Do you need a visa to the United States?

Published on: Tuesday, May 16, 2017
Do you need a visa to the United States? - New York, USA

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Depending on where you are travelling from, you may fall under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), in which case you do not require a visa, subject to conditions.

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Under the VWP, citizens of certain approved countries are eligible to visit the U.S without a visa for 90 days or less, provided they have a valid passport and have not violated the terms of any past non-immigrant visa. Note that the VWP is only available to holders of an e-passport, distinguishable by the small symbol on the cover.

The 38 countries currently in the VWP are:

Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Slovakia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom[1].

For eligible nationals of these 38 countries, you still must obtain ESTA-authorisation prior to your travel. ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorisation. The cost for ESTA is $14 per application, and to apply go to esta.cbp.dhs.gov/esta.

In addition, if you have visited or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen since March 1 2011, you will not be eligible to travel under the VWP, and you must instead apply for a visa. The same applies if you are a dual nationality with Iraq, Iran, Syria and Sudan. You will need a B-1 Visa if you are visiting for business, or a B-2 Visa if you are visiting for tourism or pleasure, and the application will usually cost US$160 for most common visas.

Can you give me a few examples?

Example 1: if you’re a Malaysian citizen living and working in Singapore, and are a Singapore permanent residence, you need to apply for a visa to the United States. In this case, you can either apply for B1 (business visa), or B2 (tourism and visit).

Example 2: if you’re a French national living and working in England, and you have not been to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen on or after 1 March 2011, you can visit the US without a visa, but must apply for ESTA online.

Example 3: if you’re an Australian living and working in Dubai, and have been to Iran last year, you must apply for a B1 (business visa) or B2 (tourism and visit) at the nearest US consulate or embassy.

Transit

All passengers transit in any of the US airports must also obtain a transit visa. This does not affect qualified travellers travelling visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program. You can also sometimes use valid visitor visas to transit the US.

How to Apply

Send your application to the nearest US consulate or embassy. You will be required to go for a face-to-face interview as well, and the cost is about US$160 for common visas, with other types such as religious reasons going up to US$190. The processing time varies from country to country. You can always check the most up-to-date information on the official government page: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas.html

Anything else you need to know about?

Check the United States of America Visa & Passport Requirements page for detailed information, including if you need to have a return ticket, what should you do if you’re travelling to the States with your children, and other useful information.

Travelling to the USA

Apart from travel visa, it is important to check health risks and vaccinations, along with money and duty free information.

[1]Only United Kingdom passports notated with “British Citizens” and/or “with unrestricted right of abode in the United Kingdom” are eligible for VWP admission. Holders of passports indicating that the bearer is a British Subject, British Dependent Territories Citizen, British Overseas National or British National (Overseas) do not qualify for the VWP. In addition, a passport which grants an individual the “Right of Abode” or “Indefinite Leave to Remain” in the United Kingdom does not qualify the traveller under the Visa Waiver Program nor the ESTA. In both cases you will need to apply for a visa.