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Do I Need a Holiday Visa for the USA?

Do I Need a Holiday Visa for the USA?

If you’re planning a vacation in the US, will you need to apply for a holiday visa for the USA or are you eligible for visa-tree travel?


US Visa Waiver Program: No Noliday Visa for the USA Required!

The VWP is the quickest and cheapest way to travel to the United States.

The VWP allows citizens of 38 countries to travel to the United States for the purposes of tourism, business or for transit through the US to another country for a period of up to 90 days without needing to apply for a US visa.

Only those who meet the requirements however can benefit from visa-free travel.

You must possess a valid electronic and machine-readable passport from one of the VWP partner nations. These are enhanced secure passports with an embedded chip containing key biometric information about you as the passport holder.

Your reason of travel has to fall within the strict conditions of the program; tourism and visiting family and friends are permissible. Undertaking employment while in the US is not allowed under the VWP.

Where your circumstances do not fit within the VWP rules, you will need to consider alternative immigration options such as the appropriate US visa.


Travelling without a Holiday Visa for the USA: Secure ESTA Authorization!

Where you are eligible under the VWP, you must obtain authorization to enter the US using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) prior to travel, such as boarding a US bound air or sea carrier.

This requires you to complete the online pre-registration form on the ESTA website at least 72 hours before departure to provide information that will enable US authorities to conduct security prescreening. Each traveller has to complete a separate form, including children.

You will ordinarily receive a decision on your ESTA application straightaway.


Refused ESTA – will I need a holiday visa to travel to the USA?

ESTA applications can be denied on the basis for many reasons. For example, if you have a criminal conviction, past or current, from anywhere in the world; where you have been denied entry to or deported from the US, or you have previously overstayed on the VWP; or where you have a serious communicable illness.

In addition, if you are a dual national of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria, you will not be eligible to travel to the United States without a visa.

Visa-free travel is also not available if you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Sudan, Syria, Somalia or Yemen any time since 1 March 2011, or Cuba since January 2021.

A refused ESTA application does not in itself mean you are unable to travel to the US – it means you cannot travel without a visa. You will instead need to consider your immigration options to secure permission to travel to the US under the relevant visa classification.



Which US holiday visa?

In circumstances where you are not eligible for visa-free travel, for example you are not a national of a VWP country, you intend to stay for longer than 90 days, or you have been refused ESTA, you will need to apply for a holiday visa to travel to the USA.

The tourist visa is the B-2 visa.

The B-2 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for those travelling to the US for the purposes of tourism, pleasure or visiting friends and family.

Additional, permissible activities under the B-2 classification include:

  • Undergoing a medical procedure or medical treatment
  • Performing as an entertainer or athlete
  • Participating in a social event hosted by fraternal, social or service organisations
  • Undertaking a short recreational course of study

You will need to provide details relating to your reason for travel in your visa application, and you should expect to be questioned on your plans during the B-2 visa interview.

In particular, the holiday visa USA will not allow for gainful employment.

If you are performing as an entertainer or athlete you must not be performing in a professional capacity, but rather as an amateur, and you must not be paid.

If you are looking to undertake a course of study, your primary purpose for being in the United States must still be tourism.

In the event that you are planning to travel to the United States for any purpose other than tourism, or for any activity that falls outside the permitted categories set out above, including to undertake paid work, you will need to apply for a different category of visa.

When applying for a holiday visa USA there are various eligibility criteria that must be met under US immigration law, namely:

  • The purpose of your trip is to enter the US on a temporary basis for the purposes of tourism, pleasure or visiting.
  • You have sufficient funds to cover your expenses during the course of your stay in the US.
  • You plan to stay in the US for a specific limited period of time.
  • You have a residence outside the US, as well as other binding ties, that will ensure your departure to your home country at the end of your visit.


Applying for a holiday visa for the USA

If you are applying for a US visa, you should always apply well in advance of your intended travel date and avoid making non-refundable travel arrangements until you have been issued a visa and are in receipt of your validated passport. As such, you will need to factor in the time and cost demands of the application process, and any impact this may have on your travel plans and budge. Seeking professionals advice well in advance of travelling to the US or prior to making any booking will help ensure you proceed with minimal stress and hassle.

A visa is an entirely separate form of travel authorization compared to ESTA that can take several weeks to process.

You will need to complete an online application using Form DS-160, pay the visa application fee, submit various documents in support and attend an interview in person at the US Embassy or Consulate in your country of residence.

Consular officers may require an interview of any visa applicant, although generally speaking it will not be necessary if you are under 14 or over 80.

At interview, you will be required to bring the following documents:

  • A print out of the Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • A print out of your appointment confirmation
  • Your application fee payment receipt, where you have already paid
  • Your passport or other travel document. Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States
  • A 5 x 5 cm (2” by 2”) colour photograph taken within the last 6 months.

You may also need documentary evidence to prove the following:

  • The purpose of your trip, for example, a travel itinerary, together with tickets or a hotel booking.
  • Your ability to pay all costs of the trip, for example, evidence of funds or evidence that someone else will cover some or all of these, such as a friend or relative.
  • Your intent to depart the US after your trip, for example, evidence of your residence and/or your family ties abroad.

Your eligibility for a holiday visa USA will be determined by the interviewing consular officer, whereby your visa application may be approved, denied or require further administrative processing.


Gaining entry into the US

It is also important to emphasize that, whilst a holiday visa USA entitles the holder to travel to the United States, it does not guarantee entry.

Any decision as to whether or not you will be admitted into the country will be at the discretion of officials and the Department of Homeland Security on your arrival at the US port of entry.

You should therefore always carry with you any documentation in support of your reason for travel, as you may need to prove your intentions.

Take professional advice on your circumstances and the options open to you to travel to the US, which may require applying for a visa.


Holiday visa for the USA FAQs

Do you need a visa for USA from UK for a holiday?

You can travel to the US visa-free for a holiday, provided you get ESTA approval first. If you’re not eligible for ESTA travel, you’ll need to apply for a visitor visa.


Do I need a visa to visit USA on holiday?

Depending on your nationality and other eligibility criteria, you may be able to visit the US visa-free if you get ESTA approval.


Do UK residents need an ESTA for USA?

UK nationals are eligible to apply for ESTA to visit the USA. If you are not eligible for ESTA, you will need a US visa.


Is ESTA free for UK citizens?

No, ESTA applications cost $21 per applicant.

This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.



Founder & Principal Attorney Nita Nicole Upadhye is a recognized leader in the field of US business immigration law (AILA) and trusted adviser to large corporates through to SMEs, providing strategic immigration and global mobility advice to support employers with both US and UK operations to meet their workforce needs through corporate immigration.

Nita successfully acts for corporations and professionals, entrepreneurs, artists, actors, and athletes from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications, and talent mobility to the USA.

Nita is an active public speaker, thought leader, immigration commentator, and immigration policy contributor and regularly hosts training sessions for employers and HR professionals

By Nita Nicole Upadhye

Nita Nicole Upadhye is the Founder & Principal Attorney at NNU Immigration. A recognized leader in the field of US immigration law, Nita successfully acts for individuals and companies from across the globe, providing expert guidance on all aspects of US visa and nationality applications.

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