Visa Waiver Program
Previously, most tourists and business visitors from 35 countries traveling to the United States for less than 90 days could simply travel to the U.S. without a visa under the so-called Visa Waiver Program. As of 12 January 2009, however, all Visa Waiver travelers are required to obtain travel authorization under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Electronic System for Travel Authorization ESTA before entering the U.S.
The purpose of the ESTA is to strengthen travel security to the U.S. and to protect international airlines from liability for transporting foreign nationals who may not be eligible to enter the U.S. once they arrive. The application is free; any Web site asking for a fee to submit such an application is not the Department of Homeland Security's official Web site. Use of a private service to apply for the ESTA and/or paying a fee for submission of such an application will not provide any advantage to the applicant.
The travel authorization application is online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov.
Apply at least three days prior to departure date. The form will request biographic and travel information, and asks seven security questions. It may be completed by the traveler or a third party and the system will provide the applicant with an application number that the traveler should record for future reference. If travel is approved, the system will display an Authorization Approved screen showing the travel authorization expiration date, which the traveler should print out and maintain with his or her passport. Before the traveler boards a flight to the U.S., the airline will electronically verify with U.S. Customs and Border Protection that the traveler has an approved travel authorization on file. Travel authorizations are valid for a period of two years from the date of authorization or until the traveler's passport expires, whichever comes first.
To learn the countries to which this requirement applies, or for more information, visit http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/without/without_1990.html