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Traveling under the visa waiver program: What are the passport requirements?

Before you can travel anywhere in the world, you need to have a passport. A passport is used to confirm one's citizenship. It is used to enter your country of citizenship if you are coming back into your country.

Your photo, name, birth date, gender, and physical characteristics are all included in your passport.

Some countries only require a passport to grant you entry. Other countries may necessitate a visa before entry.

Passports and visa both go hand in hand, as you will need one before you can get the other.

The passport is usually issued by the immigration department of a country, and registration can be done online. Most passports can stay for as long as 4-5 years, depending on your country.

What is the US Visa Waiver Program?

The US visa waiver program allows citizens of participating countries to come to the US for tourism or business for a period of 90 days or less without a visa.

It is also important to note that travelers in the following categories cannot apply for the visa waiver program;

  • VWP nationals who traveled to or were present in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011.

  • VWP nationals who are also nationals of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.

The Relevance of the ESTA

Before traveling, travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval and meet all of the requirements outlined below.

Before I give you the necessary passport requirement for the visa waiver program, let’s talk about the ESTA USA under the visa waiver program.

The ESTA USA is an electronic authorization that allows you to enter the United States without a visa. Some people confuse the ESTA online visa for a regular visa. But that’s not the case. ESTA is borne out of the Visa Waiver Program. As such, it cannot represent a visa type. Instead, ESTA is an authorization permit – more like a travel permit that lets you enter the US.

Owing to the uniqueness of the ESTA USA, only the citizens of a select few countries can apply for it. If you are a citizen of one of the US Visa Waiver Program countries, you will be eligible to apply for an ESTA application.

A typical ESTA application allows you to visit the United States for tourism or business and stay for up to 90 days. The ESTA USA program started in 2008 under the visa waiver program.

America created the ESTA USA visa to foster economic relationships with specific countries (check if your country falls into this category before applying).

The ESTA application is not like other types of traditional visas that we know. The visa is hassle-free, and you don't need to go to the consular for an interview. Upon filing an application, you simply need to do an ESTA status check from time to time on your phone to track the progress of your application.

The ESTA application is also simple and straightforward. It typically requests your biographic information as well as responses to VWP eligibility questions.

When compared to other American visas, the ESTA application process can be completed online in less than 72 hours. Simple, right?

The ESTA application can serve you for up to two years before you can renew again. You will be granted access to the US as long as the ESTA application is valid.

It is also important that you apply for the ESTA USA before departure from your country.

Travel requirement for the ESTA application

  • Your stay in the United States is less than 90 days.

  • For tourism, your visit to the United States is for tourism, vacation, or visiting friends or family.

  • You can attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference in the United States or participate in unpaid short-term training. Except for reimbursements for expenses incurred during your visit, you are not permitted to receive payment for attending these events.

  • You can visit the United States for a short recreational course of study, but you are not allowed to participate in courses that award credit toward a degree.

If you don’t meet this requirement, you can just apply for a normal visa.

Things that can make you lose your ESTA USA eligibility may include the following;

  • If you have been arrested before

  • If you have a criminal record

  • If you have previously overstayed in the US

  • If you have a communicable disease like Ebola, Coronavirus, etc.

  • If you have been denied entry into the United States

  • If you have been deported from the United States.

  • If you have

  • stayed in any of these countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011.

  • If you have dual citizenship with either of these countries, Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.

Now let’s go back to the passport requirement needed for the US visa waiver program.

Passport requirements needed for travels under the visa waiver program

  1. Must have valid ESTA USA.

  2. A machine-readable passport.

  3. The passport must be valid.

  4. It must be an Electronic Passport.

  5. The passport must carry a Digital photograph.

The USA created the VWP for certain passport holders to come to the US. Apparently, ESTA was established to foster economic relationships with specific countries. The following are countries whose nationals can apply for the VWP:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan.

Before you can be allowed entry into the US, you will need to have the following with you:

A valid ESTA

The first requirement is your ESTA USA authorization.

You must have obtained a valid ESTA authorization, which is reflected on your passport, before you can be allowed into the US. The ESTA is a web-based system operated by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to determine eligibility to travel to the United States under the VWP for tourism or business.

A Machine-Readable Passport

All countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program must issue passports with a machine-readable zone. A machine-readable passport includes two lines of text as letters, numbers, and chevrons <<< at the bottom of the personal information page, in addition to the bearer's picture.

If you notice that your passport does not comply with any of these features, you can do two things;

  • Get a qualifying, new passport if your country of nationality issues them.

  • Apply for a visa

The passport must be valid

A valid passport is vital if you want to apply for the visa waiver program. Go to your country’s immigration department or whichever department issues a passport to get yours.

Also, check for the expiring date on your passport before you apply for the visa waiver program. If your passport has expired or is about to, apply for a renewal.

Your passport must also be an electronic passport.

It must be an Electronic Passport

An electronic passport is a more secure passport that includes an embedded electronic chip. Unlike traditional passports that require a physical submission for verification, electronic passports can be verified digitally.

The computer chip is capable of storing biographic information from a data page, a digital photograph, and other biometric information.

E-Passports must adhere to the International Civil Aviation Organization's standards (ICAO). An electronic passport can easily be identified by a golden symbol on the front cover.

The passport must carry a Digital photograph

Before you can apply for the visa waiver program, your passport must carry a digital photograph. This digital photograph must be printed on the data page of their passport. The photograph is laminated on the front of your passport.

Ensure that your passport has a digital photograph in it. If it doesn't, do check with the department in charge of issuing a passport in your country.

Although, if your passport doesn’t have this feature, you can still apply for the visa waiver program if:

  • If you are a citizen of a country that joined the Visa Waiver Program before 2008 and have a valid passport with a machine-readable zone that was issued before October 26, 2005.

  • If you have an "Electronic-Passport," which contains an integrated computer chip capable of storing biographic information from the data page, a digital photograph, and other biometric data.

You should also note that visitors to the United States must have passports that are valid for at least six months beyond the duration of their intended stay. If you are traveling without a visa through the Visa Waiver Program, your passport must be valid for at least 90 days. If your passport is not valid for at least 90 days, you will be admitted to the United States until the date the passport expires.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of EconoTimes

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