What Foreign Countries Are Visa-Free for U.S. Citizens?

What Foreign Countries Are Visa-Free for U.S. Citizens?

What Foreign Countries Are Visa-Free for U.S. Citizens?

One of the most difficult aspects of traveling to different countries outside of the United States is the fact that each country has its own specific visa requirements. For example, if a person wants to travel to the United States as a tourist, they may want to consider obtaining a B1/B2 tourism visa, which allows them to travel up to six months a year and the visa usually lasts 10 years. Just as the United States has its own set of these requirements, so do most other foreign countries. But, to help make short-term travel easier, the United States has entered into several visa waiver agreements with foreign countries so that taxpayers who are considered U.S. citizens with a U.S. passport may travel up to 90 days for business or terrorist purposes without having to obtain a specific visa. Let’s take a look at the visa waiver program requirements as provided by USCIS.

Visa Waiver Program Requirements

There are currently 41 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program:

      • Andorra (1991)

      • Australia (1996)

      • Austria (1991)

      • Belgium (1991)

      • Brunei (1993)

      • Chile (2014)

      • Croatia (2021)

      • Czech Republic (2008)

      • Denmark (1991)

      • Estonia (2008)

      • Finland (1991)

      • France (1989)

      • Germany (1989)

      • Greece (2010)

      • Hungary (2008)

      • Iceland (1991)

      • Ireland (1995)

      • Israel (2023)

      • Italy (1989)

      • Japan (1988)

      • Korea, Republic of (2008)

      • Latvia (2008)

      • Liechtenstein (1991)

      • Lithuania (2008)

      • Luxembourg (1991)

      • Malta (2008)

      • Monaco (1991)

      • Netherlands (1989)

      • New Zealand (1991)

      • Norway (1991)

      • Poland (2019)

      • Portugal (1999)

      • San Marino (1991)

      • Singapore (1999)

      • Slovakia (2008)

      • Slovenia (1997)

      • Spain (1991)

      • Sweden (1989)

      • Switzerland (1989)

      • Taiwan (2012)

      • United Kingdom** (1988)

NOTE: The citizens of the new countries of Curacao, Bonaire, St Eustatius, Saba and St Maarten (the former Netherlands Antilles) are not eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program if they are applying for admission with passports from these countries.

Specific Passport Requirements

    • Travel under the Visa Waiver Program is restricted to travelers possessing passports with specified security features. Visa Waiver Program requirements are:

      • The passport must have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page

      • The passport must be an electronic passport with a digital chip containing biometric information about the passport owner.

        • As of April 1, 2016, all travelers must have an e-passport to use the VWP.  An e-Passport, denoted by the symbol  , is an enhanced secure passport with an embedded electronic chip. E-Passports are issued by the proper passport issuing authority and must meet international standards for securing and storing information corresponding to the passport and bearer.   

Digital Photographs

      • All Visa Waiver Program countries must issue passports with a digital photograph printed on the data page or their citizens will be required to obtain a visa to travel to the United States. A digital photograph is one that is printed on the page as opposed to a photograph that is glued or laminated into the passport. It looks like the image to the right.

        • If your passport does not have this feature, you can still travel without a visa if:

          • You are a citizen of a country that joined the Visa Waiver Program prior to 2008 and possess a valid passport containing a machine-readable zone issued before October 26, 2005, or

          • You have an “e-Passport,” which includes an integrated computer chip capable of storing biographic information from the data page, a digital photograph, and other biometric information.

      • If you were issued a passport on or after October 26, 2005 and it does not meet the aforementioned requirements, you will need to obtain a visa.

Machine-Readable Passports

      • All Visa Waiver Program countries must issue passports with a machine-readable zone. A machine-readable passport has two lines of text as letters, numbers and chevrons at the bottom of the personal information page, along with the bearer’s picture. It looks like the image below.

      • If your passport does not have this feature, you have two options:

        • Obtain a qualifying, new passport if your country of nationality is producing one, or

        • Obtain a visa.

      • Please contact your passport-issuing agency or your country’s embassy if you have questions about your country’s production of a qualifying e-Passport.

The ESTA Requirements

      • The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a fully automated, electronic system for screening passengers before they begin travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Eligible citizens or nationals from all Visa Waiver Program countries must obtain approval through ESTA prior to traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Visa Waiver Program travelers are encouraged to apply for authorization as soon as they begin to plan a trip to the United States.

      • Please refer to the ESTA webpage for more detailed information or to apply for ESTA.

Additional Information

      • For additional Frequently Asked Questions on the Visa Waiver Program, please visit CBP’s FAQ page for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

      • For more information about the Visa Waiver Program please visit the State Department’s Travel Website.

        • * With respect to all references to “country” or “countries” in this document, it should be noted that the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, Pub. L. No. 96-8, Section 4(b)(1), provides that “[w]henever the laws of the United States refer or relate to foreign countries, nations, states, governments, or similar entities, such terms shall include and such laws shall apply with respect to Taiwan.” 22 U.S.C. § 3303(b)(1). Accordingly, all references to “country” or “countries” in the Visa Waiver Program authorizing legislation, Section 217 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1187, are read to include Taiwan. This is consistent with the United States’ one-China policy, under which the United States has maintained unofficial relations with Taiwan since 1979.

        • ** British citizens only with the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

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