If you are a citizen from any foreign nation and you would like to enter the US, you will first have to submit an online application for a visa. Visitor visas fall into two categories:
- B-1 if your visit is for business purposes
- B-2 if you want to visit the US as a tourist
With a B-2 visitor visa you will be allowed to do any of the following:
- Go on holiday (vacation) to the US
- Take part in tourist-related activities
- Visit family or friends
- Go for medical treatment
- Take part as an amateur in sports, musical, or similar events or competitions, provided you are not receiving any remuneration
- Take part in social events presented by service, social, or fraternal organizations
- Enroll in a short study course for recreational purposes only, e.g. a 2-day photography course
The following are not permitted if you have a B-2 visitor visa
- Studying toward a degree or diploma
- Carrying out a performance while being paid for it or in front of a paying audience
- Entering the US if you are a crew member of an aircraft or ship
- Working in radio, as part of the foreign press, print journalism, film, or information media
- Living in the United States permanently
- Birth tourism, i.e. traveling to the US primarily to give birth so the child will have US citizenship
How does one apply for a US visa?
The visa application process involves various steps and the order and how they must be completed can vary from one US embassy or consulate to the next. Please visit your local consulate or embassy website for more details.
Online visa application
Form DS-160: Application for nonimmigrant visa. You have to complete the visa application online and then print the confirmation page and take it with you to the personal interview
Photo: While you are busy filling out Form DS-160, you will have to upload a photo of yourself in the correct format.
Schedule a Personal Interview
Except for a number of specific exceptions (see below), you will be required to attend a personal interview as part of your visa application.
- If you are 13 or younger, an interview will typically not be required
- If you are between 14 and 79 years old, an interview is required
- If you are 80 or older, an interview will typically not be needed
Take note that for the visa interview you will have to make an appointment at the United States consulate or embassy in your country of residence. If you do it at another consulate or embassy, it could be more difficult to get approved for a visa.
Waiting times for personal interviews can vary significantly from one location to the next, and could also depend on the visa category or time of year. You should, therefore, apply for your B-2 visa as soon as possible.
Below are some typical waiting times in calendar days (December 2022):
- London, UK: 81
- Paris, France: 130
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 428
- Johannesburg, South Africa: 7
- Bangkok, Thailand: 3
To get the current average waiting time at your local consulate or embassy, call them.
Get ready for your personal interview by paying the necessary fees
If you have to pay the visa application fee before the time, your best option is to pay it as soon as possible. Once your B-2 visa has been approved and depending on your nationality, you might also have to make an additional payment for a visa issuance fee. To find out more about the fees that apply, consult the website of the United States consulate or embassy in your country of residence.
Make sure you have all the required documents
Before you go for the visa interview, make sure you have the following documents ready:
- Passport: Unless your country has been exempted from this requirement, your passport should be valid for six months or longer by the time you return from your visit to the United States. Every person who travels with you has to submit his or her own application, including family members.
- The DS-160 confirmation page: The form you printed after completing the online visa application
- The receipt for paying the DS-160 fee: that proves you paid the application fee
- Photo: If you tried to upload your photo when applying online and it failed, you should bring a printed photo in the required format to the interview.
Could I be asked for additional documentation?
It is very important that you also consult the local website of the United States consulate or embassy where you plan to apply. They might require additional documentation to determine whether you qualify or not.
Examples could include:
- The reason for your journey
- Proof of your intention to leave the US at the end of your journey
- Proof that you have sufficient funds to pay all the costs related to your visit
Proof of family ties and/or employment in your country of residence may be enough to show the reason for your visit and to prove your intention to go back to your home country at the end of your visit. If you are unable to cover the costs of the journey, you may be asked to provide proof that another individual will take responsibility for some or all the costs involved.
A visa applicant has to qualify based on his or her family ties and residence in their home country, instead of assurances from family members or friends in the United States. It is not necessary to provide an Affidavit of Support or a letter of invitation when applying for a tourist visa. If you nevertheless decide to bring such a document to support your application, please take into account that it will not be taken into account when deciding whether or not you qualify for a visa.
Attending the personal visa interview
You will be interviewed by a consular officer to determine whether you meet all the requirements to get a US visitor visa. You will have to prove to him or her that you meet the various United States legal requirements for that type of visa.
During the application process, they will take digital fingerprints. This normally happens as part of the personal interview, but it could be different in your location.
After the interview has been completed, the consular office might decide that the application has to go through additional administrative processes. In that case, the consular officer will explain to you what happens next.
What happens after my visa application has been approved?
After your visa has been approved and depending on your nationality, you might have to pay what is known as a ‘visa issuance fee’ and arrange for how the passport (with visa) should be returned to you.
What happens when I enter the US?
A visa makes it possible for foreign travelers to journey to a port of entry in the United States (typically an airport) and ask for permission to enter the country. It does, however, not give the visa holder an automatic right of entry into the US.
The officials of the DHS (Department of Homeland Security and CBP (Customs and Border Protection) at your port of entry have the necessary powers to allow or reject admission to the US. If you get the green light to enter the country, the CBP official will either provide you with a paper Arrival/Departure Record (Form I-94) or an admission stamp in your passport.
What happens if I fail to leave the United States when my visa expires?
If you fail to leave the US before your visa expires, you will become what is known as ‘out of status’. Under the Immigration & Nationality Act (Section 222(g)), the visas of visitors who become out of status automatically become void. If you had a multiple-entry visa, it will also be voided and you will not be able to use it again to gain entry into the United States in the future.
If you fail to leave the US before your visa expires, it could also make you ineligible to get a visa in the future.
What should I do if my status changes?
If there is an unexpected change in your plans while you are visiting the United States, e.g. you get married to a citizen of the United States or you get an employment offer, you could qualify to ask USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) to change your status from non-immigrant to a different category.
During the time that you are in the US, you do not have to apply for another visa to qualify for a change of status. Once you have left the country, however, you have to apply for a completely new visa at a United States consulate or embassy.
Other important information
Anyone who is visiting the United States on a B-1 visitor visa is not allowed to accept any work or employment in the country. It is in no way guaranteed that you will qualify for a work visa. Until you have been issued a visa you should, therefore, not buy tickets or make any final arrangements.
Even if your passport has expired, if your US visa is still valid, it will remain valid. Unless revoked or canceled, a visa remains valid until the date on which it expires. If your passport has, therefore, expired, but contains a valid visa, you should not remove the visa from the expired passport. Rather apply for a new passport and use that together with the visa in the expired passport to travel to the US.