ESTA Travel Blogs

05 Jan

Will Croatia join the Visa Waiver Program in 2021?

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Croatia: the 40th country to enjoy visa-free USA travel with ESTA

January 2021 - In 2021, Croatia will almost certainly become the next country to enjoy visa-free travel to the United States with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). United States Secretary Mike Pompeo had a successful meeting in Dubrovnik with Croatian Prime Minister, Andrej Plenkovic, and the Minister of Foreign and European Affairs, Gordan Grlić Radman, this past fall. Discussions focused to Croatia’s joining of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) (LINK: ). Minister Grlić Radman spoke of the status of Croatia’s admission that, “this is being decided by various bodies in the United States with the support of the American embassy. I think we can expect a positive decision in the coming months.” 

What are the benefits of visa-free travel program between countries?

The ability to complete the convenient online ESTA form, rather than the extensive process required for obtaining a tourist visa facilitates an increase in travel to the USA while simultaneously decreases the labor demand for US Embassies and Consulates worldwide. For countries that participate in the visa-free program, this simplified process for obtaining the necessary travel documents promotes an increase in tourism at home as well since there is reciprocal visa-free travel for US citizens. This is of significant economic benefit for all participating countries.

What countries currently have visa-free travel to the USA?

At present, there are 39 countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program for travel to the United States, beginning with the United Kingdom in 1988 and continuing with the most recent inclusion of Poland in 2019. Citizens of the following countries enjoy the perks of this visa-free travel program: The United Kingdom, Taiwan, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain, South Korea, Slovenia, Slovakia, Singapore, San Marino, Republic of Malta, Portugal, Poland, Norway, New Zealand, Netherlands, Monaco, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Latvia, Japan, Italy, Ireland, Iceland, Greece, Germany, Hungary, France, Finland, Estonia, Denmark, Czech Republic, Chili, Brunei, Belgium, Austria, Australia, and Andorra.

What other countries are on the track to enjoy visa-free USA travel one day?

There are four remaining European Union (EU) countries that currently require a visa for USA entry. In addition to Croatia, these countries include Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Romania. It is considered that these EU countries may be next in line for visa-free travel.

Additionally, Argentina and Uruguay previously participated in the visa-free program until each experienced a financial crisis which had the potential to lead to mass emigration attempts and potential overstays of the VWP’s 90-day limit in the USA. So, although Argentina left the program in 2002 and Uruguay followed shortly after in 2003, both countries are close to satisfying the criteria for their return.

How does a country join the Visa Waiver Program?

Beginning in 2005, 19 countries were “road mapped” for the program, which means these countries expressed interest in joining, or rejoining the VWP, and are in discussion with the United States. To date, 11 of these countries have already joined and 8 remain on the list. In the next step, a “road map” country is nominated, which places them between a “road map” country and eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. Interestingly, although Croatia is likely the next country to join the program, they are not considered a “road map” country because Croatia did not join the EU until 2013. 

  • To join the program, a country must satisfy the following eligibility criteria:
  • US citizens must already receive reciprocal travel privileges to the country
  • Nonimmigrant refusal rates must be below 3% for the previous year
  • Nationals of the country must be issued biometric machine-readable passports and visas
  • Lost and stolen passports must be reported
  • Citizens of the country that may pose a threat to US national security must be reported
  • Inclusion of the country in the program does not cause any compromise to US law enforcement or security

Where is Croatia on the path toward participating in the visa-free travel program?

Croatia has nearly satisfied all the requirements for the visa-free program. US Ambassador Robert Kohorst confirmed this fall during a visit in Zagreb that Croatia’s refusal rate for visa travel applications has officially fallen below 3%, as required criteria for a country’s eligibility in the program. During this interview with reporters, US Ambassador Kohorst also noted that Croatia accomplished another important security step by implementing a new fingerprint identification system which shares information between the Croatian police officials, the US Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI. 

Most recently, an important security agreement between Croatia and the US was signed by Croatia's Minister of the Interior Davor Bozinovic and Senior US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official, Pete Flores. Essentially, this agreement is a legal platform for the exchange of passenger data for the detection, investigation, and prevention of terrorism and other serious international crimes. Minisher Bozinovic confirms, "We have been finalizing technical matters on a daily basis to have visa requirements for Croatian nationals cancelled." While the date for Croatians inclusion has not yet been set, US Ambassador Kohorst explained that the remaining criteria were primarily technical, and the US needed to review Croatia’s procedures.

Advantages for Croatian citizens to join the visa-free program

Once Croatia is part of the program, Croatian nationals will be able to enter the United States for most tourism and business trips, or for transit to another country with the ESTA authorization (HOME). Review a complete list of acceptable ESTA travel purposes in our complete guide to ESTA. A visa will not be required for these types of acceptable travel purposes, meaning it will no longer be necessary to make a visa appointment at the U.S. Embassy Zagreb, then gather the required documents, complete the paperwork, meet for the in-person interview, and wait for the decision. The entire ESTA application process may be completed from home, when it is convenient for the applicant, and results are generally received within 24 hours.

Croatian citizens that plan to live, work, or study within the United States will still be required to apply for the necessary visa through the U.S. Embassy Zagreb.

Planning for travel with the visa-free program

For eligible travelers planning to visit the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, or any place in the United States during the visa-free travel that the program allows, we invite you to read our complete ESTA guide at our ESTA Online Learning Center

Check your knowledge of travel to the US and take the Quiz for US travel with the Visa Waiver Program and ESTA.