If you are planning a brief visit to the U.S. for business or tourism, you might need to apply for a visitor or a transit visa. These are the steps you should take:
1. Find out if you need a visa.
Check to see if your country participates in the U.S. Visa Waiver Program (VWP). If you don’t see your country listed, you will need a nonimmigrant visa to visit the U.S.
2. Determine which visa you might need for your visit.
Most business and tourism travelers use B-1 and B-2 visitor visas.
- B-1 visa classification is for business travelers to consult with business associates, attend a conference, settle an estate, or negotiate a contract.
- B-2 visa classification is for tourists on vacation and people coming for medical treatment, a social event, or participation in amateur contests for no pay.
Transit visas are less common.
- Transit C visa classification is for foreign nationals traveling through the U.S. to another country and stopping briefly in the U.S. as part of their travel to the next foreign destination.
- Transit C-1, D, and C-1/D visas are for crewmembers of sea vessels or international airlines traveling to the U.S.
3. Apply for a visa.
The process of applying for a visa will vary depending on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Follow the specific instructions for the country that you’re in.
In general, you will need:
- To complete online Form DS-160, the nonimmigrant visa application form
- A photo
- A visa application fee
- To schedule an interview
International travelers planning to visit the U.S. for business or pleasure may be able to get a visa waiver. To get a visa waiver, you must be a citizen of one of the countries that participate in the U.S.’s Visa Waiver Program (VWP).
If you plan to visit the U.S. under the VWP, you must get an approved travel authorization before your trip. Authorization approvals are determined using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
How to Apply for ESTA and Get Approval to Travel to the U.S.
- Check the list of the countries that participate in the VWP.
- You must have an e-Passport to use the VWP. This type of passport is also known as an electronic passport and has an embedded chip in it.
- Fill out the ESTA online application. ESTA determines the eligibility of a visitor to travel to the U.S. under the VWP.
- The fee is $21. Learn how to pay for your ESTA fee.
- When you fill out your application, you will get an ESTA application number. Use this number to check the status of your application if it has been accepted to travel to the U.S.
Visitors traveling to the U.S. for tourism or business meetings or conferences under the VWP can stay for up to 90 days without a visa.
An international student can apply for a student or exchange visitor visa only after being accepted by a school certified in the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Students’ records are kept in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Learn more about SEVP and SEVIS, and about the SEVIS fee.
Types of Educational Visas
Your course of study, the school you plan to attend, or the exchange program you will be with will determine the type of student visa you will need.
The most common student visas are F-1 and M-1 visas.
- F-1 visa classification is for a full-time international student pursuing academic studies.
- M-1 visa classification is for a full-time international student pursuing vocational studies.
Check out the differences (PDF, Download Adobe Reader) between F-1 visas and M-1 visas and how to apply.
- J-1 visa classification is also known as the exchange visitor program (EVP). It is for foreign nationals approved to take part in work or study-based exchange programs. Examples include visiting scholars, camp counselors, or research assistants.
Learn how to apply for a J-1 visa.
The duration of stay for J-1 visa holders depends on the agreement between you and your Department of State-approved sponsoring organization. Find a Department of State-approved sponsoring organization or program.
Learn more about studying in the U.S.
Only citizens of Canada and Mexico are eligible for a nonimmigrant North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) Professional visa to work in the U.S. The NAFTA Professional visa classification is TN and grants the holder temporary entry into the U.S. to work in business activities at a professional level for an initial period of up to three years.
How to Apply
After getting a letter from your future employer confirming your offer of a position, the application process varies for Canadian and Mexican citizens.
Canadian Citizens: a NAFTA Professional (TN) visa is usually not required. You can go directly to a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) port of entry, with your documentation for an interview to be admitted to the U.S. as a nonimmigrant who can legally work in the U.S.
Mexican Citizens: a NAFTA Professional (TN) visa is required. Complete the online visa application Form DS-160, print out the confirmation page, and bring it to your interview. If you are applying in Mexico, a photo is not required for your application.
Learn more about the process of applying for a TN nonimmigrant visa.
Prepare for Your Interview
Review this list of what you will need to bring to your in-person interview including what details need to be in your letter from your prospective employer.
Based on your skills, circumstances, and the job that you plan to do, you may be able to come to the U.S. as either a:
- Temporary or permanent foreign worker, or a
- Temporary visitor for business
Under certain circumstances, you may also be able to work in the U.S. if you’re a foreign student or an exchange visitor.
Get a Work Visa
As a foreign worker, you will need a visa to get a job in the U.S. Each type of visa has unique requirements, conditions, and time limits.
Visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) Working in the U.S. web page for an overview of each worker category and type of visa.
Use the Department of State’s visa wizard to find:
- The visa you need
- The application process
- Estimated wait time for a visa interview
Your Rights and Protections as a Temporary Foreign Worker
- As a temporary foreign worker in the U.S., you will not be denied a visa or be punished by the U.S. government because you have exercised your rights under U.S. laws. Learn your rights and protections.
- If you violate the terms of your work visa, it could be revoked. You could be deported, arrested, or denied re-entry into the U.S.
- If you think you or someone you know is being brought to the U.S. for human trafficking, get help now.
If you’re in the U.S. and have questions about visas and immigration, visit the USCIS Contact Center. If you’re in another country, contact your nearest international immigration office.
If you’re engaged to a U.S. citizen and plan to marry and live in the U.S., your fiancé(e) can petition for a K-1 visa for you. The K-1 visa allows you to travel to the United States to marry your fiancé(e) within 90 days of arriving. After you marry, you may apply for an adjustment of status to get a Permanent Resident (Green) Card.
The K-1 visa expires after 90 days and can not be extended. If you do not marry within that time, you must leave the country or face possible deportation.