Are you planning on traveling to the USA, or through the USA to another destination? Then you might need an ESTA and not a visa. In general, most travelers going to the USA on a holiday, business or a transit do not need a visa. Instead, you can apply for an ESTA. With an ESTA, you can stay a maximum of 90 days in the USA for tourist and business purposes. Traveling to the USA is thus possible without a US visa, by filing for an ESTA USA.
Don’t meet the requirements for an ESTA or wish to apply for a US visa?
Continue reading this page to find out how you can travel to the USA on a visa. For instance, you are required to apply for a US visa if you plan on staying in the USA for longer than 90 consecutive days, or wish to go to the USA for work or an internship. In the chapters below you will find the most important things you should keep in mind to correctly go through the application process for a US visa.
Chapters with more information about the US visa
1. Visa or ESTA?
Before you make the decision to choose for an ESTA (meaning) or US visa, it is important to know what a US visa is exactly and when you need one. In theory, everyone without the American nationality that intends to travel to the USA will need to apply for an ESTA or a US visa. A US visa is an official travel authorization to enter and stay in the country. By granting these types of travel authorizations to travelers that wish to visit the USA, the immigration service has clear oversight on who wants to enter the country, to allow for more effective control on deciding who can and cannot enter.
You are required to apply for a US visa if:
- You wish to stay in the USA for longer than 90 consecutive days.
- You wish to work in the USA.
- You are impermissible based on the “Immigration and Nationality Act (212)”.
- You travel to the USA for purposes other than tourism or business.
- You travel to the USA with an airline or transportation company which is not part of the “Visa Waiver Program”.
- Since 2011, you have been in Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Yemen, Libya, or Somalia, or have ever held the nationality of one of these countries.
Did you know that you don't need a US visa if you plan on going on a business trip, and want to stay for less than 90 consecutive days so that you can:
- Attend meetings
- Visit clients
- Visit suppliers
2.Overview of US visas
If you do not want to or cannot make use of the ESTA, you can also choose for a US visa. Take note: possession of this document does not guarantee you entry into the USA. On arrival, a customs officer can ask additional questions regarding your stay, and still deny you access.
The USA visa can be divided into two main categories: non-immigration types and immigration types. Non-immigration visas are US visas with which the purpose of the trip is to temporarily travel to the USA for tourism, business, work, or study. Immigration visas are for people who wish to emigrate to the USA.
1. Visas for tourist and business purposes
B-1 visa Temporary USA visa for business where:
- 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 US)
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 type of US visa is extended to foreign students who are enrolled at a recognized American institution. Except for the students themselves, their spouses and children are also allowed into the USA on this type. H visa A US visa which is extended to employees who are staying temporarily in the USA to work. With this type, individuals with specialized occupations can travel to the USA. J visa This type of US visa is available 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 version falls, is to increase mutual understanding between Americans and people from other countries, through educative and cultural exchanges. L visa US visa for employees of a company which is located both in the home country of the employee as well as the United States. To apply for this type, the applicant has to be in service to the company for at least a year. The L-type is valid for seven years, both for the applicant as well as his/her spouse and children. M visa This US visa is extended to students who wish to follow classes in the occupational and/or technical field. Spouses and children of these individuals are also allowed to travel to the USA through this type. O visa This US visa is extended 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 US visa is extended to athletes, entertainers, artists, or members of the team that supports these individuals with their activities. Q visa This US visa is extended to participants in an international cultural exchange program.
3. Visas for other specific purposes
A visa This USA visa is extended to representatives of foreign governments to travel to the USA, to take part in official activities of that government. This type can thus be granted to diplomats and foreign civil servants. C visa This USA visa is extended to travelers who immediately continue on their journey after arrival in the USA. This type is required for transits (for transits you can also apply for an ESTA). D visa This USA visa is extended 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 USA visa is extended to individuals who are employed with companies that deal with international trade, provide services to investors, or have done substantial investments in companies in the US. G visa This USA visa is extended 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 USA visa is extended 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 USA visa is extended to the fiance 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 version is granted to unmarried children under the age of 21. Technically this is a non-immigrant US visa, but it is treated under the category of immigrant visa. R visa This USA visa is extended to religious workers who wish to temporarily stay in the US. 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 US visa (R-2 version). S visa This USA visa is extended to witnesses or informants that help with law enforcement. Every year a maximum of 200 visas of this type are handed out, whereby a law enforcement service is required to file for it. TN visa This USA visa is extended to Canadians and Mexicans that are on the NAFTA-list. Aside from having to be on this list, they need to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and they have to work at a pre-designated place. U and T visa This USA visa is usually given to victims (or their direct family members) of crimes 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 USA visa is extended to spouses and underaged children of inhabitants of the US with a permanent residence permit. This way inhabitants with a permanent residence permit can partially bring their families to the USA, to reunite with them.
The “Green card lottery”
Aside from the abovementioned 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 US visa. These lotteries are commissioned by the American congress, where every year 50.000 visas are raffled to random participants of previously qualifying countries. It is estimated that each time, around 12 to 20 million people take part in this lottery; the chance to win is thus extremely small.
Selecting the correct US visa
It is very important to find out exactly which US visa is applicable to your situation. Aside from the visas from the three categories mentioned above, there are a number of different types. In fact, in total there are more than 185 different visas. Each type has a different purpose, different requirements, and different procedures. Should you have trouble selecting the right version, check the flyer of the “Bureau of Consular Affairs”. Perhaps this flyer can help you further, after you have read all the information about the US visa on this page.
When to apply for both a US visa and ESTA
Do you have a US visa with the specific travel purpose for which the visa was issued? Then you don't 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 (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 US embassy, to assure yourself that you are applying for the correct USA visa. When in doubt, it is best to contact the American consulate or the American 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 or public burdens
- You do not possess the required documents
- You do not qualify for the US visa in question
- You have been denied access to the USA before
- The consular clerk is not convinced you meet the requirements
However, this is only a selection of reasons why a US visa might be rejected. Remember 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 US visa
To start a US 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 your 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 US 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 planned where a mandatory interview will take place at the US consulate or embassy. Children under 13 and elderly over 80 years generally don’t have to do this mandatory interview.
Visiting instructions US embassy
Make sure to arrive well before time for the mandatory interview. There might be a line; calmly stand in the line and follow the instructions of the personel. On entry, 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 inconvienient.
Video visiting instructions US embassy