Beginning Jan. 12, international visitors to the U.S. from visa-waiver countries will need online approval before traveling to America.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is a new U.S. government requirement intended to bolster security of the Visa Waiver Program, allowing foreign travelers to be screened before they depart their home country.

The new rule applies to 34 countries, including Germany, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Japan and the Republic of Korea. The requirement also extends to foreign national dependents of U.S. active-duty members riding space-available on military aircraft to the States, according to Air Mobility Command spokesman Mark Diamond.

Travelers can apply for the Web-based authorization at, where they’ll be asked to provide information such as name and address; passport details; address while in the United States; criminal history; and whether one currently has any physical or mental disorders.

People may submit electronic applications any time prior to traveling to the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Custom Border Protection Web site. Homeland Security officials say they expect most eligibility determinations to be made almost immediately, with each approved application generally valid for two years or until the applicant’s passport expires.

No fee is required to apply, though there may be one in the future, the Web site states. Homeland Security officials note the electronic authorization is not a visa.

Prior to the new online requirement, citizens from 27 countries under the Visa Waiver Program could travel to the United States for up to 90 days without obtaining prior permission through a visa. Six countries were recently added to the program.

Foreigners considering military space-available travel to the States with their spouse might also want to take note of two recent changes to the Defense Department’s Foreign Clearance Guide, a set of regulations that govern country entry requirements:

Non-U.S. dependents who are first-time entrants or who are traveling under the Visa Waiver Program may not travel to McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. Diamond, the AMC spokesman, said McGuire does not have the Customs equipment needed to process those dependents.

Non-U.S. dependents of active-duty military members, who are traveling under the Visa Waiver Program, may travel on military aircraft (space available) with their sponsor, while the sponsor is on leave status.

Outside of those two changes, "space A travel eligibility for dependents of active-duty military members has not changed," Diamond wrote in an e-mail. "The only restriction is that dependent foreign-born spouses must have a visa to travel with their sponsor when not utilizing the" Visa Waiver Program.

A non-U.S. family member, however, may not accompany a retiree on space-available travel, Diamond said, citing an old-standing policy in DOD’s Foreign Clearance Guide. Because space-available travel does not include return ticketing, there is "no proof of return," he said, and the family member is not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program and must instead acquire a visa.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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