Do I Need a US Transit Visa?
Will you need a visa to transit through the United States?
If you are planning to travel through the US, ‘in transit’ to another destination, do you need to apply for a visa?
If you are eligible for the US Visa Waiver Program, (VWP), you will not be required to apply for a visa, provided you have valid ESTA authorization prior to boarding the air or sea carrier. Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are also able to transit through the US without a visa.
If you are not eligible for travel on the VWP, or if your ESTA application has been denied, you will need to apply for a US Transit visa, in the C visa category.
What is the US Transit Visa?
The C visa is a transit only visa. It allows you to enter and stay in the US for ‘immediate and continuous transit’ ie layovers, enabling you to proceed with your onward travel.
The visa grants no other privileges and you can only stay for the permitted time. You have to leave the US when your planned flight or ship departs for your next destination.
There are three types of C US transit visa:
- C-1 visa – General Transit Visa for non-US nationals travelling through the US on a layover.
- C-2 visa– U.N Headquarters Transit Visa for non-US nationals travelling to the United Nations (U.N) Headquarters in New York City or United Nations officials transiting through the U.S to go to a final destination.
- C-3 visa– Foreign Government Transit Visa for officials of foreign governments on assignment travelling through the US on a layover on their way to their final destination.
I already have ESTA authorization, do I need a transit visa?
You will not need to apply for the transit visa if you are eligible to travel on the VWP and you have been granted ESTA authorization.
I already have a B visa, do I need a transit visa?
If you already have a valid B visa, you will not need to apply for a separate transit visa. You can rely on the B visa for transit, or to stay in the US for longer than the layover, provided you remain within the conditions of the B visa.
C visa restrictions
The US transit visa does not allow you to:
- Stay in the US more than the designated time
- Travel or study in the US
- Become employed in the US
- Extend the transit visa
- Adjust or change the status of the transit visa
- Apply for a Green Card
- Have dependents on only one transit visa – each traveller must have their own transit visa
How do I get a US transit visa?
The C visa application is made outside the US, usually at the US Consular post in your country of residence. As well as completing form DS-160 and compiling supporting documentary evidence, you will also have to attend a visa interview at the post where you filed your petition.
As part of your application, you will need to evidence the onward travel to your final destination e.g. travel tickets, visa for the onward destination.
Do I need visa for a connecting flight or layover in the USA?
If you are picking up a connecting flight in the US to a destination in another country, you will need either ESTA authorization under the VWP or a valid transit visa.
How long does it take to get a US transit visa?
Transit visa processing times can vary between consular posts and the time of year, though they generally have a quicker turnaround than other visa categories due to the short-term nature of the visa.
How long is a US transit visa valid for?
The Transit visa only allows for the layover, it does not permit other activities or longer stay than necessary to proceed with your onward travel.
C visas are generally issued on the earlier date of either the departure date on your ticket or up to a maximum period of 29 days.
What about crew – does the transit visa still apply?
The rules for crew members vary depending on the circumstances.
Options can include:
- D visa – for crew members serving onboard a sea vessel or aircraft in the US.
- C-1/D visa – for crew members transiting through the US or its waters.
- B-1 OCS visa for crew members working aboard vessels within the Outer Continental Shelf.
- B visa – for crew members entering the US in periods between flights or cruises on days off work.
It is advisable to take guidance on your situation to ensure you hold lawful permission to enter, work or transit through the US as a serving crew member. Taking advice can also help with the cost, since concurrent applications for both C-1/D and B-1/B-2 visas requires only one processing fee.
This article does not constitute direct legal advice and is for informational purposes only.