US Visitor Visa Guide: Business, Pleasure, Tourist, Medical Treatment
Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. The visa allows a foreign citizen, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission of the U.S. immigration inspector to enter the U.S.
The "visitor" visa is a nonimmigrant visa for persons desiring to enter the United States temporarily for business (B-1), for pleasure or medical treatment (B-2), or combination of both (B-1/B-2) purposes. While in the US, the visa holder may travel freely between US States and continue to remain in the country for the duration of the visa validity. The visa holder must legally depart the US prior to the B1/B2 visa expiring. A an example of a B1/B2 visa is shown at the right. Note: Keep track of the I-94 that is filled out prior to entering the US and placed in your passport. You must retain this during your stay and return (the I-94) to the designated location (at the airport, border crossing, etc.) upon leaving the US.
Pleasure, Tourism, Medical Treatment - Visitor Visas (B-2) - As examples, if the purpose of your planned travel is recreational in nature, including tourism, amusement, visits with friends or relatives, rest, medical treatment, activities of a fraternal, social, or service nature, and participation by amateurs, who will receive no remuneration, in musical, sports and similar events or contests, then a visitor visa (B-2) would be the appropriate type of visa for your travel. If you are going to the U.S. primarily for tourism, but want to take a short course of study which is recreational (and not for credit towards a degree), and the course is less than 18 hours per week, this is permitted on a visitor visa. As an example, if you are taking a vacation to the U.S., and during this vacation you would like to take a two-day cooking class for your enjoyment, and there is no credit earned, then this would be permitted on a visitor visa. A consular officer will determine the visa category you will need based on the purpose of your travel, and your supporting documentation.
For more information regarding travel and tourism in the United States please visit the Tourist Visa Forum.
Persons planning to travel to the U.S. for a different purpose such as students, temporary workers, crewmen, journalists, etc., must apply for a different visa in the appropriate category. If you are taking a course of study which is 18 hours or more a week, you will need a student visa. When traveling to the U.S. to attend seminars or conferences for credit towards a degree, then you’ll need a student visa.
Note: Representatives of the foreign press, radio, film, journalists or other information media, engaging in that vocation while in the U.S., require a nonimmigrant Media (I) visa and cannot travel to the U.S. using a visitor visa and cannot travel on the visa waiver program, seeking admission by the DHS immigration inspector, at the U.S. at the port of entry.
Business Visitor Visas (B-1) - For example, if the purpose for your planned travel is to consult with business associates, travel for a scientific, educational, professional or business convention, or conference on specific dates, settle an estate, or negotiate a contract, then a business visitor visa (B-1) would be the appropriate type of visa for your travel. After reviewing this website information, should you need additional information about business related (B-1) visitor visas; select Business Travel to the United States – What Type of U.S. Visa Will You Need.
Personal or Domestic Employees: Under immigration law, visitor visas are limited to the following circumstances, for personal or domestic employee purposes of travel to the U.S. A visitor (B-1) visa is appropriate when all eligibility requirements are met, for a personal or domestic employee who accompanies or follow to join: 1) A U.S. citizen employer having a permanent home or is stationed in a foreign country, who is visiting or is assigned to the United States temporarily; OR 2) A foreign citizen employer in the United States in B, E, F, H, I, J, L, M, O, P, or Q nonimmigrant visa status.
Important Notice: Recent changes to U.S. law relate to the legal rights of employment-based nonimmigrants under Federal immigration, labor, and employment laws. As a personal or domestic employee seeking to come to the U.S. temporarily (on a B-1 Visitor Visa), before your interview, it is important that you review the Nonimmigrant Rights, Protections and Resources pamphlet on this webpage.
Travelers coming to the U.S. for tourism or business for 90 days or less from qualified countries may be eligible to visit the U.S. without a visa if they meet the visa waiver program requirements. Select Visa Waiver Program to learn more, and find out if you meet the visa waiver requirements.
Currently, 35 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program, as shown below:
Visa Waiver Program - Participating Countries
Andorra Iceland Norway Australia Ireland Portugal Austria Italy San Marino Belgium Japan Singapore Brunei Latvia Slovakia Czech Republic Liechtenstein Slovenia Denmark Lithuania South Korea Estonia Luxembourg Spain Finland Malta Sweden France Monaco Switzerland Germany the Netherlands United Kingdom Hungary New Zealand
There are specific requirements which must be met by applicants to qualify for a visitor visa under provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The consular officer at the embassy or consulate will determine whether you qualify for the visa.
The presumption in the law is that every visitor visa applicant is an intending immigrant. Therefore, applicants for visitor visas must overcome this presumption by demonstrating that:
- The purpose of their trip is to enter the U.S. for business, pleasure, or medical treatment;
- That they plan to remain for a specific, limited period;
- Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States;
- Evidence of compelling social and economic ties abroad; and
- That they have a residence outside the U.S. as well as other binding ties that will insure their return abroad at the end of the visit.
Applicants for visitor visas should generally apply the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over their place of permanent residence. Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa outside the country of permanent residence. Visa applications are now subject to a greater degree of review than in the past so it is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date.
As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy consular section is required for visa applicants from age 14 through 79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by embassy or consulate. Making your appointment for an interview is the first step in the visa application process. The waiting time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so early visa application is strongly encouraged. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide is available on the internet at Visa Wait Times , and on most embassy websites. Learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and much more by visiting the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply.
During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a Consular Officer.
