Entry & Exit Formalities
Each visitor is allowed to bring 1L of liquor and 200 cigarettes duty-free into the US, but you must be at least 21 years old to possess the former and 18 years old to possess the latter. In addition, nonresidents are permitted to bring gift merchandise up to the value of $100 into the US without incurring any duty.
No particular passport (or stamps in your passport) will automatically disqualify you from entry into the US, but many countries – including Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, North Korea, Venezuela, Chad, Iraq and Sudan – are 'red flags' which may invite greater scrutiny and interrogation by immigration officials. Note that immigration officials reserve the right to grant or deny admission into the USA, so there is no guarantee until you have actually crossed the border.
Citizens of many countries are eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, which requires prior approval via Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
Citizens of non-Visa Waiver Program countries must generally apply for a nonimmigrant visa using Form DS-160 (ceac.state.gov/genniv), pay a nonrefundable application fee ($160) and schedule an interview at a US embassy or consulate.
Documentation required for visa applications:
- Information about your family, your US point of contact, your education, employment and travel history, and your proposed itinerary, along with answers to Security and Background questions.
- A recent photo (240KB or less if uploading digitally, or 50.8mm by 50.8mm in print form).
- Documents of financial stability and/or guarantees from a US resident are sometimes required, particularly for those from developing countries.
- Visa applicants may be required to 'demonstrate binding obligations' that will ensure their return home. Because of this requirement, those planning to travel through other countries before arriving in the US are generally better off applying for their US visa while they are still in their home country rather than while on the road.
The validity period for a US visitor visa depends on your home country. The actual length of time you'll be allowed to stay in the US is determined by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services at the port of entry.
As with the Visa Waiver Program, your passport should be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay.
Visa Waiver Program
The US has a Visa Waiver Program in which citizens of certain countries may enter the US for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a US visa. This list is subject to continual re-examination and bureaucratic rejigging. For an up-to-date list of countries included in the program, see the US Department of State website (www.travel.state.gov). Under the program you must have a round-trip ticket (or onward ticket to any foreign destination) that is nonrefundable in the US and you will not be allowed to extend your stay beyond 90 days.
To participate in the Visa Waiver Program, travelers are required to have a passport that is machine readable. Also, your passport should be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay.