Traveling to the United States

Do I need a visa to travel to the United States?

How do I apply for a visa?

What can I do if my visa is delayed or denied?

What should I do once I arrive in the United States?
Do I need a visa to travel to the United States?

This page is intended to provide general information to individuals planning to visit the United States temporarily. The purpose of the visit determines what type of visa will be needed. Visitors planning to visit or attend a meeting most likely will apply for a B-1 visa.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Some visitors may not need a visa if they are citizens of one of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) countries and will stay in the United States for less than 90 days. VWP Travelers will be required to have a machine-readable passport (MRP) in order to enter the U.S. without a visa.

For more detailed information, see the State Departmentís Visa Waiver Program webpage.

Border Countries (Canada and Mexico)

To learn more about U.S. entry requirements from Canada and Mexico from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Visa Services webpage -- CLICK HERE

Also, you may visit the web site of the US Embassy in CANADA or MEXICO.

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How do I apply for a visa?

Recently implemented procedures have greatly increased the time required for visa processing. As a standard part of visa processing, the State Department is now requiring that consular officers interview many applicants. Furthermore, many visa applications are sent to the State Department in Washington, D.C. to be reviewed by several agencies. Because of the number of visas being processed and the need to be thorough with the reviews, this can take as long as several months at some consulates. Therefore, it is advisable for travelers to apply for their visa as early as possible (at least three months before the visa is needed). Contact the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy for details on visa application procedures at that post. Also, further information about the visa process can be found on the Business or Pleasure Visitors site.

Tips for Successful Visa Applications
  • Visa applicants are expected to provide evidence that they are intending to return to their country of residence. Therefore, applicants should provide proof of ďbindingĒ or sufficient ties to their residence abroad. This includes documentation of:
         - family ties in home country or country of legal permanent residence
         - property ownership
         - bank accounts
         - employment contract or statement from employer showing that position will continue
             after the visit to the United States.

  • Visa applications are more likely to be successful if done in a visitorís home country than in a third country;

  • Applicants should present their entire trip itinerary, including travel to any countries other than the United States, at the time of their visa application;

  • Include a letter of invitation from the meeting organizer or the U.S. host, specifying the subject, location and dates of the activity.

  • Provide specifics on how travel and local expenses will be covered.

  • If completion of travel plans is contingent upon early approval of the visa application, specify this at the time of the application;

  • Provide proof of professional scientific and/or educational status (students should provide a university transcript);

For more information on applying for visas see:
 - Information on applying for a U.S. nonimmigrant visa
 - Information on reciprocity tables, visa fees, security checks

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What can I do if my visa is delayed or denied?

Visa delays

Due to increased security measures, many applicants must now appear for an interview at the consulate as part of standard application procedures. In addition, many visa applications require a security review from the Department of State. For the most up-to-date information, see the State Department Notice on Current Visa Processing Situation.

Security concerns include both terrorism and technology-related issues, the latter of which often affects scientists and students whose field of study or research is on the Technology Alert List. This technology-related security review is not a new procedure; however, the number of applications being reviewed overall has increased significantly, leading to delays in the processing of applications.

For visas delayed longer than two months, applicants should contact the consulate where the application was submitted. Visa delays may also occur if a foreign national travels outside the United States for a temporary visit. For more information, see the Traveling from the United States section on this site.

Visa denials

All visa denials are reviewed by superior consular officials and must be accompanied by a written statement citing the reason for the denial. While the decision of the consular officer is final, in many cases, an applicant can reapply for a visa only if he has additional information that was not provided with the previous application. For further information on visa denials and how to reapply for a visa, see the State Departmentís page on visa denials.

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What should I do once I arrive in the United States?

All travelers arriving in the U.S. are met by an Immigration Inspector, who examines each passport and visa, and validates the Arrival-Departure (I-94) card. While the visa issued by the consulate allows a visitor to apply for admission to the United States, the final decision is made by the immigration officer. Visitors should be prepared to explain what they will be doing during their visit, where they will stay, and when they plan to return to their country.

As of January 5, 2004, all visitors to the United States holding a non-immigrant U.S. visa will be photographed and fingerprinted upon arrival. For further information see the Department of Homeland Security US-VISIT Program.

Additional Information

Health Insurance. Medical care in the United States can be very expensive. All visitors should carry adequate health insurance valid for the duration of their stay in the United States.

Driving in the United States. Visitors who wish to rent cars must have a major credit card and a valid driverís license from their own country. In some cases, an international driverís license may be required. Contact the car rental company directly for specific information.

Required Change of Address Notice. Visitors staying in the United States longer than six months must notify the U.S. government of any change in their residential address within ten 10) days or face serious consequences. Address notification should be made directly to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) using their required form.

Registration. Federal law requires that all non-U.S. citizens carry evidence of their lawful status with them at all times. This is especially important for all travel, international or domestic. It is advisable to keep copies of all pages of the passport, visa, I-94 Arrival-Departure card, and supporting documents such as DS-2019 forms, in a safe place in case of loss of the original documents.

Special Registration. On December 1, 2003, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) suspended the National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NSEERS) requirement that mandated aliens to re-register after 30-days and one year of continuous presence in the United States. Further details are available on the DHS Web site.

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