A passport is required for all foreign citizens. Unless eligible under the Visa Waiver Program, foreign travelers must also have a tourist visa. To rent or drive a car, travelers from non-English-speaking countries should obtain an International Drivers Permit before arriving.
Travelers entering under the Visa Waiver Program must register with the US government’s ESTA program (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) at least three days before arriving; earlier is better, since if denied, travelers must get a visa. Registration is valid for two years.
Upon arriving from overseas to a US airport, all foreign visitors must register with the Orwellian sounding Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM), which entails having two index fingers scanned and a digital photo taken. For more information, see the Department of Homeland Security (www.dhs.gov/obim).
For a complete, up-to-date list of customs regulations, visit the website of US Customs & Border Protection (www.cbp.gov). Each visitor is allowed to bring into the US duty-free 1L of liquor (if you’re 21 or older) and 200 cigarettes (if you’re 18 or older) and up to $100 in gifts and purchases.
Required for most foreign visitors unless eligible for the Visa Waiver Program.
All visitors should reconfirm entry requirements and visa guidelines before arriving. You can get visa information through www.usa.gov, but the US State Department (www.travel.state.gov) maintains the most comprehensive visa information, with lists of consulates and downloadable application forms. US Citizenship & Immigration Services (www.uscis.gov) mainly serves immigrants, not temporary visitors.
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens of three dozen countries to enter the USA for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a US visa. See the ESTA website (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) for a current list. Under this program you must have a nonrefundable return ticket and ‘e-passport’ with digital chip.
Visitors who don’t qualify for the Visa Waiver Program need a visa. Basic requirements are a valid passport, recent photo, travel details and often proof of financial stability. Students and adult males also must fill out supplemental travel documents. The validity period for a US visitor visa depends on your home country. The length of time you’ll be allowed to stay in the USA is determined by US officials at the port of entry.
To stay longer than the date stamped on your passport, visit a local USCIS (www.uscis.gov) office.