There are 40 countries – mostly European – that take part in the American Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Travellers who hold the nationality and a valid passport of one of these countries, as well as meet all the other requirements, can apply for an ESTA. Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Turkey, and Israel are still on the waiting list to join the VWP..
Travelling with an ESTA USA instead of a visa
Many countries are stepping away from the mandatory (physical) visa in an attempt to attract more international visitors. Instead of a physical visa, travellers can then make use of a much easier to obtain e-visa or other electronic travel permits. For that same reason, some countries for which it was already possible to apply online for a visa or travel permit, are adding more countries to the list of eligible nationalities.
An example of an easy to obtain online travel permit, is the American ESTA. Presently, there are 40 countries from which the nationality and a valid passport make travellers eligible for this travel permit, most of which are European countries. Some countries have already spent a lot of time on the ESTA-program’s waiting list. It is possible that the US will let some of these countries join the VWP.
Joining the Visa Waiver Program is a process that may take a few years due to the United States’ strict conditions for countries who want to take part in it. An important general requirement is that less than 3% of visa applications for America coming from the country in question, is rejected.
Changes to the Visa Waiver Program since 2010
The American Visa Waiver Program came to be in 1986. Ever since, travellers who hold a passport of one of the participating countries can travel to the United States without a visa. Nowadays, travellers from participating countries can still travel to the States without a visa, but they do need to be in possession of an ESTA. Unlike the paper visa, the ESTA is an electronic travel permit. The obligation to apply for an ESTA was introduced in the period between 2008 and 2010. Moreover, in October 2022, apart from the ESTA already being mandatory for air and sea travel, it then became mandatory for travelling to the US over land.
Travellers with a passport from a European country
A large part of the countries participating in the VWP are EU-members, but not all travellers who hold the nationality of a European Union country are eligible for the ESTA. In 2021, Croatia entered the VWP program in 2021, making it the last EU country to have joined the American program since then. Bulgaria, Cyprus and Romania, also EU members, have been on the waiting list since 2007, whereas South Korea and Chili were admitted to the program within a few years. Travellers from these countries have been able to travel with the ESTA for a longer period of time.
The ESTA has also been available for travellers with a valid passport from Switzerland, Norway, or Iceland. Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Türkiye and Israel have been on the waiting list to enter the Visa Waiver Program since 2007.
VWP participation and changed conditions
After joining, a permanent spot in the Visa Waiver Program is never certain. For example, Argentina was faced with a severe economic crisis in 2002 which led to illegal immigrations to The US, and in turn provoked the elimination of the country from the VWP after a mere 5,5 years. Having been a part of the American VWP since 1988, The United Kingdom is among the many European countries that have been a part of the program for years.
Travellers from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program can apply for an ESTA, and do not need a visa. Nevertheless, they should keep in mind that the requirements can change at any time. For example, the ESTA used to only be mandatory for a trip to the USA by ship or by aeroplane, but since 1 October, the travel permit is also mandatory for travel by land from Mexico or Canada. Furthermore, travellers who have been to Cuba since 12 January 2021, always require a visa for the United States ever since the conditions changed on 6 July this year. That is why it is essential for you to check the requirements for using the ESTA ,before applying for it.