|Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 21 December 2010
The US Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) allows most British Citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days. The types of journeys that are permissible under the VWP include general travel/tourism, certain types of business and when transiting to another country.
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETD) are not valid for entry into the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Holders of an ETD must apply for the appropriate US visa.
The British Consulate General in Toronto have reported some cases of British nationals being denied re-entry into the USA under the VWP after a previous stay in the US. Travellers who have been admitted to the USA under the Visa Waiver Programme and who make a short trip to Canada generally can be readmitted to the United States under the VWP as long as they still meet the requirements of the VWP. Granting entry under the VWP is a matter for the US authorities and travellers are advised to check they meet the entry requirements at http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel.
Applicants arriving in the United States with a non-compliant passport may be required to undergo further processing and/or be denied admission. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may exercise discretion at the ports of entry in cases of medical or other emergency travel. You should consult the office issuing the temporary passport for further advice.
The Department of State has removed HIV Infection from the list of communicable diseases of public health significance. This means that HIV infection will no longer be an inadmissible condition. Applicants who are travelling to the United States on or after 4 January 2010 who are otherwise qualified may travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program.
For further information from the US Customs and Border Protection web-site, please visit: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel.
More details are available on the VWP and other aspects of US immigration at the following websites:
US Embassy in London Department of Homeland Security US Department of State If you have any doubts about whether you are eligible to enter the US under the VWP, or about visa matters generally, you are advised to contact the US Embassy in London before your travel. The Visa Information line is 0904 245 0100 (calls are charged at £1.20 per minute).
Entry Requirements - Questions & Answers:
Do I qualify to travel under the VWP or do I need a visa?
Several million British nationals travel to the US annually under the VWP without any problems. Only people described as a "British Citizen" on the photo page in their passport qualify to enter the US under the VWP. If you are described as a "British Subject", "British National (Overseas)", "British Overseas Territories Citizen", "British Dependent Territories Citizen", "British Protected Person" or "British Overseas Citizen", you will need a visa.
You will also probably need a visa if you fall into one of the following categories (Note: this list is not exhaustive).
You intend to stay longer than 90 days
You intend to travel to the US for a reason other than business, pleasure or transit
You are conducting official government business
You have been arrested (even if not convicted)
You have a criminal record
You have a serious, communicable disease
You have been refused entry to the US on a previous occasion
You have been deported from the US
You have overstayed during a previous visit
If you are unsure, or if you think that your situation falls into any of the above categories, you should consult the US Embassy (see above) – you must do this well in advance of any plans to travel.
Does my British passport allow me to travel under the VWP?
To enter under the VWP your passport must contain a machine-readable zone (MRZ).
At the foot of the photo page. The MRZ contains 2 lines of text as letters, numbers and chevrons (>>>). If the area is blank the passport is not machine-readable and you need to apply for a visa.
The new style passports containing a biometric chip and an MRZ are acceptable for the VWP.
My child is included in my passport is that OK?
No - each person entering under the VWP must have their own MRZ passport.
Can I extend my stay under the VWP?
No - US Immigration does not grant extensions beyond 90 days. If you would like to stay in the US for longer than 90 days, you will need to apply for a visa before travelling. For those already in the US hoping to extend beyond 90 days, you will need to depart the US and apply for a visa.
What is the Electronic System for Travel Authorization?
ESTA is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the VWP. It requires the same information as the paper I-94W form that VWP travellers currently fill out en route to the U.S.
Why is a travel authorization via ESTA required for VWP travellers?
U.S. legislation required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to implement an electronic travel authorization system and other measures to enhance the security of the VWP. ESTA adds a layer of security that allows DHS to determine, in advance of travel, whether an individual is eligible to travel to the United States under the VWP and whether such travel poses a law enforcement or security risk.
How far in advance of my trip do I need to apply for travel authorisation?
Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel. We recommend that travel authorization applications be submitted as early as possible, as soon as travel is planned. DHS realizes that not all travel is planned in advance, and applications for last-minute or emergency travel will be accommodated.
How long is my travel authorisation valid?
Travel authorizations are generally valid for two years, or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. A visitor may travel to the U.S. repeatedly within the validity period without having to apply for another ESTA.
Do I ever need to reapply for travel authorisation through the ESTA?
