Every visitor entering the USA from abroad needs a passport. Foreign passports must be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay in the USA unless your country of origin is exempt from that requirement – see the exempt countries at this CBP website.
Foreign nationals entering the U.S. are also required to present a valid visa issued by a U.S. consular official unless they are:
- a citizen of a country eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme
- a lawful permanent resident of the USA
- a citizen of Canada orother visa exempt country
A foreign national travelling by air who is a citizen of a country eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme must have an approved ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) before travelling to the USA. You may apply for ESTA at esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta/
From 1 April 2016 travelers entering the USA must hold an e-passport that contains an integrated microchip to qualify for an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Many valid passports already fulfill this precondition. Travelers can recognize an e-passport with microchip by the universal e-passport symbol on the front cover
Canadian citizens travelling from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, by land or sea, will be required to present one of the following travel documents: Passport, Enhanced Driver's licence, Trusted Traveller Card (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST), or Secure Certificate of Indian Status.
Exceptions to the requirements include:
- Canadian citizens at pre-clearance Canadian airports may present a NEXUS card at a NEXUS kiosk.
- USA Lawful Permanent Residents are required to present a Permanent Resident Card or other evidence of permanent resident status.
- Canadian citizen children under age 16 arriving by land or sea from Canada or Mexico may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad or a Canadian Citizenship Card.
- Canadian citizen children under age 19 arriving by land or sea from Canada or Mexico and travelling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organisation, or sports team, may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.
For more CBP travel information, go to www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel.
Visa for entering the USA
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the USA must first obtain a non-immigrant visa for a temporary stay. The visa allows you to travel to the USA port of entry and request permission of the USA immigration inspector to enter the country. For general information about applying for a visitor visa, including documentation and fee requirements, please visit travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html. For information on arrival procedures in the USA, including customs requirements, please visit http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/.
Note: As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html as more information becomes available.
What is a visa?
A visa is permission to apply to enter the USA. A U.S. consular officer will issue a visa after determining that the applicant is eligible to travel to the USA under a particular visa classification.
Who needs a visa?
A visitor (temporary) visa is required of all visitors seeking to enter the USA with the exception of nationals of Canada and countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Programme. Currently, 36 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Programme. For a list of participating countries and additional information on the Visa Waiver Programme, visit travel.state.gov/content/travel/en.html.
Applying for a visitor visa
Applicants for visitor visas generally should apply at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where they live. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy or consulate consular section is required for visa applicants from ages 14-79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger and age 80 and older do not require an interview, unless the embassy or consulate asks them to be interviewed.
You can complete a U.S. visa application online at travel.state.gov. Once you have completed the application, the next step is to make an appointment for a visa application interview.
The wait time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so we strongly encourage you to apply as early as possible.
Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing times for each U.S. embassy or consulate are available at travel.state.gov. To learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and more, please visit the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply. You can find a list of all U.S. embassy and consulate websites at usembassy.gov.
There are different categories of visas that correspond to your purpose of travel, and each one has its own application procedures. If you are travelling to the USA for a reason other than tourism or temporary business—for example, to study or for temporary employment—you will need the correct visa. You can find more information at travel.state.gov.
Further visa inquiries
Questions on embassy-specific visa application procedures and questions on visa ineligibilities should be addressed to the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will be applying. Please be sure to check travel.state.gov, which has complete information about the U.S. visa process. Very often you will find the information you need.