Need help figuring out visas for the US? Read this!


Most of us dream of visiting the USA in some guise at some stage in our lives, whether that is for a family holiday with the kids to Disneyworld, or whether it is on a more extended travel adventure. Perhaps you want to go shopping in New York, and then extend your break to Florida; perhaps you want to gamble in Las Vegas, and spend your winnings in San Francisco. Whatever you want to do, and wherever you want to go, you will need a piece of paper to enable you to even get on the plane.

Welcome to the world of the US visa system.

Now, before you panic, the process isn’t as complicated as you may think, provided you give yourself enough time to sort yourself out, and you have all the supporting evidence you may need, if applicable.

Let’s look at the two main types of visa.

ESTA – Visa Waiver Program

Most people will generally fall under the ESTA program, provided you come from a country which is supported by it. To find out the list of applicable countries, head to your consulate website. If your country does not appear on that list, you need to apply for a more formal piece of paper, by applying in person at your consulate, generally speaking.

If your country does appear, then the good news is that the going is now very simple.

An ESTA is an electronic visa, and gives you the right to travel to the USA. Now, you need to bear in mind the small print, i.e. it doesn’t automatically give you the right to enter, and you can still be refused at the customs desk, but that is highly unlikely given the circumstances. You will need an online connection, a computer (obviously), and a printer to complete this process. You strictly speaking don’t have to print out your ESTA, but it’s recommended.

ESTAs fall under the Visa Waiver Program, and this covers many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the UK, plus many other European countries on that consulate website list we were talking about.

To simplify matters:

  • Your visit to the USA must not exceed 90 days.
  • If you are refused an ESTA on application, you must apply in person at your consulate.
  • Your visit includes the USA, Mexico, Canada, and the Caribbean Islands. Your visit must be no more than 90 days in total, i.e. you can’t go to Mexico for 90 days, Canada for 90 days etc. You must be home by the end of the 90th day in total.
  • Simply head to the ESTA website (the official one), and fill in the details required, approval is usually instant or very soon afterwards.
  • Application needs to be made at least 72 hours before you board the plane – do it well before that if possible.

Okay, so that’s the easy one out of the way. If you are planning on spending longer than 90 days in the region they are classing as North America, e.g. Mexico, Canada, the Caribbean, and the US, then you need a different visa.

B1/B2 visa

This is a more formal kind of visa which is going to require a visit to your consulate, but it’s quite straightforward provided you organise yourself ahead of time.

This visa is required if you want to stay longer than 90 days, and is valid for up to six months’ duration of stay, lasting for 1, 5, or 10 years, depending on which type of visa you are granted at the time. You can cross any border during this duration and reset the visa time.

To apply for a B1/B2 visa:

  • Head online and check up to date information.
  • You will need supporting documents to show proof of employment, such as payslips, proof of any studies which are ongoing, bank statements showing you have savings to fund your visit, and proof that you own property etc.
  • Have a digital photograph ready when you make your application.
  • Apply online and print out the application form before you close the online window, or email it to yourself for printing at a later time. You will need to take the form with you when you go to your appointment.
  • Book your appointment time online.
  • Attend for your appointment with your passport, supporting evidence, and your application form.

You will be told at the interview whether your visa application has been successful, and if it is, then you simply need to wait for the visa to arrive.

This is basically the ins and outs of the two main types of visa for visiting the USA. It’s not as hard as it first seemed, right?

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