Most Canadian citizens and many citizens from Visa Waiver Program countries can come to the U.S. without a visa if they meet certain requirements.  Visa travelers from ALL 36 Visa Waiver Program countries must present a machine-readable passport at the U.S. port of entry to enter the U.S. without a visa, otherwise a U.S. visa is required. Other passport requirements may also apply (see information below). In addition, the Department of Homeland Security also requires Visa Waiver Program travelers to complete the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application (see information below) PRIOR to boarding a flight to the United States.

The presumption in the law is that every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant.  Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that:

  • The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
  • That they plan to remain for a specific, limited period;
  • Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;
  • Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and
  • That they have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties which will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.

When making an application for a B visa at a U.S. Consulate, or when applying for admission at the Port of Entry to the United States, applicants will need to satisfy Consular Officers and/or Immigration Officers that they are entering the United States for activities that are allowed for persons entering in this visa status. 

For entry as a B-1 visitor, it is sometimes difficult to tell whether activities in the United States will be appropriate for entry in the business category, as the line between “business” and “employment” can be blurred.  Certain activities are clearly appropriate:

  • Engaging in commercial transactions, which do not involve gainful employment in the United States (such as a merchant who takes orders for goods manufactured abroad);
  • Negotiate contracts;
  • Consult with business associates;
  • Litigate;
  • Participate in scientific, educational, professional or business conventions, conferences, or seminars; or
  • Undertake independent research.


However, when a potential visitor will be performing any hands-on services, professional services or productive employment, they may not qualify for entry as a Business Visitor.

The Visa Waiver Program (“VWP”) enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa.  VWP eligible travelers may apply for a visa, if they prefer to do so.  Not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries are eligible to use the program.  However, the purposes for which a VWP applicant may enter the United States for business purposes are the same as those for the B-1 Business Visa Applicant.  No changes of nonimmigrant status or extensions of time are permissible for those persons in the United States under the visa waiver category.

Currently, 36 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as listed alphabetically below:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.


Misrepresentation of a Material Facts, or Fraud

Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States.


Staying Beyond Your Authorized Stay in the U.S. and Being Out of Status

You should carefully consider the dates of your authorized stay and make sure you are following the procedures under U.S. immigration laws.  It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record/Form I-94.  Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.

Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) and being out-of-status in the United States is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and will cause you to be ineligible for future travel to the U.S. using the Visa Waiver Program. 


Passport Requirements

All VWP travelers, regardless of age or type of passport used, must present a machine-readable passport in order to enter the United States without a visa. In addition, other passport requirements may apply:

Nationals of the Czech Republic, Estonia, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, the Republic of Korea, and the Slovak Republic require passports with an integrated chip containing the information from the data page (e-Passport).

Nationals of other VWP countries:

  • Machine readable passports issued or renewed/extended on or after October 26, 2006: passports must have integrated chips with information from the data page.
  • Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended between October 26, 2005 and October 25, 2006; passports must have digital photographs printed on the data page or integrated chips with information from the data page.
  • Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended before October 26, 2005; no further requirements.


ESTA Application

The Department of Homeland Security, Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a free, automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the VWP. It collects the same information as the paper I-94W form that VWP travelers fill out en route to the United States. ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel. An ESTA authorization generally will be valid for up to two years. Authorizations will be valid for multiple entries into the United States. DHS recommends that travelers submit an ESTA application as soon as they begin making travel plans.

ESTA applications may be completed online at the official DHS website.