Entering the Region

Under the US Department of Homeland Security’s Orwellian-sounding Office of Biometric Identity Management, almost all visitors to the USA (excluding, for now, many Canadians, some Mexicans, children under age 14 and seniors over age 79) will be digitally photographed and have their electronic (inkless) fingerprints scanned upon arrival.

Regardless of your visa status, immigration officers have absolute authority to refuse entry to the USA. They may ask about your plans and whether you have sufficient funds; it’s good to list an itinerary, produce onward or round-trip tickets, and have at least one major credit card. Don’t make too much of having friends, relatives or contacts in the US, because officers may think you're more likely to overstay. For more information about entering the USA, visit the website of US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov).

California is an important agricultural state. To prevent the introduction of pests and diseases, certain foods (including meats, fresh fruit and vegetables) may not be brought into the state. Bakery items, chocolates and hard-cured cheeses are admissible. If you drive into California from Mexico, or from the neighboring states of Oregon, Nevada or Arizona, you may have to stop for quick questioning and inspection by California Department of Food & Agriculture (www.cdfa.ca.gov) agents.

Passports

  • Under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), all travelers must have a valid machine-readable passport (MRP) when entering the USA by air, land or sea.
  • There's an exception for some US, Canadian and Mexican citizens who can present other WHTI-compliant documents (eg pre-approved ‘trusted traveler’ cards). For details, check www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/western-hemisphere-travel-initiative.
  • All foreign passports must meet current US standards and be valid for at least six months beyond your intended stay.

Visas

Visa information is highly subject to change. Double-check current visa requirements before coming to the USA on the State Department's US Visa website (https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en.html).

Additional Visa Info

  • Currently, under the US Visa Waiver Program (VWP), visas are not required for citizens of 38 countries for stays of up to 90 days (no extensions), as long as your passport meets current US standards. See the website of US Customs & Border Protection (https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/visit/visa-waiver-program.html).
  • Citizens of VWP countries must still register online with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA; https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) at least 72 hours before travel. Once approved, ESTA registration ($14) is valid up to two years or your passport's expiration date, whichever comes first.
  • For most Canadian citizens traveling with Canadian passports that meet current US standards, a visa for short-term visits (usually up to six months) and ESTA registration aren’t required.
  • Citizens from all other non-VWP countries, or whose passports don’t meet US standards, should apply for visas in their home country. The process costs a nonrefundable $160, involves a personal interview and can take several weeks. Apply as early as possible.