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Can I travel to the U.S. without a visa?

The immigration process in the U.S. is becoming increasingly complex. The current administration is creating additional hurdles for foreign nationals from certain countries who wish to enter the U.S. However, for citizens and nationals of other countries, the process is comparatively simple.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) is a system that enables nationals of certain countries—mostly European countries—to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days.

Under VWP, eligible foreign nationals do not need a visa to enter the U.S. Instead, they must submit an application through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA is a web-based eligibility verification system—which is considerably simpler than the visa application process.

What does ESTA approval mean?

ESTA permits travel to the U.S. for business or tourism purposes only. Working in the U.S., enrolling in an American academic program for credit or taking up permanent residence in the U.S. is prohibited.

Your ESTA approval will usually be valid for two years. However, if any of the below factors change during that period, you’ll have to apply again:

  • Passport
  • Name
  • Gender
  • Country of citizenship
  • Answers to any of the seven yes/no questions on the ESTA application

Why would my ESTA application be denied?

Meeting the requirements of the VWP does not automatically guarantee that your ESTA application will be approved. Common reasons for denial include:

  • Untruthful answers on your ESTA application
  • An overstay in the U.S. on a previous visit
  • History of working in the U.S. without the appropriate permit
  • Previous denial of a visa or visa waiver
  • Criminal conviction
  • Crime committed by an identity thief under your name

Finally, it’s worth noting that the VWP is not the only means by which a foreign national may enter the U.S. without a visa. The U.S. also has special agreements with certain other countries, which grant access to and from each country without a visa—and without VWP. Canada is one such example.

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