If you want to travel to the United States of America, you will need a US visa or ESTA USA, even if you are only transiting in the US. The only exception to this rule is made for travellers holding a valid US or Canadian passport. In most cases, you only need to apply for an ESTA for your holiday or business trip to the US, instead of a visa. On this page, you can read everything you need to know about the differences between an ESTA and a visa, and which one is required for your travel purpose.

Explanation US visa

Do I need to apply for an ESTA USA or US visa?
In general, tourists and business travellers with passports from the UK, Ireland, Switzerland and any other EU country can travel to the US with an ESTA, instead of a US visa. In most cases an ESTA will be sufficient for a holiday, visiting friends or family, medical travel purposes, or volunteering. Applying for an ESTA is easier and cheaper than a visa for the USA. Therefore, before applying for a visa for the USA, always check whether your travel purpose meets the ESTA requirements.
Read all about ESTA and whether you qualify for it here

When do I need a visa for tourism or a business trip?

Both the ESTA (what is an ESTA for the USA) and the B-1 and B-2 visas are intended for tourist, business and medical travel. In most cases, an ESTA is sufficient and you do not need to apply for a US visa.

You do need to apply for a US visa in the following cases:

• You plan to stay in the US for more than 90 consecutive days.
• Your travel purpose is not business, tourism or medical (examples of travel purposes that are not in line with the ESTA requirements include but are not limited to engaging in journalist activities, investing in the US, entering into employment at a US employer or studying in the United States).
• You are travelling on a private plane, private ship or other carrier that is not connected to the ESTA system.
• You have been in Iran, Iraq, Syria, North Korea, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia since 10 March 2011, or your (second) nationality is from one of these countries.
• You have been to Cuba on or after 12 January 2021.
• You cannot answer all the security questions on the ESTA form with ‘Noʼ.
• You do not have the nationality of a VWP country and a passport that was issued by that country.
• You are inadmissible under the Immigration and Nationality Act § 212.

Are you planning to stay in the US for a maximum of up to 90 consecutive days, and do you meet the other ESTA requirements? 
Apply for your ESTA here

Information on the US visa

There are many US visas that you can apply for. This page provides general information for each visa category. Some visa types have further subcategories with minor differences, such as a special type of visa for specific nationalities, or with different application procedures. In total, there are more than 185 different visas for the United States, so it is very important to be well-informed.

Overview of US visas

Below you can find an overview of all visa types for travel to the US. Unlike the ESTA, all other US visas must be applied for at a US embassy or consulate.

Tourist and business visas

Visa and travel purpose This is allowed This is not allowed
B-1 visa - Temporary US visa for Business Attending an educational, scientific or business conference or convention.

Consulting or negotiating with business associates.

Volunteering (also possible with an ESTA).

Attending a short training course.
Studying in the US.

Taking long-term vocational courses.

Completing an internship with work activities.

Working in the US for a US employer.

Being paid for performances or other professional achievements. Prize money does not fall under being paid and is therefore allowed.

Arriving as a crew member of a ship or aircraft.

Staying in the US permanently.
B-2 visa - Temporary US visa for tourism Going on a holiday or visiting friends/family.

Receiving medical treatment.

Participating in music and/or sports events/competitions (as an amateur).

Attending short recreational courses of less than 18 hours per week.
Combination of B-1 and B-2 A temporary US visa for business and tourism. This is a combination of visa B-1 and visa B-2.

Study and exchange visas

F visa For students wishing to pursue full-time academic studies at a US institution. Students with this visa are also allowed to work for pay, but only on campus, max 20 hours during the school year and full-time during holidays. Off campus internships are also allowed after the first year. Spouses and children of this student are also allowed to travel with this visa.
M visa For students wishing to pursue non-academic courses, such as junior or community colleges. With the M visa, students are not allowed to work or change courses. However, students are allowed to do internships when they are related to the study programme they are pursuing. Spouses and children of this student are also allowed to travel with this visa.
J visa For both students and employees participating in exchange programmes recognised by the State Department. Examples include interns, au-pairs, teachers, camp counsellors and doctors. This visa encourages exchanges to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people from other countries. The visa holders themselves apply for this visa for the USA. Spouses and children of a J visa holder are allowed to respectively stay and/or work in the US if they hold their own J-2 visas.

