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The VWP allows most British Citizen passport holders to visit the US for up to 90 days. The types of journey permissible under the VWP include tourism, certain types of business visit and transit to another country. If you have a British passport that describes your nationality as something other than ‘British Citizen’, or if your passport has been extended by 12 months under exceptional measure put in place in mid 2014, you don’t qualify for entry to the US under the VWP and you’ll need to apply for a visa from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.

You may not be eligible to enter the US under the VWP if you have a criminal record or have been arrested, even if it didn’t result in a conviction.

Travel under the VWP is restricted to travellers with passports that include certain security features.

On 18 December 2015, the US Congress passed a Bill updating the requirements for the VWP. Under the new rules, with effect from 1 April 2016 all travellers wishing to enter the US under the VWP will need to hold a passport with an integrated chip (an ePassport). British passports issued since October 2006 are ePassports and carry this internationally recognised symbol on the front cover.

The new rules will also exclude from the VWP most people who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria since 1 March 2011, and those who have dual nationality of these countries. It’s not clear when this part of the new rules will be introduced, but it’s expected to be soon.

If you have doubts about whether you’re eligible to enter the US under the VWP (either now or when the new rules come into effect), or if you have any questions about visa matters generally, you should contact the nearest US Embassy or Consulate for advice.

Those travelling under the VWP arriving by air or sea should provide details online at least 72 hours before travel. This is known as an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation or ESTA. If you do not have an ESTA you’ll be refused travel to the USA. If you’re arriving by land, you do not need to complete an ESTA before you arrive at the border. Getting an ESTA is a separate process to providing your airline with advance passenger information (details of your passport, country of residence, address of your first night’s accommodation in the US etc). For more information, and to apply online, visit the official ESTAwebsite.

The VWP is intended to be used for occasional, short visits to the US. If a US immigration officer thinks you’re trying to ‘reset’ the clock by making a short trip out of the US and re-entering for another 90-day period, you can be denied entry. If you travel from the US to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean you can usually re-enter using the ESTA and admission stamp you were issued when you first arrived in the US, although the time you spend outside of the country is included in the 90 days allotted for your visit. Make sure you’re clear about the length of time the immigration officer has authorised you to remain in the US if you re-enter under the same ESTA.

When you arrive in the USA you will need to be able to show that you have enough funds available to support yourself during your stay, even if you’re staying with family and friends. Further details on the VWP and other aspects of US immigration rules are available from the Customs and Border Protection website.

More information can be found on the gov.uk website: USA Foreign Travel Advice