Are you planning on travelling from the EU or the UK to the USA? Then you need to apply for an ESTA or a visa.
Only travellers with the American or Canadian nationality do not need to do so. This requirement also applies if EU or UK citizens are only making a transfer in the USA. In most cases, applying for a USA visa is not required. British and Irish citizens, as well as most Europeans, can make use of an ESTA. Applying for an ESTA saves money, time and effort compared to a visa application for the USA.
First check whether you actually need a U.S. visa
On this page you can find information about the different visa types for the USA. Many EU or UK citizens conclude from this that they need a B-1 or B-2 visa. Often unjustly so, because an ESTA is sufficient in most cases. First check whether you can make use of an ESTA visa. To do so, EU and UK citizens need to meet these requirements and the validity term of the ESTA. Do you need a visa after all? Then you can read the chapters below to find out which American visa type you should best apply for.
Information about the US visa
1. Do I need a visa for my trip from the UK or the EU to the USA?
Applying for a U.S. visa is not necessary if you qualify for an ESTA (meaning). This is often the case. However, there are some exceptions where a visa is required, for example if you want to invest in the United States or perform jouralistic work there.
You are only required to apply for a U.S. visa in the following situations:
- You wish to stay in the USA for longer than 90 consecutive days
- You do not have a business, medical or tourist travel purpose
- Starting 2011, you have been in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya or Somalia
- You have the (dual) nationality of one of these countries
- You are travelling with a private aeroplane or transportation company which is not part of the ESTA system
- You are unable to answer all of the safety questions in the ESTA form with "no"
- You are inadmissible based on the Immigration and Nationality Act (212)
- You do not have a passport with the nationality of a VWP country
Are you unsure whether an ESTA suffices? Learn everything about the ESTA visa here
2.Overview of U.S. visas
Are you unable to apply for an ESTA? Then you should apply for a U.S. visa. Take note: as with an ESTA visa, the approval of a visa application does not automatically guarantee you access into the United States. On arrival, the immigration service is authorised to deny you entry without needing to provide a reason. This happens if it is suspected that you pose a threat to the safety of the country, or if you are in violation of the Immigration and Nationality Act § 212. To this end, background checks are regularly conducted by way of interviewing travellers on arrival in the USA. U.S. visas can be divided into two main categories: non-immigrant types and immigrant types. Non-immigrant visas are visas for which the purpose of the trip is to temporarily travel to the USA for tourism, business, work, or to study. Immigrant visas are for people who wish to emigrate to the USA.
1. Visas for touristic and business purposes
B-1 visa Temporary USA visa for business when:
- You wish to confer or negotiate with business relations.
- You wish to attend an educational, scientific, or business convention or conference.
B-2 visa temporary USA visa for tourism when:
- You want to go on a holiday to the USA
- You want to visit family or friends
- You have to undergo medical treatment
- You wish to take part in musical or sporting events or matches
- You wish to attend a short recreational study (for example, a two-day cooking course during your vacation in the U.S.)
Combination of B-1 and B-2 A temporary USA visa for business and tourism. This is a combination of the B-1 and the B-2 visa.
It is also important to know what you cannot do on a B-1, B-2, or B-1/B-2 visa. For example, you cannot study, work, or receive payment for performances or professional services, arrive as crew member of a ship or plane, or stay in the USA permanently.
2. Visas for study or work related purposes
F visa This visa is issued to foreign students who are enrolled at a recognised American institution. Except for the students themselves, their spouses and children are also allowed into the USA on this visa type. H visa This working visa is issued to employees who are staying temporarily in the USA to work. With this visa, individuals with specialised occupations can travel to the USA. J visa This working visa is issued to employees (such as au pairs) and students that wish to make use of an exchange program. The purpose of the law under which this visa falls is to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people from other countries, through educational and cultural exchanges. L visa This working visa is issued to employees of a company which is located both in the home country of the employee as well as the United States. To apply for the L-visa, the applicant must have been employed by the company in question for at least a year. The L-type is valid for seven years, both for the applicant as well as their spouse and children. M visa This visa is issued to students who wish to attend classes in vocational and/or technical education. Spouses and children of these individuals are also allowed to travel to the USA with this visa. O visa This visa is issued to individuals who possess exceptional abilities in science, art, education, business or sports. These individuals must have a proven record, and prove that their work is temporary. P visa This visa is issued to athletes, entertainers, artists or members of the teams that support these individuals with their activities. Q visa This visa is issued to participants in an international cultural exchange program.