Each applicant for a visitor visa must submit these forms and documentation as explained below:
- Online Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application, Form DS-160. Visit the DS-160 webpage to learn more about the DS-160 online process.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must make an application;
- One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in Nonimmigrant Photograph Requirements.
- Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee - For current fees for Department of State government services select Fees. You will need to provide a receipt showing the visa application processing fee has been paid, when you come for your visa interview.
- Visa issuance fee – Additionally, if the visa is issued, there will be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, if applicable. Please consult the Visa Reciprocity Tables to find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is.
It is important that you refer to the Embassy Consular Section web site to determine visa processing timeframes and instructions, learn about interview scheduling, and find out if there are any additional documentation items required. Learn more by contacting the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Applicants must demonstrate that they are properly classifiable as visitors under U.S. law by:
- Evidence which shows the purpose of the trip, intent to depart the United States, and arrangements made to cover the costs of the trip may be provided. It is impossible to specify the exact form the documentation should take since applicants' circumstances vary greatly.
- Those applicants who do not have sufficient funds to support themselves while in the U.S. must present convincing evidence that an interested person will provide support.
- Depending on individual circumstances, applicants may provide other documentation substantiating the trip's purpose and specifying the nature of binding obligations, such as family ties or employment, which would compel their return abroad.
Yes, you will still need a visa to travel to the United States unless you qualify for the Visa Waiver Program. Travelers are advised that possession of the APEC Business Travelers Card (ABTC) will not change visa requirements, your visa status, or the visa process for travel to the U.S.
You will still need to be interviewed, since U.S. law requires visa interviews in most cases and having the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Business Travelers Card (ABTC) does not exempt travelers from this requirement. Holders of the ABTC will be eligible to participate in the U.S. Embassy or Consulate business facilitation programs, which offer expedited visa interview appointments. Check the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will apply for instructions on how to request an expedited interview appointment.
In addition to all of the documentation requirements explained above, the following documentation is also required, for persons seeking medical treatment in the U.S.:
Persons desiring to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment should be prepared to present the following, in addition to any other documentation the consular officer may require:
- Medical diagnosis from a local physician, explaining the nature of the ailment and the reason the applicant requires treatment in the United States.
- Letter from a physician or medical facility in the United States, expressing a willingness to treat this specific ailment and detailing the projected length and cost of treatment (including doctors’ fees, hospitalization fees, and all medical-related expenses).
- Statement of financial responsibility from the individuals or an organization that will pay for the patient’s transportation, medical and living expenses. The individuals guaranteeing payment of these expenses must provide proof of ability to do so, often in the form of bank or other statements of income/savings or certified copies of income tax returns.
Persons traveling to the U.S. for medical treatment should have a statement from a doctor or institution concerning proposed medical treatment.
Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States. Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas provides important information about ineligibilities.
Certain activities can make you ineligible for a U.S. visa. The Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-156 lists categories persons who are ineligible under U.S. law to receive visas. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a visitor, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas provides important information about ineligibilities, by reviewing sections of the law taken from the immigration and Nationality Act.
- No assurances regarding the issuance of visas can be given in advance. Therefore final travel plans or the purchase of non-refundable tickets should not be made until a visa has been issued.
- Unless previously canceled, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, if the traveler has a valid U.S. visa in an expired passport, do not remove the visa page from the expired passport. You may use it along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.
- Visitors are not permitted to accept employment during their stay in the U.S.
If the consular officer should find it necessary to deny the issuance of a visitor visa, the applicant may apply again if there is new evidence to overcome the basis for the refusal. For additional information, select Denials to learn more. In the absence of new evidence, consular officers are not obliged to re-examine such cases.
A visa allows a foreign citizen coming from abroad, to travel to the United States port-of entry and request permission to enter the U.S. Applicants should be aware that a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. If you are allowed to enter the U.S., the CBP official will determine the length of your visit on the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94). Since Form I-94 documents your authorized stay in the U.S., it’s very important to keep in your passport. In advance of travel, prospective travelers should review important information about Admissions/Entry requirements, as well as information related to restrictions about bringing food, agricultural products or other restricted/prohibited goods explained on the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website. Upon arrival (at an international airport, seaport or land border crossing), you will be enrolled in the US-VISIT entry-exit program. In addition, some travelers will also need to register their entry into and their departure from the U.S. with the National Security Exit Entry Registration System (NSEERS), also referred to as Special Registration program.
- It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Failure to depart the U.S. will cause you to be out-of-status.
- Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and being out-of-status in the United States is a violation of U.S. immigration laws, and may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travels to the U.S. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.
- Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized--even by one day--results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with INA 222(g). Under this provision of immigration law, if you overstay on your nonimmigrant authorized stay in the U.S., your visa will be automatically voided. In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
Those visitors who wish to stay beyond the time indicated on their Form I-94 must contact the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services to request an application to extend status. The decision to grant or deny a request for extension of stay is made solely by the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. Learn more about Extension of Stay. To visit the Department of Homeland Security’s, Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services internet site to find out more detailed information, select How Do I Extend My Stay in the United States?
- Questions on visa application procedures and visa ineligibilities should be made to the American consular office abroad by the applicant. Before submitting your inquiry, we request that you carefully review this web site and also the Embassy Consular web site abroad. Very often you will find the information you need.
- If your inquiry concerns a visa case in progress overseas, you should first contact the U.S. Embassy or Consulate handling your case for status information. Select U.S. Embassy or Consulate, and you can choose the Embassy or Consulate Internet site you need to contact.