visa Waiver Program (VWP) travelers will be required to obtain an ESTA at least 72 hours prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S. under the VWP.

How ESTA works

Log onto the ESTA website and complete an on-line application in English. The system will prompt you to answer basic biographical and eligibility questions typical to the paper I-94W form.

It is recommended that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours (3 days) prior to travel. In most cases you will receive a response within seconds:
1. Authorization Approved: Travel authorized.
2. Travel Not Authorized: Traveler must obtain a non-immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before traveling to the U.S.
3. Authorization Pending: Traveler will need to check the ESTA Web site for updates within 72 hours to receive a final response.

An Approved travel authorization via ESTA is:
• Required for all VWP travelers prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the U.S.
• Valid, unless revoked, for up to two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first.
• Valid for multiple entries into the U.S. As future trips are planned, or if the applicant’s destination addresses or itineraries change after their authorization has been approved, updates are easily done through the ESTA web site.
• Not a guarantee of admissibility to the U.S. at a port of entry. ESTA approval only authorizes a traveler to board a carrier for travel to the U.S. under the VWP.

(It is advisable to keep the paperwork handy when ever moving through the borders)

Eligible Countries:

  • Andorra
  • Australia
  • Austria
  • Belgium
  • Brunei
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Iceland
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Liechtenstein
  • Luxembourg
  • Monaco
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Norway
  • Portugal
  • San Marino
  • Singapore
  • Slovenia
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • United Kingdom

For more information consult the following websites:

Hope this helps and you all have happy travels!