Holiday Visa for USA from UK FAQs
If you’re planning to travel to the US for a holiday, you have to have the relevant permission from US authorities to enter the country.
British tourists will usually either need ESTA authorization for visa-free travel or a B visa for tourist. Eligibility, entry requirements and costs differ depending on which option applies to you, which can make it confusing for tourists planning their trip.
In this guide, we answer commonly asked questions by British nationals looking to travel to the US on vacation.
Do I need a visa to travel to the US?
As a British national with a valid, e-passport you may be able to travel to the US without having to go through the process of applying for a US visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). To travel under the VWP, you will have to undergo security pre-screening via ESTA – the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
To apply for ESTA authorization, you have to complete the online form. The form requires you to provide personal information and asks you to answer a series of questions to determine your eligibility for visa-free travel. To be eligible, the following must apply:
- You are a national of a VWP country (such as the UK).
- You hold a valid e-passport from this country.
- You are travelling to the US temporary business or pleasure you are travelling through the US to another destination country (transit).
- Your trip is 90 days or less.
In most cases, decisions are instant, although it is recommended to apply at least 72 hours before your date of departure.
If successful, you’ll be issued a confirmation number which you will need to present at the border along with your passport. If you are denied ESTA authorization, this do not in itself mean you cannot travel to the US, but you may instead need to apply for visa. Take advice on your circumstancs to understand your options.
All travelers attempting to enter the US under the VWP must have valid ESTA, including children. You will not need to apply for ESTA if you have a valid US visa appropriate for your reason for travel.
ESTA approval remains valid for multiple visits to the US during its validity period, but it is advisable to keep the information updated in relation to your US travel and accommodation arrangements in advance of each trip to avoid delays at border control due to additional questions or information requests. If your circumstances change and you no longer qualify for ESTA, for example you have a recent criminal conviction, your ESTA status may be impacted, meaning you either need to reapply using the new information or make a relevant immigration application to the US authorities.
Is the UK one of the US Visa Waiver countries?
Yes, the UK is one of the countries participating in the US Visa Waiver Program.
This means British nationals, ie those with a valid British passport, can apply for ESTA to evidence they satisfy all of the requirements.
How much does ESTA application cost?
The ESTA application costs $14 per applicant. If your application is rejected, you will receive a partial refund of $10.
I have a criminal record – can I travel to the US?
Your options here will depend on your specific circumstances, the nature of the offense and the punishment you received.
Those offences considered less serious for example may not in themselves preclude you from travel to the US, whereas crimes involving moral turpitude will generally render you inadmissible.
Where you do have a record of criminal activity, you would need to submit a waiver of inadmissibility. This would be presented to an embassy officer together with your visa application to request entry into the US where you are otherwise deemed inadmissible by reason of your criminal record.
In all cases, full disclosure to the US immigration authorities is mandatory. Failure to declare an offense, regardless of when and where in the world it took place, would be considered visa fraud and could result in entry refusal to the US, and impact your future US visa applications.
Even where a visa waiver is granted, you may still face additional questioning and scrutiny at the border when attempting to enter the US, under Customs and Border Protection officials’ discretionary powers.
I’m not eligible for ESTA – can I apply for a visa?
If you are not eligible for ESTA travel, you will need to apply for and secure a US visa before you travel.
If you are a national of a non-Visa Waiver country, a B-2 visa will be needed to vacation in the US. You would apply using form DS-160, and providing the required supporting documents and attending a visa interview at a US consular post or Embassy in the country where you are making your application.
If you are ineligible for ESTA travel by reason of having a criminal record, it’s likely you would need to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility to accompany your visa application. This is a highly complex area of US immigration and you are advised to take professional legal advice on your circumstances to ensure you are following the required process and providing all relevant information and documentation.
How much does a US tourist visa cost?
To apply for a B visa, you will need to pay the MRV visa application fee at the time of filing your application. At the current rate this is $160.
US visa fees are subject to change and it is recommended to check the prevailing rate at the time of making your application.
I’m planning to carry out some business-related activity while I’m in the US – is that allowed?
The VWP permits tourism as well as some business-related activities, but ‘gainful employment’ is prohibited for visitors.
The B-1 business visa will cover you if you are travelling to the United States to temporarily engage in business activities, such as attending a conference or seminar, or other legitimate activities of a commercial or professional nature. The B-1 visa will not allow for gainful employment or productive activity such as operating a business.
If you are looking to combine business and tourism while in the US, you should look at the B1/B2 visa. At your visa interview, you should expect to be questioned about your plans and you will need to detail both business and leisure aspects. Note that if you secure a B2 visa on the basis of vacationing in the US with no intention to carry out business-related activity, you would be in breach of your visa conditions if you do during your stay carry out such activity, for exmaple, attending a business conference. It’s a matter of thinking ahead and ensuring your application covers your full planned activity.
Beware Border Control!
While ESTA approval or a visa will permit you to trval to the US, gaining entry will remain subject to the discretion of the border officials. You may be required to answer further questions relating to your circumstances and plans while in the US in order to be granted entry.
Travel restrictions affecting VWP travelers have become more stringent in recent years, and it will be important to confirm your eligibility, and ensure ESTA authorization is in place before you travel to the US.
NNU Immigration can advise on all aspects of the VWP, specifically in relation to eligibility, applications, notification of personal changes.
We can also provide specialist advice on the nonimmigrant visa options available to you where the VWP is not available or appropriate for your circumstances.
If you have questions on the Visa Waiver Program, please contact us.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.