The US Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows Canadian citizens and citizens of 38 other countries to enter the U.S. under limited conditions and for a limited time without the need to first seek a visa.
Visitors or residents of Canada who intend to travel to the United States, and are citizens of any of the countries included in the program qualify for visa-free entry to the United States. Note that some travelers may not be eligible to enter the U.S. visa free under the VWP.
These include people who have been arrested, even if the arrest did not evolve into a criminal conviction, those with criminal records (even if they are subject to a pardon, amnesty, or other act of clemency), certain serious communicable illnesses, and those who have been denied entry into or have been deported from, the United States or have previously overstayed on the visa waiver program.
Additionally, under the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015, those who have traveled to or been in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen on or after March 1, 2011 (with notable exceptions for travel for diplomatic or military purposes in the service of a VWP country) OR travelers who are also citizens of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan and/or Syria no longer qualify to travel on the VWP.
Note that being eligible for this program does not also mean you are inadmissible to the United States, howbeit, you may need to apply for a B-1 business visa or B-2 holiday visa to legally visit the USA. When you gain entry into the US using the VWP, ensure to consider the dates of your authorized stay and make certain that you are complying with the procedures under U.S. immigration laws.
You must leave the U.S. on or before the last day you are permitted to be in the U.S. on any given trip, depending on the inscribed end date on your Arrival-Departure Record/Form I-94. Failure to leave the U.S. will cause you to be out of status.
Also note that not leaving the United States or staying beyond the period specifically noted 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 this will have an impact on your passport and cause you to be ineligible for future travel to the U.S. using the Visa Waiver Program.
Requirements for Applying for the US Visa Waiver Program for Canadian Citizens
As with everything relating to immigration, there are requirements you are expected to meet to obtain the US Visa Waiver. These requirements include;
To enter the U.S. from Canada on the Visa Waiver Program, you will be expected to meet the following general requirements:
- Be a citizen of Canada, and in possession of a VWP-compliant passport.
- Have the ESTA authorization
- Stay in the U.S. for 90 days or less
- Plan to travel for:
- Business- The sole aim of your intended travel is to meet with business associates, travel for a scientific, educational, and professional or business convention, or conference on specific dates, settle an estate, or negotiate a contract.
- Pleasure/Tourism- The sole aim of your intended travel is recreational, such as tourism, vacation (holiday), amusement, visits with friends or relatives, rest, medical treatment, activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature, and participation by amateurs, who will receive no remuneration, in musical, sports and similar events or contests.
- Transit- If you are just moving through the United States.
- If you are traveling on an electronic ticket, a copy of the itinerary will be required for presentation to the immigration inspector.
- Coming into the United States aboard an air or sea carrier that has agreed to participate in the program.
- If entering the U.S. by land, coupled with the necessary documentation, you must satisfy the inspecting officer that you have funds to support yourself during your stay and to depart the U.S.
All VWP travelers, irrespective of age or type of passport used, are expected to come with a machine-readable passport. Also depending on when VWP travelers’ passports were issued, other passport requirements to consider include:
- Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended on or after October 26, 2006, will need an integrated chip with information from the data page (e-Passport).
- Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended between October 26, 2005, and October 25, 2006, will need a digital photograph printed on the data page.
- Machine-readable passports issued or renewed/extended before October 26, 2005 have no further requirements.
- Possess a passport that is valid for six months beyond the period of your intended stay in the U.S.
- If you are traveling visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program, your passport needs to be valid for at least 90 days. If your passport is not valid for 90 days, you will be admitted into the U.S. until the date on which the passport expires.
If you are a traveler from Canada to the US under the Visa Waiver Program and your passport fails to meet these requirements, you may want to seek a new VWP-compliant passport from the passport issuing authority in Canada; else you cannot travel under VWP and you will have to seek a visa in your valid passport for entry into the U.S.
How to Apply for the US Visa Waiver Program
To travel under the Visa Waiver Program, you will first need an approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is a fully automated, electronic system for evaluating passengers before they start to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
Note that qualifying citizens or nationals from Canada will be expected to get approval through ESTA before traveling to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. To apply for ESTA and get approval to travel to the US under this program, here are steps to consider;
- Obtain an e-Passport to use the VWP. Note that this type of passport is also known as an electronic passport and has an embedded chip in it.
- Fill out the (ESTA) online application. ESTA evaluates the eligibility of a visitor to travel to the U.S. under the VWP.
- The processing fee is $4.00, and if you are approved, there is an extra $10.00 authorization charge.
- Once you submit your application, you will get an ESTA application number. Note that this number can be used to check the status of your application if it has been accepted to travel to the U.S.
Just as was noted above, the Visa Waiver Program permits citizens of participating countries like Canada to travel to the United States for business or tourism, and also stay up to 90 days without a visa.
Note that not all countries participate in the VWP, and not all travelers from VWP countries qualify to use the program. Also, note that no changes of non-immigrant status or extensions of time are allowed for those persons in the United States under the visa waiver category.