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Is a visa necessary for the United States?

In this article we shall explain when you need to apply for a visa and when a simple ESTA will suffice as well as the different travel authorisations available depending on various specific situations.

This is a question asked by many people who plan to visit the USA. In fact, as this country is considered as fairly strict regarding immigration and entry into its territory it is logical to query in which situations a visa is obligatory. This is because there are different ways to obtain a travel authorisation to visit the United States including the classic visa but also the relatively recent ESTA electronic or digital travel authorisation.


The different reasons for travelling to the United States and the travel authorisation appropriate to each:

To start this article concerning the visas necessary to visit the United States here are some explanations relating to the different reasons for which a person may wish to travel to this country together with the specific travel authorisation appropriate to each situation.

Firstly, if you simply wish to visit the United States for your holiday then maybe you do not actually need a classic visa as nowadays there is another type of travel authorisation available, 100% electronic or digital, in the form of an ESTA. This is obtained through a simplified procedure that enables certain visitors that fulfil specific conditions to travel to the USA without needing to apply for a classic visa. To be able to apply for this type of travel authorisation among the conditions you need to comply with is the stipulation that your visit must not be for longer than 90 days and you are not planning to work or study there, you must simply wish to visit the United States for touristic reasons, or to visit friends or family. Another important condition to benefit from this digital travel authorisation is that you must be a citizen of one of the participating countries of this programme implemented by the United States, these include the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as Australia. Of course if you do not fulfil the conditions or plan to visit for longer than 90 days then you will need to apply for a tourist visa. This is the B2 visa that we will examine in detail later on in this article.     

If you wish to travel to the United States for the purpose of studying at an American school or university for example, whether it is for a few months or a course of several years then a simple electronic travel authorisation such as the ESTA will not be valid, you will need to apply for the specific visa appropriate to this, a study visa. This will notably require you to hold a valid passport of which the validity period extends to at least 6 months after the end of your visa, therefore your visit.  However if you plan to follow general studies in the United States trough a complete study course then you should apply for an F1 visa which will enable you to integrate your visit with a school or university course. To obtain this visa you will need to prove that you have the financial means necessary to support you for the first 12 months of your stay. One of the advantages of this visa is that it also entitles you to benefit from a work authorisation fixed at 20 hours per week maximum without requiring you to apply for a work visa.   

Let us now pass on to the particular case for a visitor who has a professional reason for travelling to the United States. For example if you wish to follow a professional training course in the country you should in this case apply for an M1 visa. This will certainly not authorise you to exercise a professional activity so to speak in American territory and you will be required to prove you have sufficient funds to cover your entire stay in the United States and all your expenses during this time.    

Another situation that may occur concerns people that wish to travel to the United States for work.  In fact if you wish to benefit from the American market and its possibilities for developing your company in the United States then you will need to consider actually moving to the USA. Depending on the individual situation several possibilities are available to you. It is important here to remember an important point; a work visa for the United States systematically requires that you have already been granted employment in this country. If you are unable to provide proof of your future employment then you are not entitled to apply for a work visa. Generally speaking, most people that wish to exercise a professional activity in the USA apply for a H1B visa which is the typical work visa. This visa covers the majority of jobs that require a diploma related to higher education.  Its period of validity in this case is 3 years maximum but the visa can be extended for a maximum total of 6 years. It is however important that you know that the number of H1B visas issued annually is limited and the United States only issues 65,000 for applicants worldwide. Another type of visa that enables you to work in the United States is the L1 visa which is specifically for company directors and those with executive status in multinational companies that are operational in the USA.  To benefit in this situation you will need to supply proof of working for at least a year in your current business.   

Let us now imagine the scenario whereby you wish to leave for the United States with the intention to permanently reside there. To live permanently in this country, or over the long term, is obviously not a situation available to many people and is not an easy proposition. In fact, to move permanently to the USA you will need more than a visa and far more than just an ESTA travel authorisation, you would need to obtain what is universally called the green card.  To obtain this ‘open sesame’ you need to participate in the well known annual lottery whereby a certain number of lucky people ‘win’ the opportunity to move there permanently. Of course these lottery winners are also required to fulfil certain conditions and complete certain administrative formalities to be eligible to live freely and permanently in the United States and find employment and lodging there.   

Another situation that may occur relates to business visits to the United States. In this case it is not to work as a salaried employee but rather to meet associates, sign contracts, and attend seminars or other professional meetings. If you find yourself in this category then you should apply for a B1 visa to visit the United States. This type of visa can be valid from 1 to 10 years depending on the individual case and will authorise you to stay in the USA for a period of up to 6 months maximum.   

Finally, let us imagine that you need to visit the USA for medical reasons, for example to benefit from specific treatment in an American hospital. In this case the B2 visa would be appropriate which applies to both touristic and medical visits as well as a visit to friends or family.


