How to get a visa for the United States
- 1. Do I need a visa to travel to the United States?
- 2. Types of visas for the United States
- 3. How to apply for tourist visa for USA
- 4. Who needs to know how to apply for tourist visa to USA?
- 5. What are the requirements to apply for a visa to the United States?
- 6. Can the US visa be changed once it has been processed?
- 7. How much does a visa to the United States cost?
- 8. How far in advance do I need to apply for a US visa?
- 9. What are the borders to enter the United States?
- 10. Do you need a transit visa to travel to the United States?
The United States of America (USA) is a country in North America with an area of approximately 9 million square kilometres and a population of 326 million inhabitants. It is considered one of the world's leading economic and military powers.
The USA receives almost 80 million tourists a year spread over all its states. New York is very popular with tourists, although Los Angeles, Orlando, and Las Vegas are also highly visited and iconic cities in their own right.
Prepare to discover how to apply for tourist visa to USA, requirements, allowed points of entry and more.
Do I need a visa to travel to the United States?
Yes, before travelling to the United States, you must learn how to apply for tourist visa to USA or an electronic travel authorisation (ESTA). There are two categories of visas.
- The non-immigrant visa is for people who are going to stay a short time in the country.
- The immigrant visa is for people who want to reside permanently in the country. They must apply for the Green Card or permanent residence permit. To learn the difference between a visa and a Green Card, read our guide.
If your intention is to go to the United States for pleasure and for a holiday period up to 90 days, you must fill the ESTA application. This is a travel authorisation that is processed entirely online.
Types of visas for the United States
Non-immigrant visas for tourism and studies are the most common.
Tourist visa or ESTA
People who are not eligible for the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must apply for a face-to-face visa (tourist visa at the embassy).
If your nationality belongs to the VWP programme, you must apply for an ESTA, which is a travel authorisation for eligible persons and is valid for two years with a maximum stay of 90 days on each visit.
Eligible nationalities must also apply for an ESTA to transit through US airports. If you are stopping in the US, even if it is not your final destination, you must have arranged the authorisation.
The U.S. Government has changed the requirements to apply for an ESTA. Currently, if you have traveled to Iran, Irak, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since the 1st of March 2011 you will not be eligible for an ESTA and you will have to go to the U.S. Embassy in person to apply for a tourist visa. These rules apply to all citizens of countries that qualify for the ESTA visa waiver program.
B1/B2 Business and Tourist Visa
This visa must be applied for by people who are going to the United States for tourism or business and are not eligible to apply for ESTA. People who are eligible for ESTA or those who currently have a valid ESTA but want to spend more than 90 days in the country in a row, should also apply.
This visa is for persons who are required to transit through the United States and are not eligible for ESTA.
Visa for a commercial crew or flight crew C1/D
This visa is granted to crew members of aeroplanes and cruise ships for stopovers on US soil. Even if it is a short stop, they are required to have this visa.
This visa allows you to make business, trade or investment activities in the United States.
Student F and M visas
The F type visa is for international students who go to a school or university for academic reasons, for a stay of more than 90 days.
Exchange visa J
The J-1 visa is for foreigners participating in an exchange programme, regardless of the studies they are taking.
Temporary employment visa or H, I, L, O, P, Q, R activities
H-1B is awarded to highly qualified persons with higher education and high experience in their profession.
H-2A for all persons in temporary employment in the agricultural sector.
H-2B for all persons engaged in temporary employment outside the agricultural sector.
Media and journalists, I
This visa is for people qualified to work in foreign media or activities, who perform their activity in the United States.
Transferred Personnel L
Workers who are transferred by their employer to the United States must apply for this visa.
People with extraordinary skills OR
This visa is required for people with superior skills in science, arts, education or business.
All athletes attending sporting events, competitions or training sessions must apply for this visa.
International cultural exchange Q
This visa is necessary for people to make a cultural change or exchange.
Religious Worker R
This visa is necessary for religious workers who want to work in a religious foundation for a temporary period.
Members of International Organizations G
G-1 Members of a mission from governments attending an international event.
