To travel to the land of the free and home of the brave, i.e. the USA, there are a few things you must know and do before you go. The first is that you need a visa. Or at the very least you need an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization). Even this doesn’t guarantee you entry into the country, the immigration officials decide that when you arrive.
If you’re travelling as a tourist, the ESTA aka the Visa Waiver Programme, is your first port of call. The Visa Waiver Programme has been designed to cut down on the time and stress of applying for a full visa for those who want to visit the USA. At one time, everyone who wanted to travel there had to have a visa, but now, those from designated ‘low-risk’ countries with important business or tourism links, who are visiting for business or pleasure do not need a physical paper visa.
To meet the conditions of an ESTA, you must:
- be a full citizen of one of the 36 countries in the visa waiver programme. Among these countries are the UK, Australia, France, Germany and Italy, as well as Japan, Singapore, South Korea and the Netherlands.
- hold a machine readable photo passport;
- have a return or onward bound ticket;
- only be visiting for 90 days or less and
- not hold a US Visitor Visa already.
Application can be done online and must be done at least 72 hours before travel. It costs $14 to apply directly from the Customs and Border Protection website, but you can also apply for a visa for America through a service for a fraction more which can give you more help and support.
Visas for Longer Stay or For Countries Outside The VWP
For those that hold residency from outside the Visa Waver Programme, or for those that need a visa to be able to stay up to six months, you will a non-immigrant visa; either need a B1 or a B2 American Tourist Visa. These are paper visas, and to qualify you must hold a valid passport; intend to return to your country of residence once the visa expires; be able to support yourself financially during your stay in the United States; and be of good character.
You can also apply for business visas (to engage in professional or commercial undertakings as long as it doesn’t end in financial compensation- non-immigrant), work (to earn money in America, both temporary and permanent), student (to engage n study), and family (for family of American citizens to join them in permanent residency) visas that can give the opportunity to live in America. There are many more types of visas like the famous green card. These types of visas are harder to qualify and require more evidence and testing than tourist visas or ESTAs do, so you must apply for them with much more time in hand before you want to travel.