Work visas

H visa For workers with specialist occupations who want to come and work in the United States temporarily. There are also subcategories of the H visa for internships and certain training courses, for seasonal workers and for spouses and children of the H visa holder.
I visa For representatives of foreign media. This US visa allows journalists and other employees of the press, media or journalism to temporarily carry out their work in the US.
L visa For employees with specialised knowledge or a managerial role within companies with a branch in both the home country and the US. It can also be used to open a branch in the US. To apply for this visa, the employee must already have been employed for at least one year. The visa is valid for up to 7 years, for both the employee and their spouse and/or children. The visa allows for easier transfer of employees within companies.
O visa For individuals possessing extraordinary ability in science, art, education, business or sport. These individuals must be able to demonstrate a proven track record and prove that the work is temporary.
P visa For internationally recognised entertainers, athletes, artists or members of the team that support these individuals in their activities in the United States.
Q visa For employees participating in an exchange programme in which culture and knowledge is shared by both participating parties/countries. The Q visa is applied for by the employer on behalf of the prospective visa holder, and the visa holder must be sponsored by the employer or organisation.

US visa for other specific purposes

A visa For representatives of foreign governments to participate in diplomatic activities in the US. Immediate family members of officials can travel to the US on an A visa too. There is also a type A visa for foreign military personnel stationed in the US, but they are more likely to use a NATO visa.
C visa For travellers making a stopover in the US en route to their final destination. Tourist or business activities are not allowed with this visa. For a stopover in the US, travellers can also apply for an ESTA, if they meet the requirements.
D visa For crew members of airlines and commercial ocean vessels who often make short stops in the US. These include flight attendants, pilots, captains and service personnel aboard ships. An international crew member who needs to travel to the US to board there needs a combination of the C1 and D visa.
E visa For investors and traders seeking to do business in the US. To qualify for an E visa, there must be demonstrable involvement with the business that is being invested in, or involvement in trade with an individual in the US. Also, the investor must serve in a vital function in the company that they invest in and make a significant investment of at least $100,000.
G visa For diplomats, officials and employees already working for international organisations in the United States. Family members of applicants making up this group can also use the G visa.
R visa For religious workers seeking temporary residency in the US. They must be a member of a religious, non-profit organisation. This non-profit organisation must be based in the US for more than 2 years. Family members can also qualify for a subcategory of this visa (R-2 visa).
S visa Also known as the Snitch visa. It is meant for criminal or terrorist informants who need to help law enforcement prevent illegal activity in the US. People with criminal records or problematic immigration status may qualify for this US visa if they can actually provide valuable information. There is witness protection in America for witnesses who are in danger by providing valuable information.
TN visa For Canadians and Mexicans who have a profession or qualification that is on the NAFTA list. Also, in most cases, they must have at least a bachelorʼs degree and start working in a workplace that is pre-determined.
T and U visa This visa is generally issued to victims of severe mental or physical violence (and their immediate family members) and are willing to assist law enforcement or government officials in tracking down criminals and investigating criminal activities.
V visa (Immigration visa) This visa is issued to spouses and minor children of US residents with permanent residence permits. It allows residents with permanent residency to bring their families to the US temporarily, to reunite with their families until they receive permanent residency.
K visa (Immigration visa) This visa is issued to the fiancé(e) of a US citizen. With a K-1 visa, a non-American can still travel to the United States. However, that person must then get married to this US citizen within 90 days of arriving in the United States. After getting married, that person can become a permanent legal resident of the US. The K-2 visa is issued to unmarried children under the age of 21 of K-1 visa holders. The K-3 visa is for foreign spouses of US citizens.