Yes, there are instances when a new travel authorization via ESTA would be required. If you have acquired a new passport or had a change in name, gender, or citizenship, or if the answers to any of the “yes or no” ESTA questions have changed, a new application must be submitted. Also, once the travel authorization expires, a new travel authorization via ESTA is required. Applicants may also update their destination addresses or itineraries should they change after their ESTA has been approved, although this will not be required.
How much time does it take for the system to process my application?
Once a traveller’s application has been successfully submitted online, in most cases an almost immediate determination of eligibility for travel is provided.
If a traveller is approved through ESTA to travel to the United States, does that mean that the traveller can enter the country?
Not necessarily. An ESTA approval only authorises a traveller to board a carrier for travel to the US under the VWP. An approved ESTA is not a guarantee of admissibility to the US at a port of entry. In all cases, Customs and Border officials make admissibility determinations at US ports of entry or pre-clearance facilities.
Do VWP travellers need to bring a paper printout of their ESTA approval to the airport?
No. The DHS will be able to communicate a travellers ESTA status with the carriers, but it is recommended that you print out the ESTA application response in order to maintain a record of your ESTA application number and of your confirmation status.
Does my British passport have to be valid for six months beyond my date of departure from the United States?
No, if your passport is not valid for at least six months beyond your date of departure from the United States, it will not affect your eligibility to travel. The United States has an agreement with the United Kingdom automatically extending the validity of a passport for six months past the passport's expiration date. Therefore, your passport need remain valid only for the duration of your stay in the United States.
If you are travelling visa free under the Visa Waiver Program and your passport is not valid for 90 days, you will be admitted into the United States until the date on which the passport expires.
En route to the US by Air or Sea, a representative will give you a white form I-94 (if you are a visa holder) or a green Form I-94W (if you are a Visa Waiver Program traveller) to fill out before you arrive in the US.
Upon arrival, a US Customs and Border Protection officer will guide you through the inspection process, so have your travel document ready, such as passport and Form I-94/I-94W.
The officer will review your travel documents and ask questions, such as why you are visiting for how long.
The officer will scan up to 10 of your fingerprints and take your photograph with a digital camera.
The officer will tell you when you have completed the process.
Upon departure from the US, you should return the Form I-94 to the Airline or Ship representative as you depart.
The above arrival information can also be found at the US Department of Homeland Security website.
US-VISIT: The US Department of Homeland Security's US-VISIT program provides visa-issuing posts and ports of entry with the biometric technology that enables the U.S. government to establish and verify your identity when you visit the United States.
In many cases, this process begins overseas at a U.S. visa issuing post, where a traveller's biometrics - digital fingerprints and a photograph - are collected and checked against a watch list of known criminals and suspected terrorists. When the traveller arrives in the United States, U.S. Immigration officials collect the same biometrics to verify that the person at the entry port is the same person who received the visa. Immigration officials use this information to help them make visa-issuance and admission decisions as part of the visa application process or entry inspection.
Unlike names and dates of birth, which can be changed, biometrics are unique and virtually impossible to forge. Collecting biomtrics helps the U.S. government prevent people from using fraudulent documents to enter the country illegally. Collecting biometrics also helps protect your identity in the event your travel documents are lost or stolen.
US-VISIT currently applies to all international visitors (with limited exemptions) entring the United States (this includes visitors travelling under the Visa Waiver program).
Are there special considerations for lone parents travelling with children?
Lone parents travelling with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing them travel. For further information on rules for the US please contact the US Embassy in London (see above.)
How do I apply for a visa?
Most applicants for US visas are required to attend an interview at a US Embassy or Consulate prior to issue. The waiting time for an interview varies. The US Embassy in London finger-scans visa applicants. US immigration policy is a matter for thre US authorities. The FCO is unable to intervene if you are refused a visa.
If you are in the United States and hold either a C, E, H, I, L, O or P visa, you are obliged to leave the country if you wish to renew or change your visa status. For further information, we recommend that you visit the State Department website (see above) for more details or consult an attorney specialising in immigration law.
What can I do if I had a problem entering the US?
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has launched the DHS Traveller Redress Inquiry Programme (DHS TRIP). This is a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experienced during their entry into the United States. For further information, we recommend that you visit the US Department of Homeland Security website.