Do I Need a Visa to Visit the U.S.?

When a citizen of a foreign country wants to travel to the U.S., he or she usually must obtain a U.S. visa. The visa, if granted, is placed in the person’s passport that has been issued by his or her country of citizenship. The requirement to obtain a U.S. visa prior to traveling to the U.S. is the rule rather than the exception for people traveling due to work and study, among other reasons. Some people, however, may not need to obtain a visa before visiting the U.S. We will discuss that more here.

Do I Need a Visa to Visit the U.S.?

While most citizens of foreign countries must first obtain a U.S. visa prior to coming to the U.S., some international travelers may be eligible to come to the U.S. without a visa. They first, however, need to make sure they are eligible for visa-free travel. Citizens of countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) may be able to travel to the U.S. for tourism or business for stays that are no more than 90 days without a visa.

In order to be able to visit the U.S. without a visa pursuant to the VWP, the traveler must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be a citizen of a VWP designated country; and
  • Have a valid ESTA.

ESTA, or “Electronic System for Travel Authorization,” must be obtained before boarding any air or sea carrier bound for the U.S. ESTA is a web-based system which is operated by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). ESTA is used in order to determine a person’s eligibility to travel visa-free under the VWP for purposes of business or tourism. Additionally, a person making use of the VWP must have the correct passport type. His or her passport must be valid for a minimum of six months after the planned departure from the U.S. The passport must also be an e-passport meant that it has a chip embedded in it.

There is a list of 39 countries currently participating in the VWP. There is a processing fee and authorization charge associated with filling out the required ESTA application. Once the application is completed, you will receive an ESTA application number. You can use your application number to check your application status and see if it has yet been approved.

If you are ineligible for making use of the VWP, you will likely need to obtain a visa from the U.S. Department of State via its embassy or consulate. The reason you are traveling will dictate the type of visa you will need to obtain prior to entering the U.S. Some of the most commonly requested visas include immigrant visas for permanent residency, tourism or business visas, and visas for students as well as fiancé visas for those coming to the U.S. to marry their U.S. citizen fiancé and live in the U.S.

Immigration Law Attorneys

If you should have any questions or need more information about the ways in which the U.S. and Canadian Immigration and Nationality Laws may impact you, your family, your friends or your colleagues, please contact us at the NPZ Law Group – VISASERVE – U.S. and Canadian Immigration and Nationality Lawyers by e-mailing us at or by calling us at 201-670-0006 (x104). You can also visit our Law Firm’s website at