Everyone’s dream is to visit America at least once in a lifetime. Yet, in order to accomplish that dream many foreigners are required to undergo some lengthy procedures of obtaining a US visa.
Citizens of most of the world countries must get a specific US visa before they can enter, stay temporarily, or settle in the territory of the USA.
The visa type issued depends on the purpose of travel to the USA, varying between tourism, work, study, business or immigration. Based on that, there exist non-immigrant and immigrant visas.
However, there are some nationals who are exempt from the visa rules because they either are part of a visa-free program such as the Visa Waiver Program or are completely exempt from any authorization to enter the US.
Who Needs a Visa to Enter the US?
As we have already said, the vast majority of worldwide nationals are required to have a visa if they wish to go to the USA. In the following list, there are the 156 countries whose nationals must have a visa to enter the territory of the USA:
- Antigua and Barbuda
- Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Congo Democratic Republic
- Costa Rica
- Cote d’Ivoire
- Dominican Republic
- East Timor
- El Salvador
- Equatorial Guinea
- Federated States of Micronesia
- Guinea Bissau
- Papua New Guinea
- Republic of Congo
- Republic of Korea
- Republic of Kosovo
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Sao Tome and Principe
- Saudi Arabia
- Sierra Leone
- Solomon Islands
- South Africa
- South Sudan
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
- United Arab Emirates
- Vatican City
There are some foreign countries whose citizens are exempt from the US visa, because they have established specific agreements with the US.
Non-VWP Citizens Who are Exempt from US Visa Application
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda enjoy the freedom of traveling temporarily to the US without a having to possess a nonimmigrant visa or any other pre-entry authorization, such as ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).
- Canadian citizens – are visa free to enter and stay in the US, even to work there (they might even use an NEXUS Card or an Enhanced Driver’s License for identification, instead of a passport)
- Bermudian citizens – are also exempt of visa, for the purpose of stays less than 6 months in the US
Benefiting from the agreement “the Compacts of Free Association” with the US, citizens of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Palau are released from visa requirement for entering, staying, studying or getting employed in the US without limit.
Visa Waiver Program Countries
On the other hand, citizens of the participating country in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) can travel to the US for temporary stays of 90 days or less without a visa, if they travel for tourism or business purposes.
However, foreigners of these countries must get an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) from the US Customs and Borders Protection’s (CBP). This authorizing document categorizes the traveler as a citizen of a participating country in the VWP agreement.
All the travelers are also required to have an electronic passport with biometric information which has a machine-readable zone on its biographic page.
IMPORTANT: Changes to the Visa Waiver Program in 2016
In 2016, the U.S started implementing a change in the Visa Waiver Program under the “Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015”. Since then, certain travelers would no longer be eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
The following groups of people are affected by that change:
- Nationals of visa waiver countries who have been in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Syria, Libya, Somalia or Yemen since March 01, 2011. It should be noted that there are some exceptions for diplomats and military personnel.
- Nationals of visa waiver countries who also hold a nationality of Iran, Iraq, Sudan, or Syria.
Visa Waiver Program Countries List
As of February 28, 2014, when Chile joined the Visa Waiver Program, the following are the participating countries:
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