Normally the procedure to enter the United States is fairly simple if you are a national of one of the visa-waiver countries. If you want to fly to New York or anywhere else in the US for tourism or business purposes, you just have to apply online for what is known as an ESTA. If everything goes according to plan, you will have the approved authorization in our mailbox within minutes.
However, this does not apply if you are arriving by car, train, cruise ship, or private yacht. In that case, you will have to apply for a B1/B2 visa. The B1 is for approved business purposes, e.g., attending a meeting or entering negotiations. The B2 is for visits related to tourism or visiting friends and family in the U.S. You can also get a combination B1/B2 visa. These visas will remain valid for a period of 10 years and allow you to enter the United States for up to six months at a time.
The U.S. visa application process
If at all possible, try to schedule your visa interview at an American consulate or embassy in your home country. Yes, you can schedule it at a different U.S. consulate or embassy, but be aware that it could be more difficult and take much longer when you are not applying from your home country.
The waiting period for interview appointments also varies by visa category, season, and location, so don’t wait until the last moment to apply for that U.S. visa.
Why can’t I apply for a crew member visa (D)?
Crew members on board private yachts are specifically excluded by the authorities.
What documents must one have with you when going for a U.S. visa appointment?
Before you arrive at the visa interview, make sure you have all the following documents ready:
- A valid passport. Unless there is a specific agreement between your country and the U.S., your passport should be valid for six months or longer after your visit to the United States comes to an end.
- Every individual in your group who requires a visa has to submit his or her own application. You cannot apply on behalf of e.g., family members or crew members.
- The confirmation page that proves you submitted a visa application (Form DS-160)
- If you have to pay before the interview, the receipt to prove that you paid the relevant application fee.
- Your photo. You are required to upload a recent photo of yourself during the online application process. In case this upload is not successful, you will have to bring a printed copy of your photo in the format set out in the Photograph Requirements.
You might also be required to provide additional documentation
Carefully go through the instructions explaining the visa application process on the website of the U.S. consulate or embassy where you are going to apply. They might ask for additional documentation. These could, for example, include proof of the following:
- the reason for your visit
- details about your plans to leave the U.S. after your visit
- your financial means to support yourself and your family during the trip and to return to your own country
Proof that you are employed in your home country and/or have family ties there might be enough to show the authorities that you have no intention to stay in the U.S. longer than permitted. If you are not able to pay all the costs related to your trip, it will help if you could present evidence that someone else will cover part or all of these costs.
Important: Your visa application should rely on proof that you live abroad and have ties there instead of on assurances from friends and family members in the U.S. An affidavit of support or a letter of invitation is not required when you apply for a U.S. B1/B2 visa. If you opt to bring one of these to the interview, please understand that it will not be taken into account when the authorities have to make a decision about approving or denying your visa application.
Attending the visa interview
You will be interviewed by an officer who has to determine whether or not you qualify to get a visitor visa. You will have to prove that you meet all the U.S. legal requirements for such a visa.
During the application process, digital fingerprint scans (i.e., ink-free) will be taken. These are typically taken during the visa interview, but this can vary from one location to the next.
After the visa interview, the official has the right to decide that your application needs additional administrative processing. He or she will then inform you about this fact.
Once the visa has been approved, depending on your nationality, you might have to pay a visa issuance fee. You also have to make the necessary arrangements for how the visa and your passport should be sent to you (e.g. by courier).
Waiting for your U.S. visa
How long you are going to wait for your American visa depends on many factors, including where you submitted the application. You will at any time be able to check the application status on the official website. Once the process has been finalized, the passport and visa will normally be sent via courier to the address you provided during the application process. You will normally also be able to pick up these documents from the courier firm’s offices. As a general rule, you cannot pick up your passport or visa from the U.S. embassy or consulate.
I am really enjoying sailing around the US. Can I get a visa extension?
If you would like to extend your visit to the United States, you have to submit a request to USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) using the prescribed Application to Extend/Change Non-immigrant Status form I-539. This has to be done before the expiration of your authorized stay in the U.S.
If you stay in the U.S. past the expiration date of your visa, you could be deported from that country, and you could also be blacklisted, so you can’t return at a future date.
To make 100% sure that you know when your authorized stay ends, look for the date in the bottom right-hand corner of your Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). It is highly recommended that you submit an application for an extension of your stay in the U.S. 45 days or more before your current visa or other type of authorization expires.
You are allowed to submit an application for extension only if:
- You legally arrived in the U.S. with a valid non-immigrant visa
- That visa is still valid at the time you apply for an extension
- You do not have a criminal record that will disqualify you from getting a U.S. visa
- You are not guilty of violating the conditions that apply to your visa
- Your passport is still valid and will not expire before 6 months after your stay
You do not qualify to get an extension of your stay if you enter the U.S. in any of the following ways:
- You received an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program
- You are currently in the U.S. on a crew member (D) visa
- You are currently in transit via the U.S. on a C (non-immigrant) visa
- You are in transit through the U.S. without any visa
- You are engaged to a U.S. citizen, or you are a dependent of such a fiancé
- You and/or your family members who are traveling with you are informants on organized crime or terrorism