How to obtain a visa to visit the United States?

We will now examine a more practical aspect concerning the organisation of a visit to the United States. Now that you know which travel authorisation you should obtain we will explain how to apply and the procedure you need to follow.    

Concerning visa applications, the most popular are of course for the B1, B2 and B1/B2 type visas. To obtain one of these visas you will first be required to complete an official online application form that you can easily find on certain specialised websites. You will need to submit the appropriate visa application form and pay for the transfer and processing of this application by the relevant authorities. These costs and fees can also be paid for online using a credit or debit card through a secure server.  It is only when this has been completed that you can move on to the second step in your visa application; the individual interview at your closest American Embassy or consulate. In preparation for this meeting we recommend you take with you all documents and items of proof that may support your attachment to your home country such as a marriage certificate, work contract, and documents relating to property or a mortgage.    

The whole application procedure for a B type visa will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. It is therefore important that you allow plenty of time for this to ensure that you can obtain your visa well in advance of your planned departure date.     

Concerning other types of visas that you can apply for to travel to the United States such as a study visa or work visa, the procedure is roughly the same with the only major difference being in the type and range of documents you should provide as proof to support your application such as documents relating to your income or professional engagements. You will still be required to attend an interview to support your application and obtain a response.


Which documents will you need to provide for your interview when applying for a visa?

As we briefly stated above, to complete a visa application to visit the United States you will need to first complete the online application form using a specialised website such as the one we recommend here which will provide you with access to the official application form. However you will also need to attend an interview at an American Embassy in your home country. In addition to these two steps you will also need to provide certain documents and items of proof that we will detail here.

Firstly, when you complete your visa application online you will need to state your passport number. It is therefore important that you have your passport with you when you complete this procedure. Once the application form has been completed you will also need to upload an identity photograph of yourself from your computer or tablet. This photograph will need to fulfil certain requirements relating to standards implemented by American law. If you encounter any problems during the uploading of your photograph then you may skip over this step and take the photograph with you when you attend your interview at the American Embassy at a later date.

For this interview you will be required to bring certain documents and items of proof with you to support your application.  You will also need to provide a photograph if you have not already uploaded one online through the website where you originally applied. You will also need to bring your passport to this interview and provide a self addressed envelope. Other documents to support your application will need to be provided, these depend on the type of visa you wish to apply for.     

Generally speaking, concerning the most popular visa, that is the B1 and B2 visas, you need to be prepared to provide documents and proof that will support your application by confirming to the American authorities that you have no intention of extending your stay in the United States or emigrating there illegally. Therefore anything that proves your ties to your home country will be useful in this respect.  This may include family type documents such as a marriage certificate, birth certificates, work related documents such as pay slips or an employment contract, residential proof such as title deeds, mortgage or loan documents and any other similar documentary proof of your residential stability in your home country.   

In other cases you should also provide proof of your income by providing a bank statement showing a balance that is sufficient to cover your needs and expenses during the entirety of your visit. It is also possible that you will need to hold travel insurance to cover your visit to the USA.


How to obtain an ESTA for the United States?

Now that we have explained how to obtain a visit to stay in the United States we will take a few moments to also explain how to obtain an ESTA travel authorisation for the same destination.

First, it is important to remember that an ESTA electronic travel authorisation only concerns visitors that fulfil certain specific conditions. For example, only the residents of member countries of the ESTA programme can benefit. The United Kingdom and Ireland are among them and the full list of member countries can be found online. It is also necessary that you hold an electronic or biometric passport as this is what your ESTA travel authorisation will be digitally linked to. Finally, your visit to the USA must not be for longer than 90 days or 3 months and can only be for touristic or business reasons or to visit friends or family. If you do not fulfil both of these conditions then you are not able to benefit from the Visa Waiver programme and will need to complete an application for a visa that corresponds to your requirements following the procedure as explained earlier.    

But if you are entitled to apply for this simplified travel authorisation then here is the procedure you need to follow to obtain it in only a few hours. To complete your application you will first need to visit a specialised website that offers access to the official ESTA application form and complete this carefully and honestly. To complete this online application form you will need your passport number.

When the application form has been completed and submitted you will be required to pay the associated costs and fees online for your application to be examined and processed. The form will then be transmitted to the American authorities responsible for studying it and a clear response will be sent to you by email within a maximum of 72 hours.

Once your ESTA has been granted you do not need to print a document or keep it with you. In fact this travel authorisation will be automatically and digitally attached to your biometric or electronic passport and you therefore do not need to present any other document when you travel to the USA.

Without an ESTA you will need to apply for your United States visa online rapidly. To do so use our partner’s website that we have carefully selected and strongly recommend; you will find the link at the bottom of this page. They will assist you every step along the way during the application procedure and in only a short period of time and will help you greatly to obtain your visa as quickly and easily as possible at a reasonable price with online assistance in case of any problems or queries.