3. Visas for other specific purposes
A visa This visa is issued to representatives of foreign governments to travel to the USA, to take part in official activities of that government. This visa type can thus be granted to diplomats and foreign civil servants. C visa This working visa is issued to travellers who immediately continue on their journey after arrival in the USA. This visa is required for a transit (for a transit you can also apply for an ESTA). D visa This visa is issued to crew members of ships and international airlines in order to travel into the USA. These visas can thus be granted to pilots, stewardesses, captains, engineers, sailors or service personnel. E visa This visa is issued to individuals who are employed at companies that deal with international trade, provide services to investors, or have made substantial investments in companies in the USA. G visa This visa is issued to diplomats, civil servants, and employees who already work for international organisations in the USA. These visas can be granted to members of this group and their family members. I visa This visa is issued to representatives of foreign media. These visas can be granted to members of the press (such as journalists), radio, film and print media, to be able to temporarily perform their profession in the USA. K visa This visa is issued to the fiancé(e) of a citizen of the United States. With a K-1 visa, a non-American person can still travel to the USA. However, he or she is expected to marry within 90 days after arrival, or to fully settle in the United States. The K-2 visa is granted to unmarried children under the age of 21. Technically, this is a non-immigrant visa, but it is treated under the category of immigrant visa. R visa This visa is issued to religious workers who wish to temporarily stay in the USA. They have to be a member of a religious society or a non-profit organisation. This non-profit organisation must have been situated in the United States for longer than 2 years. Family members can also qualify for this visa (R-2 version). S visa This visa is issued to witnesses or informants that help with law enforcement. Each year, a maximum of 200 visas of this type are handed out, whereby a law enforcement institution is required to apply for it. TN visa This visa is issued to Canadians and Mexicans that are on the NAFTA list. Aside from having to be on this list, they need to at least have a bachelors’ degree, and they have to work at a pre-designated place. U and T visa This visa is usually issued to victims of crimes (or their direct family members) who have suffered under physical or mental abuse, and are willing to help law enforcement or government officials in finding the criminals. V visa This visa is issued to spouses and underage children of inhabitants of the USA with a permanent residence permit. This way, inhabitants with a permanent residence permit can bring part of their family to the USA, to reunite with them.
The “Green card lottery”
Aside from the above-mentioned visas, the United States also hosts the event known as the “Green card lottery”. Simply put, this is a lottery in which you can win a U.S. visa. This lottery is conducted on behalf of the American Congress, where 50.000 visas are raffled annually to random participants from prequalified countries. It is estimated that each time, around 12 to 20 million people take part in this lottery; chances of winning are therefore extremely small.
Selecting the correct U.S. visa
It is very important to find out exactly which visa is applicable to your situation. Aside from the visas from the three categories mentioned above, there are other visas. In total, there are more than 185 different visas. Each visa has a different purpose, different requirements and different procedures. If you have trouble selecting the right visa, check the flyer of the “Bureau of Consular Affairs”. This flyer might help you further, after you have read all of the information about the U.S. visa on this page.
When to apply for both a U.S. visa and ESTA
Do you have a U.S. visa with the specific travel purpose for which the visa was issued? Then you do not need to apply for an ESTA. Do you have a visa, but you want to travel to the USA for a different travel purpose than the one the visa was issued for? Then you still need to apply for an ESTA visa (or other visa type).
The rules, conditions and requirements surrounding visas in the United States change constantly. Therefore, it is important to closely examine the official websites of the American government and the U.S. embassy in the UK or in other countries, to assure yourself that you are applying for the correct USA visa. When in doubt, it is best to contact the U.S. embassy.
3. Reasons for rejection
It can, of course, occur that a visa application is rejected. This can happen on the basis of the “Immigration and Nationality Act”, but also for other reasons.
Reasons for rejection can be:
- Health reasons
- A criminal past
- Safety reasons
- Public opinion
- You do not possess the required documents
- You do not qualify for the U.S. visa in question
- You have been denied access to the USA before
- The embassy employee is not convinced you meet the requirements
However, this is only a selection of reasons why a U.S. visa might be rejected. Keep in mind that applying for a visa takes more time than an ESTA application. Applying for a USA visa can quickly take a month, while an ESTA can often be arranged in a matter of minutes.
4. Applying for a U.S. visa
To start a U.S. visa application the following is required:
- Two recent passport photos
- A passport that is still valid for a minimum of six months starting from the date of departure
- The filled-in visa application form
- Certain pieces of evidence, including:
- Proof of health insurance
- Proof that you possess sufficient financial means during your stay in the USA
- Proof with which you can show what exactly you plan to do in the USA. This could, for example, be your flight tickets, the travel plan set up by your travel agent, the confirmation of your booking, a letter from the university or a letter from your future employer in the USA
During the visa application, details and information are asked about yourself, your family and the reasons for your visit to the USA. It is important that you answer each question correctly to avoid delays during your visa application.
Video U.S. visa application
To apply for a non-immigrant USA visa, you can use a so-called DS-160 form. This DS-160 form is filled in online. After filling in and sending the form, an appointment will be scheduled during which a mandatory interview will take place at the U.S. consulate or embassy in the UK or in other countries. Children under 13 years and elderly over 80 years of age generally don’t have to take this mandatory interview.
Visiting instructions U.S. embassy in the UK and other countries
Make sure to arrive well before time for the mandatory interview. There might be a queue; calmly stand in line and follow the instructions of the personnel. When entering, you have to pass through safety gates, and any bags are opened and checked. It is wise not to bring any phones, laptops, tablets, cameras, USB sticks, e-books or other electronic devices, as these can delay your visit since they have to pass through security too. Inspection of these devices can take a lot of time, and can cause you to be late for your appointment despite arriving on time. This can make it so that the appointment has to be moved to a later date, which can be very inconvenient.
Video visiting instructions U.S. embassy