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US Visit Visa: Tourist Guide 

US Visit Visa: Tourist Guide

To enter the USA as a visitor, non-US nationals and residents must either have permission tor travel visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) or hold a relevant, valid visitor visa.

In this guide, we explain the rules on visiting the USA under the VWP or, if you’re not eligible for visa-free travel, how to apply for a US visit visa.


Visa-free travel to the US with ESTA

The Visa Waiver Program allows non-US nationals who come from Visa Waiver countries to visit the USA on a short-term basis for permissible purposes, such as tourism, without the need to obtain a visa. This means you can avoid the additional cost, time and effort involved in applying for a visa.

To qualify for the VWP, you must:

  • be a national of one of the Visa Waiver Countries
  • travel to the USA on an approved carrier, when travelling by air or sea
  • stay for no longer than 90 days
  • visit the USA for tourism, medical treatment or business
  • have ESTA authorization
  • hold a current and valid e-passport, i.e. a passport with an embedded electronic chip, the is valid for a minimum of 6 months after you plan to depart the USA.

To travel under the Visa Waiver Program, you must have secured ESTA authorization. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an online application system that pre-screens travelers prior to departure. You will be asked a series of questions to determine your eligibility for visa-free travel.

You will also need a valid passport from a Visa Waiver Country, the ability to pay the application feel and provide your contact details and, if applicable, recent employment information.

In most cases, you will find out whether your ESTA application has been successful straightaway. Where more time is required to process your application, you will usually receive a response within 72 hours.

Note that ESTA authorization does not guarantee you entry into the USA. You may still be questioned at the border (for example, about your reason for travel and itinerary during your stay), and your entry remains subject to the discretion of the US immigration authorities.

Note also that your ESTA authorization may be revoked if you become ineligible due to a change in your circumstances (such as getting a criminal record) or a change in the rules. For example, in 2023 the ESTA eligibility criteria were changed so that anyone who had traveled to Cuba since January 12, 2021, would no longer be able to visit the US visa-free.


Not eligible for visa-free travel to the USA?

Some travelers will not be eligible for ESTA authorization. For example, if you have a criminal conviction, or if you are not a national of a VWP country, or if you have previoulsy traveled to Cuba on or after January 12, 2021, you would not qualify for ESTA. You must instead apply for an appropriate visa.

Even with ESTA authorization, you must still ensure that you meet the requirements to travel visa-free. For example, if you are traveling to the USA to work or to study, or if you intend to stay in the US for longer than 90 days, you cannot travel under ESTA and will need to apply for an appropriate visa. Failure to have the required permission may result in you being refused entry. This can happen if you are questioned at the border and the authorities are not satisfied from your answers and documentation that you meet the conditions for visa-free travel.


US visit visa

If you are not eligible for ESTA, you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa to travel to the US.

For short-term travel, this would generally be either a B-1 visa for business, a B-2 visa for tourism or medical treatment.


What is the B-1 visa?

The B-1 visa allows for business-related travel to the USA such as to attend a business meeting, attend a conference, or negotiate a contract with a customer.

A B-1 visa can also be used by a personal or domestic employee as long as one of the following conditions applies:

  • Your employer is a US citizen who has a permanent residence in a foreign county or is visiting the USA on a temporary basis.
  • Your employer is a foreign citizen who is visiting the USA on a non-immigrant visa.

The B-1 visa cannot be used for the purpose of employment, any kind of paid performance or when travelling to the USA as a member of the press.


What is the B-2 visa?

The B-2 visa allows you to visit the USA for the purposes of tourism or medical treatment.

Tourism could include:

  • a holiday
  • visiting friends and family
  • taking part in an amateur event, such as a sports contest, as long as you are not being paid to participate
  • attending a short recreational study course that does not count towards a qualification

You may also use a B-2 visa to visit the USA for medical treatment within the 90 day time limit but there will be additional requirements relating to your medical condition including but not limited to the following:

  • A person with a contagious disease will not be granted a visa.
  • In the case of donating an organ, you must have documentation that proves you are a suitable donor.
  • You must prove that the treatment you intend to visit the USA to receive is not available in your own country.
  • You must provide a letter from your doctor, outlining your condition and necessary treatments.
  • A communication of acceptance from the US doctor or establishment who will provide the treatment.
  • Proof that you can afford to pay for any costs incurred.


What is the B-1/B-2 visa?

In most cases, combination B1/B2 visas are issued, which allow the traveler to partake in permissible leisure and/or business-related activities during their visit.


US visitor visa requirements

In addition to providing your current and possibly previous passports, the relevant documentation and application fee, you will be expected to show that you have no intention of remaining in the USA long-term and that your visit is temporary for business, tourism or medical purposes. You must provide proof of your residence in your home country and demonstrate that you intend to return there after your visit.

You may be asked to provide:

  • property-related documents, such as a mortgage statement, property deeds or a photograph of your home
  • employment or professional documents that could include a letter from your employer, a company registration certificate or a business card
  • financial documents, such as your latest tax return or a bank statement
  • family documents including family photographs, birth certificates or a family tree chart
  • travel documents such as a return air ticket or details of where you will stay in the USA

It will also be necessary to make an appointment to attend an interview at your local US embassy or consulate.


Common reasons for refused US visit visa applications

A visa application may be rejected if:

  • insufficient documents and proof have been provided
  • the purposes of the visit are not correct for this type of visa
  • the applicant has a criminal record
  • the applicant cannot satisfactorily prove that their intention to visit the USA is only for a temporary time
  • the applicant cannot demonstrate that they have sufficient funds to pay for the visit
  • proof has been provided that is later found to be fraudulent
  • the applicant previously stayed in the USA for a longer period than they had permission to do so


Visiting the USA with children

Whether you are from a Visa Waiver Country or need to obtain a visitor visa to travel to the USA, your child will need to have permission to travel to the US in their own right, meaning you will need to make a separate application, either for an ESTA or a visitor visa, for each child travelling with you.

In the case of the VWP/ESTA application, the child must hold their own separate passport.

To apply for a visitor visa for a child, they may use their own separate passport or, if they are registered in their parent’s passport, they may use that. However, they may only use their parent’s passport for the visa application if the parent will be accompanying the child on the visit.


Need assistance?

The process of applying for either a visitor visa or ESTA to be able to visit the USA even for a short time is not always straight forward, depending on your circumstances and in light of changing US immigration policy. You may also have concerns about a past conviction and the impact this may have on your eligibility to travel.

Specialist legal advice can help ensure you are proceeding with the correct type of application, that the correct documents and information are compiled and can guide you through the application process and interview.

If you have a question about a US visitor visa application, or any other US immigration-related matter, please contact us for advice.


Visit visa for the USA FAQs


How do I get a tourist visa for USA?

To apply for a US tourist visa, complete the online application form DS-160 and pay the filing fee. You will then need to bring a print-out of your filing confirmation with you to your visa interview.


How much is USA visitor visa?

It costs $185 to file a US visitor visa application form.


Is UK to USA visa-free?

British tourists are eligible to apply for visa-free travel to the USA by completing the ESTA application form. If ESTA authorization is refused, you will need to apply for a visa.

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

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