What Is The U.S. Visa Waiver Program?

The U.S. has a program known to most as the Visa Waiver Program. A select number of countries from all over the world participate in this program which allows holders of those countries passports to arrive in the United States for 90 days visa-free.

This program mainly contains countries in Europe (Andorra, Monaco, European Union countries except for Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, and Cyprus) but also includes Asian countries (Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Brunei), Oceanian countries (Australia, New Zealand) but South America has only one country, Chile.

Countries are selected for the visa waiver program on the basis of economical stability, political stability (that means democratic government), and a high rank on the list of developed countries. Though there are some countries such as Greece who is one the poorest among the EU member states and Chile, which ranks behind Greece in the GFMAG list. Here is a full list of the countries that currently participate in the visa waiver program:


  • EU member states (except Croatia, Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Cyprus)
  • Andorra
  • Monaco


  • Japan
  • Taiwan
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • Brunei


  • Australia
  • New Zealand
  • Compact of Free Association countries


  • Bahamas (only if you apply at the Pre-clearance facilities (terms & conditions apply))
  • Canada (no ESTA (electronic system for travel authorization) required)
  • Bermuda (must have a Bermudian passport and nationality must state that you are a British dependent or a British Overseas citizen)
  • UK Virgin Islands (only for US Virgin Islands)
  • Cayman Islands (ESTA required for any kind of British Overseas passport but visa-free with a US-Cayman Islands visa waiver if traveling with Cayman Islands passport)
  • Turks & Caicos (must be traveling under any kind of a British Overseas passport and bring Turks & Caicos passport and prove the right to abode in the Turks & Caicos (terms & conditions apply))


  • Chile

Here is a list of pending countries that are seeking to join the visa waiver program:

  • Argentina (formerly part of the program)
  • Uruguay (formerly part of the program)
  • Brazil
  • Israel
  • Romania
  • Bulgaria
  • Cyprus
  • Poland
  • Turkey

Out of all pending countries that want to join the program, all the EU member states that are currently not in the program, which are Romania, Cyprus, Bulgaria, Romania, and Croatia are most likely to be granted membership due to its position as a member of the EU which is pressuring the U.S. to include those countries, even Croatia which currently is not under consideration.

Brazil, currently, will probably not be included in the program as it is in its worst recession since the Great Depression and was in a period of political instability (read more about it in my post here) which means it pretty much fails in all parts of the requirements needed to be part of the program.

Argentina is probably one of the more considerable choices but really, it is also lacking in the requirements.

Uruguay, in my opinion, should be placed as “high priority” as it is democratic, the economy is stable, as well its political environment. The country ranks high in South America for liveability.

For North American countries, I’m sure, no offense, Mexico dreams of visa-free access but that isn’t going to happen anytime soon with Trump as our new president.

However no North American country has petitioned for visa-free entry for its citizens into the U.S.

Turkey is a big no-no. The failed military coup attempt recently and the U.S. dislike for the Turkish president, as well as its freedom of the press issues which sparked anger around the world both by the general public and by media outlets is enough to receive an F grade from the Department of State.

Israel. Even though the U.S. and Israel are allies and work together thoroughly both politically and militarily. Israel is a major military ally of the U.S. and the same to the reverse. The U.S. also offers political support, often backing the leaders of Israel. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestine, it has excluded Israel from the program because it refuses to simplify border procedures for Palestinians holding American passports. The House, in 2005 when Israel applied for inclusion, passed the application by the Senate rejected the bid. Currently, Israel is under consideration and a bill as been passed saying that Israel meets all requirements and should be included in the program.

But some of the countries that are already part of the visa waiver program probably should be kicked off the list. Let’s go through all of them.

The EU member states, Andorra, and Monaco being part of the program is justified and are probably the best on the list. The only problem with the EU member states is Greece which is currently in an economical crisis but really, it isn’t going to plunge down stocks in a minute, so I’ll let that one pass.

Japan. Okay good choice. Japan is a thriving country with a stable economy and a good sense of politics. The only problem is Japan still won’t admit that it was aggressive during World War II which all other belligerents have admitted. So the U.S. might want to review its qualifications and add “honesty” to the list.

Taiwan. Taiwan isn’t even a legitimate country. The U.S. has no formal diplomatic relations with the disputed island (The People’s Republic of China has laid claim to the island) and by letting people holding passports from a country they don’t even recognize into the U.S. without visas is really stupid on the Department of State’s part. However, this is biased since I was born in the People’s Republic of China.

outh Korea. A major ally in East Asia to combat North Korea and they both hold joint military exercises annually. The country has a high GDP, and the government is stable and really democratic.

Singapore is a city-state on the edge of the Malay Peninsula. The city-state has healthy relations with the U.S. and they both have signed an FTA (free trade agreement). Singapore has a democratic system but a downfall is that the country operates with a Shari’ah based law system.

Brunei is usually hard to place on a map but for those who don’t already know where Brunei is, the small country is on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo and is surrounded by Malaysia on three sides. The country, like Singapore, imposes Shari’ah law but has a stable economy due to oil and democracy is prevalent.

Australia and New Zealand are both part of this program. Australia has good relations the U.S. as does New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand’s economy both are thriving but Australia’s at a considerably higher rate. Both countries are democratic and their human rights records are clean.

A couple Oceanian island countries, namely Micronesia, Palau, and the Marshall Islands, also have access to the U.S. for an indefinite amount of time for any purpose under the Compact of Free Association. The U.S. in turns provides defense and economic benefits.

The only country in South America that qualifies for the program is Chile. French Guiana is also in South America but as an overseas department of EU member state France. it also participates.

Chile is popular with tourists and the country is democratic. The economy is fine as with its internal factors.

For North American countries, the U.S. doesn’t seem to like its continental neighbors. It only has visa-free access for Canadian nationals which is completely fair as the U.S. and Canada both are extremely close and separating Canadians from the rest seems like a gesture of goodwill. Plus, Canadians aren’t required to apply for ESTAs.

Other UK territories also have visa-free access but only qualify with a list full of terms, eligibility requirements, and conditions of entry.

And Bahamian citizens only need to apply at a U.S. pre-clearance facility in the Bahamas with proof of no convictions for visa-free entry into the U.S.

Overall, I suggest the U.S. should probably hurry up and add the remaining EU countries to the program and strike Taiwan off. However, the addition of Uruguay, Argentina, and Oman won’t hurt as all those countries have less a 5% visa refusal rate and rank high in terms of GDP.

Image courtesy of Pixabay