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BritainUSA Home > Passport and Consular Services

Visa-Free Travel to the US for British Visitors
FCO, London, 11/1/2021

The US Department of Homeland Security announced, on June 15, a one-year extension of its Visa Waiver Program (VWP) to Oct. 26, 2006.

VWP countries, including the UK, are required to have a biometric passport issuing system in place by Oct. 26, 2006 to continue as members of the program and benefit from visa-free travel to the US after that date.

The US also announced a requirement that all new passports issued on or after Oct. 26, 2005 must contain a digital photo image to enable the holder to travel to the USA visa free.

This means that:

  • British citizens with machine-readable passports containing a digital photo image will not require a visa to visit the USA because they meet the criteria of the Oct. 26, 2005 VWP deadline.
  • British citizens with machine-readable passports but without a digital photo will still be able to visit the USA visa free until Oct. 26, 2006 as their passport was issued before the Oct. 26, 2005 deadline.
  • British citizens without a machine-readable passport must obtain a machine-readable passport or apply for a US visa before visiting the USA.

We have been advised from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that Temporary Passports issued on or after the 26 Oct 2020 are exempt from electronic chip requirements for the purpose of visa free travel to or through the US.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK Passport Service (UKPS) welcome the US decision. It will now enable the UK to finalize the developments of our biometric program and allows British visitors to continue to visit the US visa free.

Notes to editors :


1. The US Congress had introduced a requirement in 2003 that, to remain in the Visa Waiver Program, all member countries had to include a biometric identifier in their passports by Oct. 26, 2004. This deadline was subsequently extended to Oct. 26, 2005.

2. The US VWP was amended last year to include the requirement that all British visitors, including children, travelling to the US under the Program, hold a valid machine-readable passport. This is unchanged.

3. A British passport is machine-readable when there are two lines of letters, numbers and chevrons (>>>>) printed at the bottom of the personal information page (page with photograph and personal details). The text will be on a white strip on older machine-readable passports and directly on the pink page of newer passports. If there are no lines of text, the passport is not machine-readable.

4. Most UK passports are machine-readable. The change to digital photos in UK passports was introduced from 1998 onwards. A digital photograph is one where the image of the photograph has been scanned onto the data page. All new UK passports issued in the UK and overseas have digital photo images in them.

5. The US authorities have been granting a one-time exemption to Visa Waiver Program nationals arriving at US borders without a machine readable passport. However, the US Department of Homeland Security announced that this exemption period will cease on June 26, 2005, and the requirement to have a machine-readable passport will be strictly enforced.

6. Biometrics are unique personal features which are being introduced into passports to avoid the scope for identity fraud. (The three most common are face, finger and iris.)

7. The date for rollout of UK biometric passports is in the period January-July 2006.

8. Further information about passport and visa requirements for the US is available on the US Embassy website.

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