Do I Need a Visa for the United States?

Yes, you need to have a valid visa to enter the United States. However, if you belong to a country that is part of the US Visa Waiver Program, you don’t need to apply for a visa. All you need is a valid passport and an Electronic System for Travel Authorization or ESTA.

What is the Visa Waiver Program?

The Visa Waiver Program or VWP allows citizens of 38 countries to visit the US for business and tourist purposes for up to 90 days, without the need for a visa. People belonging to these nations require a valid passport and an ESTA, which can be obtained even on short notice. You can check if your country falls under the US Visa Waiver Program on this website.

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What is an ESTA?

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an online application system, established by the US government, to check the traveller’s details before they enter the borders of America under the VWP. In effect since January 12, 2009, any individual who wishes to enter the US under the VWP must have an ESTA. For more details about the eligibility and process for applying for an ESTA, visit the ESTA site.

If you are a citizen of one of the 38 countries that fall under the VWP, you also need a valid visa to enter the United States. The eligibility criteria and process for applying for different kinds of US visas might vary.

Applying for a US Visa

If you do not belong to one of the countries exempt from visas under the VWP, you will need to follow some simple steps to obtain a US visa from the American embassy or consulate in your country. You may choose to fill the application form online or visit the US embassy for the same.

Step 1: Fill the application form

This step includes filling the non-immigrant visa electronic application or Form DS-160. You need to fill in details such as name, country, identification number, etc. Once you have filled and submitted the form, you will receive a confirmation number. Make sure you keep this number safe.

Step 2: Pay the visa fees

The next step is paying the visa application fees. You can use a credit or debit card for this. After you have successfully paid the fees, you will get a payment receipt, which is crucial for scheduling your visa interview.

Step 3: Schedule the appointments

You will have to schedule two appointments, one at the Visa Application Center (VAC) and the other at the US embassy. The former is to provide your biometric readings. To book your appointment at the US embassy for the visa interview, you will need to provide details such as your passport number, payment receipt number and DS-160 confirmation number.

Step 4: Submit the required documents

At the VAC, you need to submit all the required documents, including payment receipt, DS-160 confirmation page, supporting documents and biometrics.

Step 5: Go for the visa interview

The last step is attending a visa interview, where you will be asked basic questions, such as the purpose of your visit, when do you plan to return to your home country, etc.

Remember, you are not allowed to any join educational programs or work if you are travelling on a tourist visa to the US. You can apply for a different visa category if you intend to do so.

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Mani Karthik

About the Author

Mani Karthik

Ex “NRI” and Founder of the “Back to India” movement. I share my experience about immigrating to USA here.