The USA has always been a popular destination, simply because the size of the country means that it can offer huge variety to tourists whether you’re looking to splash out on a visit to Disney World, spend time in Salem for Halloween or live your road trip fantasies by touring from state to state. No matter what you’re looking for, you can most likely find it there. This variety means that while a lot of people within the US choose to visit a different part of America for their vacations, there’s also a large amount of people travelling to the country for leisure.
Do I need a visa?
What might surprise you however is that depending which country you hold citizenship in, you might not actually require a visa in order to travel to the U.S.
If you’re from one of the eligible nations, you’ll be able to use an automated system called the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation or ‘ETSA’. This will automatically determine your eligibility to utilise the Visa Waiver Program or ‘VWP’. As the name suggests, this is a program which allows certain travellers to enter the country without needed to apply for a visa, and can be especially useful for those who may need to enter and leave America multiple times for business or other purposes.
Eligibility gained from ESTA will normally remain valid for 24 months, but you’re able to reapply once your eligibility expires. You can also use the programme to update any changes in your circumstances such as citizenship of a new country, a change of gender or even a new passport. Although it may sound minor, a change of passport can affect your ability to travel under the VWP as the programme relies on travellers having an e-passport. This is a specific type of passport which contains a chip which shows the identity of the passport holder. If a change is made to this passport, then it needs to be altered on the ESTA so that the details match.
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What if I’m not eligible for the VWP?
Of course there are countries which aren’t eligible to use the Visa Waiver Programme, don’t worry if you’re travelling from one of them however as you do have other options. America still maintains different visitor visas and work visas which will enable you to travel to the country if you’re not from one of the VWP countries.
Due to the high numbers of tourists expected by the U.S. every year, there’s no limit to the amount of B2 Tourist Visas which America issues in a 12 month period. The application process for these visas is a little different to those using the ESTA however.
The first step is to complete the DS-160 form, which is the online non-immigrant visa application. Once this is filled out, you’ll need to pay the visa fees of $160 and book an appointment at your nearest US embassy or consulate. It’s important to pay the fee as soon as possible or you won’t be able to attend the interview at the embassy.
A B2 visa does have an advantage over the travel permits issued by the ESTA, in that it allows you to enter the United States for up to 6 months at a time while it’s valid. Travel permits however are only valid for a period of 90 days. They do also require more documentation which you’ll need to provide during your embassy interview. You’ll need to provide a passport valid for 6 months after the intended end date of your stay in America, confirmation of your interview, documents that prove your country of origin and show your intent to return there at the end of your stay, and receipts showing your payment of the visa fees. You’ll also be asked to provide financial statements showing funds available for your trip and will be asked to provide details of any social media accounts you operate. Additionally, you may need to give them a letter which explains your reasoning for visiting the United States.
As well as checking the documents you take with you, you can expect the person conducting the interview to ask you questions about your application, and some questions about your personal background. It’s important to remember that although embassy staff will attempt to process your application as quickly as possible, their ability to do this will depend upon their current workload. This means that you should make your application as early as possible, in order to ensure that your visa application is processed in plenty of time for you to travel.
We’ve already mentioned that America has a lot to offer to tourists, which means you might not be able to experience everything you wanted to within the amount of time provided by your visa. The good news is that if you’re financially able to spend more time in the U.S., you are able to extend the B2 visa for a further 6 months. This should provide you with plenty of extra time to explore and experience all the things that America can offer to those with the resources to remain in the country for an extended period of time.
Jake Carver is a writer for the Immigration Advice Service.