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Visa Waiver Program FAQs

The Visa Waiver Program and ESTA takes far less planning than applying for a visa, but is it the right fit for you? Let’s dive into the details to find out!

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

Boring definition: The Visa Waiver Program–we’ll refer to it as the VWP from now on–allows individuals from these 38 countries to travel to the U.S. temporarily for business or tourism for up to 90 days.

Boring definition translation: The VWP lets you skip the visa application if you’re traveling to the U.S. for up to 90 days.

How do I register for the VWP? 

Registering for the VWP is very straightforward. You can register online here.

I keep hearing about ESTA. What is that?

ESTA is short for Electronic System for Travel Authorization, which gives you 90 days on a business visitor status.

What can I do on ESTA?

Similar to the B-1 visa, there is a wide range of activities you can do in the US if you’re utilizing ESTA.

  • Vacation (holiday)
  • Visiting friends and family
  • Medical treatment
  • Attending events, conferences, trainings and other functions
  • Meet with business partners

What is not allowed? 

The most important thing to remember is you cannot work while you’re in U.S. If you’re traveling to the U.S. You can get reimbursed for expenses, but you won’t be able to earn a salary from a U.S. company.

Can I extend or change my status on ESTA?

No. Unlike the B-1, you won’t be able to change your extend your status while you’re in the U.S. If you think you will need to stay in the U.S. longer than 90 days, you may want to consider  the B-1 visa instead. Many startup founders participating in accelerator programs choose to get the B-1 visa to avoid having to leave the U.S. during a critical time like wrapping up fundraising. Read the B-1 FAQs here.

Do I need to book my return flight before applying for ESTA? 

Yes, you’ll need to have a round-trip ticket with a return date on or before the 90 day limit.

What other documents do I need to have in order to apply for ESTA?

Besides a round-trip plane ticket, the only other document you’ll need to provide is a valid passport from one of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program. Pro tip: Be sure your passport does not expire for at least six months after you return home!