July 1st, 2019 | Updated on December 10th, 2019
If you want to travel to the United States of America, you will need a visa. Citizens of most countries need a visa to visit the United States. Citizens of some countries qualify for a visa waiver.
The visa is issued by the US Embassy or Consulate located in your country. There are two categories of visa – immigrant and non-immigrant. Tourists and business visitor apply under the non-immigrant category. Immigrant visas are for those who want to relocate permanently to the United States.
The difference between the two is simple. An individual with a non-immigrant visa can stay in the United States for a period of time but is not entitled to remain permanently or become an American citizen. In contrast, an individual with an immigrant visa can remain in the United States for the rest of his or her life (barring certain criminal convictions) and is eligible to become a U.S. citizen.
2. Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
Not everyone visiting the United States needs a visa. Under the ESTA VWP, as of July 2019, nationals of 38 countries can come to America for 90 days or less without a visa. You can check the list of ESTA VWP countries.
Nationals of countries not in the ESTA VWP generally would need an in-person interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate to enter the United States for travel. The primary purpose of the interview is not to “catch terrorists,” although individuals can be denied a visa if they are considered a security threat. The key reason an individual might be denied a visitor or other temporary visa is he or she fails to convince a consular officer the individual will not return home after visiting the United States. The waiting times to schedule interviews can be long (at times weeks or months in some countries).
Canadians are not required to have a visa to enter the United States for periods of generally six months or less, as long as the purpose of the visit is not to work or study. Mexicans can obtain border-crossing cards that allow them to go back and forth from Mexico to the United States. There are two types of visitor visas: B-1 (temporary visitor for business) and B-2 (temporary visitor for pleasure). In general, neither visa entitles an individual to work in the United States. A national of these countries wishing to stay in the United States longer than 90 days, or to work or study, must obtain a visa.
Even if you are a citizen of a country in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you cannot just pack your bags, turn up at a US border post, and show your passport expecting to be allowed to enter the United States. You must first check if you are eligible. This must be done before you leave for the United States. You can check your eligibility by visiting the United States Customs and Border Patrol website https://www.cbp.gov/travel/international-visitors/esta
To use the VWP, you must have an E-passport. To check you eligibility to enter the United States under the VWP, you must obtain an authorization through the Electronic Program for Travel Authorization. The application can be made online using the official ESTA website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov/ Even minor children who are traveling to the United States on their parent’s ticket need ESTA before they can board a flight or vessel to the United States.
To get an ESTA, you must meet the certain requirement:
- Your intended travel to the United States should not exceed 90 days
- The purpose of your travel to the United States should be business or pleasure
- You should not currently possess a United States visitor visa
You need to fill in the form and pay the ESTA fees. Payment can be made using credit or debit cards: MasterCard, VISA, American Express, and Discover.
The ESTA processing fee is $14. The application will be processed only after you pay the ESTA processing fee. You can make the payment within 7 days of submitting the application online. If your application is approved and you receive the ESTA, you will be charged an additional $10.
If you do not have the time or you are not comfortable making the ESTA application by yourself, you can avail the services of many ESTA service providers who will complete the form and submit it on your behalf for a fee. Be careful when you are choosing your service provider. There are many scammers out there.
On the application form, you will be asked to provide some information about yourself:
- Contact details
- Emergency contact
- Health information
- Travel Information
- Social Media information
4. Checking The Status Of Your Application
Once you have submitted the application online, you can check ESTA status by visiting the United States Customs and Border Patrol Website.
5. Validity Of ESTA
Once your application is approved, it will be valid for two years. If your passport expires before two years, you must apply again. You can make multiple trips to the United States within the two year period.
6. Entering The United States
Nationals of ESTA VWP countries can enter the United States once they receive the ESTA. However, obtaining the ESTA does not mean automatic entry into the United States.
You will still need to show your passport to the CBP officer at the airport, seaport or border crossing. The officer will then determine whether or not you can be allowed into the United States.
Even if you are a nation of an ESTA VWP country, you may need to apply for a visitor visa to enter the United States in the following cases:
- You have a criminal record
- You are suffering from certain communicable diseases
- You have been previously denied entry into the United States
- You have been previously deported from the United States
- Post-March 1, 2011, you have travelled to Yemen, Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iraq or Iran or you hold a passport of any of these countries along with your US passport.