What You Need to Know
The Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of State work together to create and maintain an effective, efficient visa process that secures America’s borders from external threats yet ensures that our country remains open to legitimate travel. Such travel is important to our international, economic and national values and interests and we welcome these visitors to the U.S.
If you want to visit (and not live in) the United States you must first obtain a visitor visa. Travelers from certain countries may be exempt. If you want to travel to the United States for reasons other than business or pleasure, such as study or work, you must apply for a visa in the appropriate category.
DHS provides a full range of online resources to help you plan your trip, manage your arrival and if needed extend your stay.
Plan Your Trip
- Obtain a Visitor VISA - (U.S. State Department) Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The visa allows a foreign citizen, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to enter the U.S.
- Determine the correct VISA category - (USCIS) There are more than 20 nonimmigrant visa types for people traveling to the United States temporarily. There are many more types of immigrant visas for those coming to live permanently in the United States. The type of visa you need is determined by the purpose of your intended travel. Get help determining the right VISA category at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration homepage.
- US-VISIT - Provides biometric identification services to federal, state and local government decision makers to help them accurately identify the people they encounter and determine whether those people pose a risk to the United States. US-VISIT currently applies to all international visitors (with limited exemptions) entering the United States, but not to U.S. citizens.
- Visa Waiver Program: Passport Requirements Timeline - As of October 26, 2006, any passport issued on or after this date by a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) country must be an e-Passport for VWP travelers to be eligible to enter the United States without a visa. If your passport is older, see requirements here
- Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) - A fully automated, electronic system for screening passengers before they begin travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program. Voluntary ESTA applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel to the United States, and Visa Waiver Program travelers are encouraged to apply for authorization as soon as they begin to plan a trip to the U.S.
- Locate a Port Of Entry - Air, Land, or Sea (CBP) - At a port of entry, CBP enforces the import and export laws and regulations of the U.S. federal government and conducts immigration policy and programs. Ports also perform agriculture inspections to protect the USA from potential carriers of animal and plant pests or diseases that could cause serious damage to America's crops, livestock, pets, and the environment.
- Global Entry Program (CBP) - Expedited screening and processing for pre-screened international travelers entering the United States.
- CBP Traveler Entry Forms (CBP) - Whether you are a visitor to the United States or U.S. citizen, each individual arriving into the United States must complete one or more of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) entry forms.
- DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) - If you have difficulties experienced during their travel screening at transportation hubs--like airports and train stations--or crossing U.S. borders, use this system to make inquiries or seek resolution.
Extend Your Stay
- Apply to Extend Your Stay - (USCIS) If you want to extend your stay in the United States, you must file a request with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on the Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status before your authorized stay expires. If you remain in the United States longer than authorized, you may be barred from returning and/or you may be removed (deported) from the United States.
- Change Your Non-Immigrant Status - (USCIS) If you want to change the purpose of your visit while in the United States, you (or in some cases your employer) must file a request with USCIS on the appropriate form before your authorized stay expires.
Beware of Scams - (Federal Trade Commission) The Department of State, Office of Visa Services, advises the public of a notable increase in fraudulent emails and letters sent to Diversity Visa (DV) program (Visa Lottery) applicants. The scammers behind these fraudulent emails and letters are posing as the U.S. government in an attempt to extract payment from DV applicants.