The USA is one sizeable landmass, that can take a couple of days or more to cover its width and length without stopping in a car.
But why would you do this, if you’re visiting the USA, you should consider spending at least 1 week if not longer.
It stands to reason, with some amazing spots to visit. Spend a few days in the city, stop at one of the most beautiful beaches, or hike one of USA’s National Parks.
As you plan your holiday to the USA, you will need to factor in the cost and application of a visa.
But what visa should you apply for and how to apply for a tourist visa to USA?
Depending on the purpose of travel and your nationality, will depend on which visa you’ll require.
We will cover everything you need to know, plus a step-by-step guide on how to apply for your U.S. Visa.
Firstly, we would like to highlight that we are no experts in this area, we do not help applicants obtain visas. We do not work for the US Embassy or Consulate. We are simply travelers who have applied for an ETA to the USA on a number of occasions, and we want to pass on our own knowledge and experience on to, our fellow travelers. We do not suggest you take this as formal or official advice, yet should you require further assistance in obtaining any other form of visa application, then please proceed through the relevant channels for such advice.
Secondly, when we apply for an ETA visa to USA, we apply as British citizens. There may be different eligibility criteria for other nationals.
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Table of Contents
What is the difference between ESTA and a Tourist Visa?
An ESTA stands for Electronic System for Travel Authorization. It is an automatic system that determines the eligibility of the individual applying and seeking a visa to enter the USA for the purpose of holiday for up to 90 days.
There are eligibility criteria that you must meet to be able to apply for an ESTA visa to the USA, these are:
- Nationals of the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)
- Have an E-Passport – An electronic chip, which contains the same details held on your passport, such as name, date of birth, etc. This is to enhance passport security. You will know if it is an e-passport, as it will display the symbol, normally located at the bottom on the front cover.
To find out more and to establish if you meet the criteria for an ESTA, then you can check out the U.S Customs and Border Protect website here.
If you are not eligible to apply for an ESTA, you can still apply for a visa, but you will have to apply for a B2 Visitor Visa.
What is a B2 visa?
A b2 visa, is for the purpose of travelers visiting the USA for a holiday.
You would only apply for a b2 visitor visa, if you are not from an eligible country, do not have an E-passport, or had your ESTA visa cancelled.
We will provide a step-by-step guide how to apply for both visas to the USA.
How to apply for an ESTA Visa to USA?
An application for an ESTA visa for USA, must be done online. Unfortunately, you are unable to obtain a visa on arrival.
Step 1 – Visit US Customs and Border Protection website
To apply, head over to visit the U.S Customs and Border Protection website!
Should you have any questions at any point, the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page, is very useful.
Step 2 – First Time Applicants
There are two options. First-Time application or continue existing application.
First-time application, says what it is on the tin. You are applying for your first ESTA visa to USA. If you have travelled to the USA before and do not have residency or citizenship, you’ll need to select this option again, to obtain a second ESTA.
For example, we visited New York back in 2009 for a holiday and to visit a friend. We applied for an ESTA and travelled to New York.
We returned back to New York for a holiday and to visit our friend in 2019 and applied for first time applicant, as our ESTA expired after visiting the USA on the first occasion.
Continue existing application, is for checking the progress of an application.
Let’s assume at this point you are applying for a visa for the first time. Then you would select First-time application.
You would then choose either individual or group application.
This is self-explanatory, but to be clear, an individual would be if you are applying for you, while a group application would be more than one person. The limit on a group application is 50 persons.
Again, let’s assume you are applying for you, as this is the option we always select, even though we travel together, we will just do separate applications.
Click individual application
Step 3 – Disclaimer
You are now prompted to agree the ETA applications disclaimer.
If you do not agree to the disclaimer, unfortunately you will not be able to progress with your application and will require to agree them, if you wish to enter the USA.
The same also applies for The Travel Promotion Act 2009.
We will always recommend reading both the disclaimer and The Travel Promotions Act 2009, before clicking “Yes, I understand the information and agree to the terms”.
Then select the next button.
Step 4 – Applicants details
This section is very simple, just enter your details in as stated in your passport.
As you click on each section, more information is highlighted in black and white text to help you complete the required information.
You must enter the details, that is marked with a red asterisk and exactly as stated in your passport.
Alternatively for ease, you could upload the MRZ (Machine Readable Zone) on your passport. Successful upload, will populate the correct information into the form, so you don’t need to complete it.
Once you are satisfied with the information entered, click the next button.
Step 5 – Further information
Complete the relevant fields on the additional pages, Personal Information, Travel Information, Eligibility Questions, Review application and pay.
Step 6 – Pay for the visa application
You have entered a lot of information, but don’t worry you’re nearly there.
To pay for the visa for the USA, you will need to enter a valid debit or Credit card.
On submission of your application, you will receive a confirmation email that the visa has been received.
Step 7 – Confirmation
You may not get an email to confirm that your visa has been granted or not. If you do not get an email, you can check the progress of an application, by visiting U.S. Customs and Border Protection website and click, “Continue Existing Application”
If for whatever reason it does get declined, you will be provided with more information on why it was declined and what the next steps are.
In our experience, we have never been declined a Visa to USA or any other country, but this doesn’t mean the same applies for you.
Tip: We would recommend printing a copy of your visa for your record and take this with you, in the event you are required to provide a copy.
How much does an ESTA Visa for USA cost?
