How to Go to the US Visa-Free
All thanks to the Visa Waiver Program (WVP) of the United States, more and more citizens from other countries have greater opportunity and more mobility to travel to the country. Besides being a program to attract tourists, the VWP is also part of the US government’s efforts to strengthen its ties with other countries of the world and at the same time, foster safe and legal travel to the US. This is particularly important in light of the US’ campaign against terrorism.

Started around the late 1980s, the VWP grants visa-free eligibility to nationals and passport-holders of the countries under this program. Currently, there are 37 countries included under the VWP. They are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Malta, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, United Kingdom. There are also other countries whose application into the VWP is currently under evaluation, such as Poland and Cyprus.

Under the VWP, one can travel to the US without a visa by simply securing a travel authorization or the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The ESTA is an online program administered by the US DHS wherein they screen travelers to the US and determines their eligibility to travel visa-free.

The ESTA is a more convenient and practical option for those who are going to the US for less than 90 days and who feel that a visa application is too tedious a process for such a short stay, or those who are going to the US on short notice and do not have the time to work on their visa application. Because the authorization is also good for multiple visits, it’s a good choice for businessmen or professionals who frequent the US and stay there for a short time.

  The ESTA application process Apply Now
Application for the travel authorization is handled online and this is why it is more convenient and practical compared to the visa application. Here are the things you need to note in your ESTA application:

1. Prepare your machine-readable passport.
This electronic passport is supposed to have been issued after 2006 and contains your digital photo and a chip with your biographic information.

2. Fill out the ESTA application form.
The application form is available on the ESTA website and contains a number of questions pertaining to your personal information, security and law/criminal history, and arrangements regarding your travel to the US. Make sure to accomplish the form personally and don’t let a third party do the application for you.

3. Submit your application online.
Upon submission of the form and details of your ePassport, the payment for the application will be charged on your credit card. You will then be given an application number, an alpha-numeric code that you can use to log into the system to check on the status of your application.
The application number is also your authorization’s reference number and is linked to your passport number. This is what the customs officer will use to identify your authorization upon examination at the immigration counter.

4. Wait for the results of your application.
In some cases, the results are available in minutes or less than an hour. In others, processing of the application takes at most 72 hours. You can check back into the system to track your application using the application number.
The ESTA is good for two years. After the two years, you need to secure another authorization if you’re traveling again to the US. You also need to get a new authorization if you are issued a new passport even if the first authorization is still valid.