From the UK to US: travel & entry advice
To travel from the UK to the US as a British passport holder, you should first establish the type of permission you’ll need to secure before you can enter the country. Your options will be determined by factors such as purpose of travel, length of stay, your employment status and previous immigration history.
You must also ensure you understand and comply with any travel restrictions in force at the time you plan to travel. Under current regulations, travelers from the UK are subject to a US travel ban, unless the individual is exempt or qualifies for a National Interest Exemption waiver. This is in addition to holding the relevant permission to travel, either visa-free or with a valid visa.
We look at some of the more commonly used entry routes potentially available to British citizens looking to travel from the UK to the US.
Do you need a visa to travel from the UK to the US?
The UK is one of 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP allows approved nationals of Visa Waiver Countries such as the UK to travel to the US without the requirement to apply for a US visa.
Eligibility requirements for travelling from the UK to the US via the VWP include the following:
- You are a citizen or national of a Visa Waiver country (British citizens meet this requirement).
- You hold an e-passport that is valid for a minimum of 6 months after the end of your visit to the US.
- Your visit must be of a temporary nature and for the purpose of business-related activity, tourism or medical treatment, or for travelling through the US in transit to another country.
- You have been approved through ESTA before leaving the UK.
The Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) is a security pre-screen mandatory for travel under the VWP. Each individual looking to travel under the VWP will need to apply separately for ESTA, this includes children.
It is an online application process and you will not need to attend an interview at your local US embassy or consulate.
You should expect to receive a decision immediately but if more information is required, the response may take up to 72 hours.
As such, you should try where possible to make your ESTA application no later than 72 hours before your departure to account for any processing delays.
If your application is successful, you will receive a confirmation email.
Where you are not eligible for ESTA, perhaps due to a prior criminal conviction or where your purpose of travel is not permitted under VWP, it will be necessary for you to apply for the relevant US visa.
UK to US visa options
Determining your visa options will be the length of your stay and the reason for travel.
Length of stay
US visas comprise of non-immigrant visas for temporary visits to the US and immigrant visas for persons who wish to stay in the US on a permanent basis.
Non-immigrant visas require a visa to be granted through your local US embassy or consulate. This will involve making an online application and attending an interview.
By comparison, the application process for an immigrant visa can be much more complicated and costly, requiring sponsorship from a US employer, US citizen or a family member who has permanent residence in the US. Immigrant visas fall into the following categories:
- family-based, where your close family member is a US citizen or has lawful permanent residence in the US
- intercountry adoption
- special immigrant
- diversity visa
Reason for travel
Generally, visits to the US are covered by the following categories:
Tourism or short-term medical treatment
Business or employment
Study and Exchange
F and M student visas
J exchange visitor visa
Family based visas
Intercountry adoption visas
Special immigrant visas
Security screening for travel from the UK to the US
Regardless of whether you travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program or a US visa, your personal background information will be examined (‘screened’) prior to you being granted entry to the USA.
You will be asked to supply information on:
- your identity, including your biometrics (fingerprints, photograph and signature)
- your family
- any previous visits to the US
- whether you belong to a clan or tribe
- whether you have travelled to other countries during the last 5 years
- membership of or connection with professional, social or charitable organisations
- military service
- membership of or connection with a paramilitary unit, vigilante unit, rebel group, guerrilla group or insurgent organisation
- criminal history
- involvement in terrorism, war crimes or genocide
- previous immigration violations
- involvement in espionage, sabotage, or export control violations
It is always advised to adhere to full disclosure in your responses. Misrepresentation amounts to visa fraud and can impact your current US immigration status and future USCIS applications.
Are your visiting the US for employment purposes?
US immigration rules distinguish between paid for employment and business-related activities. Business-related activities include visiting the US to attend a business conference or meeting with a business client. Employment, by comparison, requires an employment contract and a salary.Unless you are a US permanent resident or US citizen, you may only work in the US on a temporary basis through a non-immigrant visa.
To take up permanent paid employment in the US, you must hold a Green Card and have the right to permanent residence in the US.
Employment visas are split into 4 main areas:
Petition based temporary employment
These visas require sponsorship from an approved US employer and include the following visas:
- H1B, person in speciality occupation
- H2A, temporary agricultural worker
- H2B, temporary non agricultural worker
- H3, trainee or special education visitor
- L, intracompany transferee
- O, individual with extraordinary ability or achievement
- P1, P2 and P3, artists, performers and athletes
- Q1, participant in international cultural exchange programme
For participants on approved exchange programmes, such as teachers, professors or certain summer workers, the J visa is suitable.
Members of the foreign press and media
The I visa covers representatives of the foreign media, such as journalists, travelling to the US to work on a short-term basis. Their work in the US, however, must be linked to educational or informational media activities carried out on behalf of a foreign media organisation.
Treaty Trader or Treaty Investor
Where a country has a treaty of commerce and navigation with the US, their citizens may be eligible to apply for an E1 (Treaty Trader) or E2 (Treaty Investor) visa. The UK has such a treaty with the US.
The Treaty Trader visa is for the purpose of carrying out substantial trade between the US and, in this instance, the UK.
The Treaty Investor visa allows for the establishment or purchase of an enterprise in the US.
Such visas may also be used for employees of a Treaty Investor or Treaty Trader, or the related company.
Whether you are travelling under the VWP or a visa, you will need to prove that you satisfy the grounds for admissibility. This includes meeting the good character requirement. This will raise issues for individuals with a criminal record. Take advice on your circumstances to understand how and if any criminal convictions could impact your eligibility and ability to enter the US. You may for example need to make an application for a waiver of admissibility.
While you may be granted a visa, you will still be required to pass border control. Even with a valid visa or ESTA, entry into the US is at the discretion of the US immigration authorities who have the right to turn you away.
Should you wish to visit the US, whether through ESTA or a visa, you are required to hold a current passport that is valid for the period of your visit.
In the case of an ESTA application, this must be an e-passport that is valid for 6 months after your date of departure from the US.
Global entry grants faster entry though border control for approved applicants at certain US airports.
As a UK citizen, you may be eligible for the Global Entry programme when travelling from the UK to the US, regardless of whether you travel by US visa or through the Visa Waiver Program.
The processing time for your visa can vary between different US embassies or consulates, the type of visa you apply for and adjudicators’ caseload. Processing times , depending on their individual application process and their specific caseload. It is always advised to visit the embassy or consulate website for news on processing times.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.