An application for an ESTA visa is $21.00. A debit or credit card will be required to make the purchase.
How long can you stay on an ESTA Visa?
An ESTA visa, permits visitors to stay in the USA for up to 90 days.
How long does it take to obtain an ESTA Visa?
It should take up to 72 hours for a response, which you can review on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
In our experience, we have received a response to our ESTA visa application, within a matter of minutes. Only on the few occasions has it taken 72 hours.
Please bear in mind, that our circumstances are very different from you, therefore we can’t guarantee you will be granted a visa, or that it will take a minute or two for a response.
Tip: As mentioned above, don’t forget to print the confirmation, this is for your own records.
What documents do you require to make an ESTA application?
You will require a valid passport and an email address. You will also require an address, telephone number and emergency contact details.
You will enter this information within the U.S. online visa application.
Any other type of visa to the USA, such as citizenship, residency visa, etc, may require other documents. You can find out more information on other types of visas available, on the U.S. Embassy and Consulate.
How to apply for a Tourist Visa to USA
A Tourist Visa allows visitors who do not have an E-Passport, or a citizen from an eligible country, to apply for a Tourist Visa to USA.
Unfortunately, a tourist visa application is a lengthier and more information is required. Don’t worry we will go through all you need to know about applying for a tourist visa to USA.
What is the tourist visa I will need to apply for?
As mentioned above, if you don’t qualify under the Visa Waiver Program, then you’ll need to apply for a B-2 Visa, which allows you to visit the USA for the purpose of a holiday.
To start the application, visit the U.S Department of State website.
How much is the Tourist B-2 Visa?
The B-2 Visa fee is $160.00. You may also have to pay for a visa insurance fee, this depends on your nationality and the amount. You will be notified if this is applicable.
How to Apply for a Tourist Visa to USA
To make an application, you first need to complete the online DS-160 form. During the application process, you will be required to upload a photo of you, you will then need to schedule in an appointment for an interview, pay the visa fee and attend the interview. You will then be notified if your visa is granted or not.
Don’t worry, we are about to go through each step-in detail, to help you apply.
Step 1 – Complete application form
To apply for your B-2 tourist visa to USA, you need to visit the online DS-160 form.
The application process should take about 90 minutes to complete.
The first question, is where you will apply for the visa from? Just select from the drop-down options, what country you are applying from.
Complete the capture, before selecting “Start an application”
Step 2 – Schedule your appointment
Once you have completed all your information and uploaded your photo as specified, you can now submit the application.
You can at this point schedule your interview. This should be scheduled with the consulate where you live. If this isn’t possible, you can schedule the interview in another country.
Note: You should make the application as early as possible, as there could be delays with interview dates.
Step 3 – Pay the fee
You’ll need to pay the visa fee before attending the interview. You will be provided with instructions on how to make the payment.
Step 4 – Prepare for your interview
Make sure you have all the required documents ready for the interview.
What documents do you require?
You’ll need to bring to the interview with you, the following:
- DS-160 form confirmation page
- Visa payment receipt
You may also need to provide the following information to support your application, at the interview stage:
- Purpose of your trip
- That you intend to leave the USA, once your trip has come to an end and that you are not planning to settle in the USA.
- You have sufficient funds for the trip
The most obvious way to prove that you are only visiting the USA, for the purpose of tourism, is to prove you have ties in your home country, or country of residence. For example, that you have a job to return home too, you have family and a home.
Have these documents prepared beforehand.
Step 5 – Attending the interview
You’ll be interviewed by a consular officer, who will review your application and decide if you meet the requirement for a tourist visa.
At the interview stage, your biometrics will be taken and placed on record.
There are 3 possible outcomes, you will either be granted a visa to the USA, your application may require more information and investigation, or you’ll be declined a visa.
If your application is declined, unfortunately you will not be able to travel, which is why it is recommended to apply in advance.
Step 6 – Tourist visa is granted
If your visa is granted, you are now able to travel on your chosen date.
Note: Although a visa may have been authorised, however, it doesn’t guarantee entry to USA. You will need to go through immigration at the airport.
It isn’t uncommon for immigration officers to ask a number of questions, to verify the purpose of your travel and if you still meet the requirements for a tourist visa. Be prepared for entry at this point to still be declined, if the immigration officer isn’t completely satisfied.
Once you are granted a visa to the USA, where do you intend to visit? How about a Catskills Couples Getaway! It’s full of adventure, peace and good food.
Things you are not permitted to do on an ESTA or Tourist Visa
A tourist visa to the USA, is for the purpose of a holiday, this means, you are not permitted to take up any work, or to settle in the country.
If you do take on work, or overstay your visa, then you risk deportation and a ban.
If you are looking to move to the USA permanently, then you should apply for the relevant visa.
Depending on your nationality and your purpose of travel you will require a tourist visa to visit the USA. Whether you apply for an ESTA or a tourist visa, both need to be applied for online.
Certainly, with the ESTA visa, the process is easier and simpler, with a quick response time, especially with the help of this step-by-step guide.
We hope that you enjoy travelling around the USA, just as much as we do.
Have you applied for a tourist visa to USA? Which visa did you apply for? How did you find the application, easy or challenging? Let us know in the comments below.
Continue your United States travel planning, with these useful posts:
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- Essential Things to Pack for a Holiday to USA
- Things to do in Las Vegas
- Things to do in New York City
- Things to do in Washington DC