On January 12, 2009, all Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Travelers will be required to obtain travel authorization through Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to boarding a carrier to travel by air or sea to the United States under the VWP. ESTA is an automatic system used to determine the eligibility of VWP travelers to travel to the United States under the VWP. The system requires the same information as is provided on the paper Form I-94W that VWP travelers currently complete en route to the United States.
ESTA is accessible online at https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. The VWP traveler must provide biographical data including name, birth date and passport and travel information as well as answer questions about eligibility to travel under the VWP. All answers must be submitted in English, even though the site is accessible in other languages. Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel. Of the more than 732,000 ESTA applications filed since August 2008, CBP has indicated that over 99.7% have been approved with a vast majority in less than one minute. However, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) strongly recommends that VWP travelers apply for authorization at least three days prior to departing the United States. If an application for travel authorization is denied, the VWP traveler will be required to apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate before traveling to the United States. Travel authorization are valid for two years or until the traveler’s passport expires, whichever comes first.
There are currently 37 VWP countries. Nationals of seven of the 34 countries are currently already required to obtain ESTA authorizations prior to traveling to the United States through the VWP program. These countries include the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia and South Korea. Nationals from the remaining 24 VWP countries will be required to obtain ESTA authorization prior to traveling to the United States on or after January 12, 2009. These countries include Andora, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and United Kingdom. Additionally, the Department of Homeland Security has recently indicated that citizens of Malta will be able to travel to the United States beginning on December 30, 2008 through the VWP as long they have obtained authorization through ESTA.