G-2 For government representatives travelling temporarily for international events.
G-4 For persons appointed to an international commission to attend United Nations meetings or events.
Diplomatic visas and A-grade employees
A-1 Required for heads of state, ambassadors, ministers or consuls and representatives of the European Union or African Union delegation.
A-2 Required for all employees of an embassy or consulate within US territory.
How to apply for tourist visa for USA
All visas for travel to the United States that are not for tourism or business reasons, or that require a stay of more than 90 continuous days in the country, must be applied for in-person through the embassy of the U.S. government in your country.
If you are travelling to the United States for tourism or business with a maximum stay of 90 days and are eligible for the visa waiver program, you must learn how to apply for tourist visa to USA, or how to apply for an ESTA online. This travel authorisation is only issued online and cannot be made through the embassy. It can be done through an agency such as Visagov.com which will help process it.
To process the ESTA, you must complete the form with the information requested, make the payment and wait to receive the approval by email.
Who needs to know how to apply for tourist visa to USA?
All foreign citizens need to know how to apply for tourist visa for USA or ESTA to enter the United States of America. The only citizens exempt from having to know how to apply for tourist visa for USA or ESTA are citizens of Canada and Bermuda, who may visit the country with their passport only.
What are the requirements to apply for a visa to the United States?
The US entry requirements are quite strict.
You cannot have a criminal record or any convictions for a crime to apply for a visa or an ESTA to the United States. If you have had any problems with the law, you must go to the American embassy and discuss your case from there. If you omit this information, you will be sent back to your country when you arrive at border control.
Nor can you enter the country if you have an infectious disease or serious mental health issue. You have to have a valid US passport. The US passport validity required is of at least 6 months from the start of your trip. The ESTA is valid for 2 years, or until your passport expires. Therefore, if your passport is less than 2 years away from expiring, the ESTA will be valid for less than 2 years. In addition to the passport, you must complete the application form and have a credit or debit card to pay the visa fees.
If everything is correct, you will receive your approval by email within approximately 48/72 hours.
Can the US visa be changed once it has been processed?
No. It is not possible to change any data once we have sent the application. If you have made a mistake, you will have to process a new application. You can ask for as many applications as needed, but you will need to pay the fees each time.
If you process through an external company such as visagov.com, they will check your form and make sure everything is correct.
How much does a visa to the United States cost?
The price will depend on the type of visa needed. The ESTA travel authorisation costs $14 in government fees.
Visas that have to be processed from the embassy have different prices, depending on what is needed. It is best to make an appointment at the embassy nearest to your place of residence and they will inform you of the associated prices and requirements.
How far in advance do I need to apply for a US visa?
The time will depend on the visa needed and the how you apply. In the case of non-immigrant visas, you must apply a minimum of 6 months in advance. If you belong to the immigrant category, you must apply between 3 and 9 months in advance.
If your visa is for tourism or business, you can apply for an ESTA, which is the most straightforward way to apply. In this case, it is sufficient to apply online 48/72 hours in advance of travel. However, it is advisable to apply 15 days in advance in case of any problems that may arise.
What are the borders to enter the United States?
The United States has 2 land borders, including:
- Mexico, with more than 40 border posts along the entire land border
- Canada, which has 13 border posts on US territory and 8 posts on Canadian territory
The United States is the country with the most airports in the world. Most cities have one or more airports which makes travelling in the United States easy.
It is also possible to enter by sea, by private boat or by cruise ship, from different points of the country. There are more than 300 seaports around the whole territory.
Do you need a transit visa to travel to the United States?
Yes, every person traveling to another destination through the US is going to need to know how to apply for tourist visa to USA. If you are part of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you will need to apply for an ESTA. If you are not, then apply for the regular transit visa in person at the embassy.
Juan José Herranz
Hello! I'm Juan Jose, a boy from Extremadura who loves to travel and share his experiences with readers. I write articles for Visagov.com and I also help users to process electronic visas for all countries in the world that require it. I'm more of the mountains than the beach, so the quiet destinations with green landscapes are my favorites.