Will a foreign national need a Visa when entering the United States? That depends on their nationality, the purpose of the visit, duration of stay, and many other variables.

— James Albright




Some foreign nationals can bypass the Visa requirement using the Visa Waiver Program, which makes life a lot easier for everyone but requires they travel only on operators approved under the Visa Waiver Program. This used to be the exclusive domain of commercial carriers but 14 CFR 91 operators are now included.

Bear in mind this could impact you as a pilot even if your operator is not on the approved signatory list. If, for example, you fly a foreign national out of the country who entered using the Visa Waiver Program, that person cannot re-enter the United States with you. In fact, that person will have some explaining to do when he or she does re-enter the country, even on an authorized carrier.

1 — Program summary

2 — Requirements

3 — Signatory carriers



Programm summary

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP), administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the State Department, permits citizens of 38 countries[1] to travel to the United States for business or tourism for stays of up to 90 days without a visa. In return, those 38 countries must permit U.S. citizens and nationals to travel to their countries for a similar length of time without a visa for business or tourism purposes. Since its inception in 1986, the VWP has evolved into a comprehensive security partnership with many of America’s closest allies. The VWP utilizes a risk-based, multi-layered approach to detect and prevent terrorists, serious criminals, and other mala fide actors from traveling to the United States. This approach incorporates regular, national-level risk assessments concerning the impact of each program country’s participation in the VWP on U.S. national security and law enforcement interests. It also includes comprehensive vetting of individual VWP travelers prior to their departure for the United States, upon arrival at U.S. ports of entry, and during any subsequent air travel within the United States.

Source: Homeland Security Website




There are currently 39 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program:

AndoraHungaryNew Zealand
BruneiJapanSan Marino
ChileKorea, Republic ofSingapore
Czech Republic LatviaSlovakia
GermanyMonacoUnited Kingdom

Source: Homeland Security Website

Passport Requirements

Travel under the Visa Waiver Program is restricted to travelers possessing passports with specified security features. Visa Waiver Program requirements are:

  • The passport must have a machine-readable zone on the biographic page
  • The passport must be an electronic passport with a digital chip containing biometric information about the passport owner.

Source: Homeland Security Website

Digital Photographs

All Visa Waiver Program country must issue passports with a digital photograph printed on the data page or their citizens will be required to obtain a visa to travel to the United States. A digital photograph is one that is printed on the page as opposed to a photograph that is glued or laminated into the passport. It looks like the image to the right.

Source: Homeland Security Website


Signatory carriers

In order to facilitate the arrival of Visa Waiver Program (VWP) passengers, carriers need to be signatory to a current agreement with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). A carrier is required to be signatory to an agreement in order to transport aliens seeking admission as nonimmigrant visitors under the VWP (Title 8, U.S.C. § 1187(a)(5). The carriers listed below are currently signatory to the VWP and can transport passengers under the program. The date indicates the expiration of the current signed agreement. Agreements are valid for 7 years.

Source: Homeland Security Website

If you transport VWP passengers and are not a signatory carrier, fines will be levied. Use the following link to apply to CBP to become a Signatory Carrier: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/business-pleasure/vwp/signatory-status

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection department maintains a list of VWP Signatory Carriers on their website: http://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/visa-waiver-program. You need to be on that list to participate as a carrier, even if you are flying strictly 14 CFR 91.

We did this about eight years ago and it was pretty easy, taking one phone call, one letter, and a few weeks of waiting. Our contract was written with 7 years of validity.

The program is open to applicants based in the U.S. and abroad. U.S.-based operators can be either private non-revenue or charter (non-scheduled commercial). However, non-U.S. based operators without a U.S.-based subsidiary may only operate commercially. Application requires an I-775 visa waiver agreement, I-420, information on aircraft participating in the program, and a company tax ID for U.S.-based private operators or a customs bond (typically $75,000 – $100,000) for U.S. and non-U.S. based charter operators.


(Source material)

Visa Waiver Program, Homeland Security