What is the Visa Waiver Program?

Last Updated on October 18, 2023

The U.S. government created the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) in 1986 to streamline business and tourism travel into the U.S. for citizens from certain countries. This program came in response to a rapidly globalizing world economy,

Today, the VWP allows citizens from 40 countries to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days without obtaining a visa at a U.S. consulate abroad.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Requirements

Travelers entering the U.S. under the VWP must possess a valid machine-readable passport and obtain authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

The following are examples of activities permitted while in the U.S. on the VWP.


  • Consult with business associates.
  • Attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference.
  • Attend short-term training(s).
  • Negotiate contracts.


  • Vacation (holiday).
  • Visit with friends or relatives.
  • Medical treatment.
  • Participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social or service organizations.
  • Participation by amateurs in musicals, sports or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating.
  • Enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation).

A country must meet certain requirements for its citizens to qualify for the VWP. For example, a country must have “an annual nonimmigrant visitor visa (i.e., B visa) refusal rate of less than 3%, or a lower average percentage over the previous two fiscal years,” according to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

VWP Countries

Some of the countries in the VWP include:

  • U.K.
  • Australia
  • Estonia
  • Germany
  • France
  • Greece
  • Norway
  • South Korea

For a full list of participating countries, please visit the State Department’s website.

What are the Benefits of the VWP?

Over the past three decades, the U.S. has reaped significant economic benefits as a result of the VWP.

In 2018 alone, VWP travelers generated $190 billion in economic output and supported nearly one million jobs, according to an analysis by the U.S. Travel Association. The same analysis states that “overseas travelers stay longer and spend more while here: an average of 18 nights and about $4,200 per person per trip.”

The VWP yields direct benefits for U.S. businesses visited by foreign tourists. According to the DHS, in FY 2014, VWP travelers injected approximately $231 million a day into local economies across the U.S.

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Envoy is pleased to provide you with this information, which was prepared in collaboration with Frank J. Fogelbach, who is a Supervising Attorney at Corporate Immigration Partners, P.C., a U.S. law firm who provides services through the Envoy Platform (the “U.S. Law Firm”).  

Content in this publication is for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. Envoy is not a law firm, and does not provide legal advice. If you would like guidance on how this information may impact your particular situation and you are a client of the U.S. Law Firm, consult your attorney. If you are not a client of the U.S. Law Firm working with Envoy, consult another qualified professional. This website does not create an attorney-client relationship with the U.S. Law Firm.