Do I need a visa for the USA?
It is not always necessary to apply for a visa for a trip to the United States. In many cases, an ESTA is enough. There are several requirements to be met when applying for this travel authorisation. Those who are not eligible for an ESTA can choose between different visas for the United States.
Apply for an ESTA now
Travellers with a valid UK or Irish passport who travel to the USA for tourism or business can easily apply for an ESTA. They therefore do not require a visa.
ESTA instead of a US visa
Travellers with a valid UK or Irish passport do not, in most cases, require a visa for the USA. Instead of a visa, they can use an ESTA for a tourist, business, or medical trip. Transiting in the United States is also allowed with this travel permit. With an ESTA, you can stay in the USA for up to 90 consecutive days per trip.
An ESTA can be applied for easier, cheaper, and faster than any other visa for the USA. In addition to the rules regarding the travel purpose and the maximum duration of stay, there are several cases in which an ESTA does not comply, and a visa has to be applied for instead. The ESTA is not suitable for:
- travellers who arrive by private boat or plane,
- travellers who want to enter into employment with a US organisation,
- travellers who have been in Cuba after 1 March 2011,
- travellers who, after 1 March 2011, have been in Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Sudan, Iran, Syria, North Korea, or Iraq or are nationals of one of these countries.
If a visa is not required
If the above shows that an ESTA is suitable in your case, and you do not need a visa, you can easily apply for the required ESTA using the online application form. In this form, information relating to the traveller and the trip must be filled in. A number of safety questions should also be answered, and it should be stated that the traveller does not pose any danger to the United States. Once the payment is completed, the ESTA application will be processed immediately. Applications for this travel permit are granted relatively quickly on average. Once this is done, you will receive a confirmation email.
US visa requirement
Anyone who wants to live, work, or study in the USA is not eligible for an ESTA and has to apply for a visa. The same applies to travellers who want to stay in the USA for more than 90 days or for some other reason cannot apply for an ESTA.
There are two types of US visas: those for a temporary stay and those for a permanent stay in the country. In the case of a temporary stay, a non-immigrant visa can be applied for, and in the case of a permanent stay, several immigration visas exist. All US visas can only be applied for through a consulate or embassy.
When should I apply for which US visa?
In the below overview, you can find the various visa categories and the countries for which the visas from these categories are meant. If you require a visa for your travel purpose, it is important to apply for the right type.
- A visa: these visas are meant for representatives of foreign governments, such as diplomats.
- B1 visa:* business visa for business consultations, negotiations, attending multiple conferences and/or congresses (at predetermined dates) or arrangements of inheritance. In addition, some travellers can also use the B1 visa for transit on their way to another destination.
- B2 visa: * tourist visa for holidays, visiting family/friends and medical treatments.
- C visa: this visa type is meant for travellers who are only travelling to the USA because it serves as a layover on the way to their final destination. Travellers who meet the ESTA requirements only require this travel authorisation for transiting in the USA.
- D visa: for crews of sea ships and planes of international airlines.
- E visa: business visas that can be used for international trade, providing services and making investments in the USA.
- F visa: study visas that can be used to pursue an education at an accredited US educational institution.
- G visa: for public servants and other employees of international organisations in the United States and their family members.
- H visa: for employees who are going to perform certain specialised professions in the US.
- I visa: for representatives of foreign media.
- J visa: for exchange programs meant to enhance mutual understanding. Examples of people who are eligible for this are au pairs.
- K1 visa (or K visa): for people who are engaged to a US citizen.
- L visa: for employees of a company with both branches in the USA and in the home country of the applicant.
- M visa: study visas for attending a study in technical or vocational training in the USA.
- O1 visa: for people who have an extraordinary skill (for example, in science, education, or sports).
- P visa: for internationally recognised athletes, entertainers and artists and their supporting staff.
- Q visa: for employees who take part in international cultural exchange programs.
- R visa: for religious workers.
- S visa: for witnesses and informants who help US law enforcement.
- TN visa: for people with professions that are on the North American NAFTA list.
- T visa and U visa: for victims of criminal offences and their direct family members who help with the search for criminals and US law enforcement.
* The US B1 and B2 visas are meant for travellers who have a tourist or business travel purpose but are not eligible for the ESTA. For example, this applies to travellers who are travelling to the USA with a comparable travel purpose but who do not have the nationality of a country that is part of the Visa Waiver Programme. Travellers who have to answer one or more safety questions with "yes" in the ESTA application form or who want to stay in the USA longer than the ESTA allows, have to apply for a visa.
The application procedure for US visas
Applying for a US visa requires good preparation and can take a lot of time. Part of the procedure is an interview at a US consulate or embassy. This interview, among other things, allows a consular employee to determine whether a traveller is eligible for a certain type of visa.
To make an appointment for an interview, first the DS-160 form needs to be completed. In this form, you select the embassy or the consulate for your visa interview. You cannot apply for a visa at all US consulates. Most European citizens can submit their application through the US representation in their home country. Below you can find where the US representation is based for several European cities:
- UK: London | Northern Ireland: Belfast
- Ireland: Dublin
- Netherlands: Amsterdam
- Belgium: Brussels
- Germany: Berlin, Frankfurt, Munich
- France: Paris
- Italy: Florence, Milan, Naples, Rome
- Luxembourg: Luxembourg (city)
- Austria: Vienna
- Spain: Madrid
- Switzerland: Bern
Before applying for your US visa, you need to complete the DS-160 form. Once this is done, you can see where and when you can go for your interview.