When to apply for an ESTA USA in addition to a US visa

Many visas give very limited options to travellers and temporary immigrants to the US. Should you wish to undertake activities that are not allowed with the visa required for you, you can apply for both the ESTA and a US visa. The ESTA is, however, only valid for a maximum stay of 90 consecutive days in the US.

The US green card

To become a permanent citizen of the US, you must obtain a so-called green card. This is a document that allows you to stay permanently live and work in all US States. Once in possession of a green card, you may not stay outside the US for more than 365 consecutive days. Should this happen, the green card will expire and must be applied for again.

Green cards and many immigration visas have an annual cap; however, this is not the case for non-immigrant visas. If the limit has already been reached when you apply for the visa, it can sometimes take quite a while before it can be processed.

Reasons for rejection of the US visa

It can never be guaranteed that a visa application will be approved, or that you will be allowed to enter the country with an approved visa. The US Immigration Service reserves the right to reject travellers at any time. There are many possible reasons for a rejection, for example if you do not qualify for the visa you have applied for. Therefore, it is extremely important to carefully check in advance which US visa you need to apply for for your travel purpose.

Reasons for rejection may include:
• Incomplete documentation or information;
• Criminal history or public charges;
• Health reasons;
• Security reasons;
• Public opinion;
• Too little time between your previous visit and the new visit with the same visa for the US;
• Previous denial of entry to the US;
• The fact that the consular officer is not convinced you meet the requirements.

Besides these most common reasons, there are other possible reasons why a visa application may be rejected. In general, you have to meet fewer requirements to apply for an ESTA than to apply for a visa. Also note that applying for a US visa takes more time than an ESTA application. Applying for a US visa can easily take a month, while an ESTA can often be arranged within a few minutes.

Applying for a US visa

A visa application requires a few things:
• Two recently taken passport photos;
• A valid passport which is still valid for at least six months from the departure date;
• The completed visa application form;
• Proof of health insurance;
• Proof that you have sufficient financial resources during your stay in the US;
• Proof of the purpose of your journey to the United States, such as a booking confirmation, or a letter from a future employer or university in the US.

For a non-immigrant visa for the US, the DS160 form must be completed online. All questions in the form must be answered truthfully. If this information is incorrect, there is a very high chance that the visa cannot be granted. Once completed, an appointment must be booked at the consulate or embassy for a mandatory interview. Here, a consular officer will assess whether you qualify for the US visa you have applied for. Children up to the age of 13 years or elderly people from the age of 80 years usually do not have to go through this mandatory interview.

After reading the information on this page, you can also take a look at the Bureau of Consular Affairs” flier. Not all visas that exist for the US can be found on this page, but they can be found in the overview of the US immigration service.

Video US visa application

Tips for visiting a consulate/embassy
Arrive in good time. There may be a queue and your belongings will be checked on entry.
Bring as little with you as possible. Only carry the essentials, such as your identification document, other required documents and possibly a mobile phone. All electronics (phones, laptops, tablets, cameras, USB sticks, e-books) have to be checked separately, which can take a lot of time.
Stay calm and follow staff instructions. The security measures are similar to those at an airport. You have to go through security gates where your bags are opened and checked.

e-Visa.co.uk is a commercial and professional visa agency, and supports travellers in obtaining, among others, the ESTA USA. e-Visa.co.uk acts as an intermediary and is in no way part of any government. You can also apply for an ESTA directly with the immigration service (21 USD per ESTA, via esta.cbp.dhs.gov). However, not with our level of support. If you submit your application via e-Visa.co.uk, our support centre is available to you 24/7. In addition, we manually check your application and all the documents you provide before submitting it to the immigration authorities on your behalf. If we suspect any errors or omissions while doing so, we will personally contact you to ensure that your application can still be processed quickly and correctly. To use our services, you pay us 21 USD in consular fees, which we pay to the immigration service on your behalf, as well as £33.40 in service fees as compensation for our services, including VAT. Our services have saved many travellers from major problems during their trip. Should an application be rejected despite our support and verification, we will refund the full purchase price (unless an application for a previous ESTA USA was rejected for the same traveller). Read more about our services here.