Do you need a visa for the United States?

The answer is maybe – depending on where you’re from. Many countries now operate under the United States Visa Waiver Program, meaning a visa isn't required for stays of up to 90 days for travel purposes. There are 40 participating countries including the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany and Spain.

If you are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, you will need to obtain an authorisation letter that confirms you have been approved to travel. Authorisation letters can be obtained by submitting an application through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation, also known as ESTA. It takes roughly 20 minutes to apply, and you'll need to complete the application before you travel to the States.

If you're a national from a non-participating country of the Visa Waiver Program, you will instead need to apply for a non-immigrant visa. Please see the Department of State website for more information. If you're from a participating country but are a dual citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, or if you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since 1 March 2011, you will no longer be eligible and will also need to apply for a non-immigrant visa.

ESTA requirements

To apply for an ESTA, you will need to provide the following documents/information:

  • Passport details – note that you must be able to present a machine-readable passport (which meets US requirements) at the port of entry, otherwise a US visa is required
  • Valid email address
  • Contact number
  • Home address
  • Emergency contact number and email address
  • US address (you can use your starting point hotel/hostel address)

All ESTA registration applications or renewals require a US $21 fee paid by credit card, debit card PayPal. You should apply for your visa waiver authorisation at least two weeks prior to travel to avoid any last-minute delays. Once your ESTA has been approved it’s valid for two years, or until your current passport expires.

It’s important to note that if there are any discrepancies between the name on your ESTA, your passport, your tickets and even your frequent flyer membership, you may be detained at Immigration and subject to a secondary inspection which could take a few hours – not a fun way to start your trip! If you have recently changed your name, please check that your details have been updated on all your identity documents.

And remember – visa and entry requirements can change at any time, so it's always best to check for the latest information before you set off. If you have any questions or concerns about visa or entry requirements for the United States, get in touch with your nearest embassy or high commission for advice.

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