Millions of visitors visit the United States every year. In fact, the United States is the second-most visited country in the world – behind only France.
For some people, visiting the United States involves a simple online ESTA application. For others, however, a visit to the United States requires a visa. If your country is not part of America’s Visa Waiver Program, then you will require a visa to visit the United States. Even certain citizens of Visa Waiver Program countries – including those with a criminal record – may require a visa.
Your U.S. visa entitles you to visit the United States at a port of entry. It does not guarantee admission to the United States. With your visa, you can board a plane to the United States, cross a land border into the United States, or arrive in the United States by sea.
Today, we’re explaining how to apply for your United States visa. Keep reading to discover how to apply for a U.S. visa whether you’re visiting the United States for pleasure, business, or to establish permanent residency.
U.S. Non-Immigrant Visa Application
The vast majority of visitors to the United States are considered non-immigrant visitors. You’re a non-immigrant visitor if you’re visiting the United States for business, pleasure, or other short-term purposes.
Most work visas are considered non-immigrant visa applications. If you’re applying for a work visa, then you may need additional paperwork. Before getting started, for example, you will likely need an approved Form I-129, Petition for Non-Immigrant Worker, from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. Your employer will also need to get certified with the U.S. Department of Labor.
A typical non-immigrant U.S. visa application can be completed online. After completing the form, you will need to visit the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy in your country of residence.
Follow these simple steps to complete your U.S. non-immigrant visa application:
Step 1) Fill out Form DS-160
Step 2) Pay your U.S. visa application fee
Step 3) Schedule your visa interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country of residence
Step 4) Prepare your documents, photographs, and other relevant paperwork
Step 5) Attend the visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate
Fill Out Form DS-160
Form DS-160 is the standard form for non-immigrant visa applicants to the United States. You must fill out this form completely and accurately if you wish to obtain a U.S. non-immigrant visa.
You can find form DS-160 online at the U.S. consulate website in your country of residence. Depending on your visa, your DS-160 form may include different sections and requirements. Before obtaining your DS-160 form online, you’ll need to determine your chosen visa.
The form itself is straightforward. You will enter information about your background, personal data, employment history, and other details. Once the form has been completed and turned in, the website will generate a confirmation page and code.
Pay Your Application Fee
All U.S. visas require an application fee. Very few people qualify for free visas (typically, only diplomats and political leaders get visas for free). Most non-immigrant U.S. visas have an application fee ranging from $160 to $250. You will need to pay this fee online after submitting your DS-160 form.
Depending on your visa, you may need to pay additional fees on a non-immigrant visa. If someone is petitioning for you to come to the United States, for example, then that person may be required to pay an additional fee. An employer is required to pay an additional fee to bring a worker to the United States on a non-immigrant visa, for example.
Beyond the standard $160 to $250 fee, you may be asked to pay additional fees based on your country of residence. The United States has reciprocity agreements with different countries and these fees vary widely. Some applicants will need to pay an additional fee while others will not.
After paying all necessary fees, your DS-160 form will be submitted. You will receive proof of payment, at which point you can schedule your interview.
Schedule your Interview
You will need to complete an interview with a U.S. consulate or embassy prior to visiting the United States. This interview is required for all non-immigrant visa applicants between 14 and 79 years of age.
Schedule an appointment with the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy in your country of residence. Depending on your country, there may be a large backlog of interviews. You may have to wait several weeks or several months for your interview slot. In other cases, the nearest embassy can schedule your interview immediately.
We recommend scheduling your embassy interview immediately after submitting your Form DS-160 online. You will receive an interview confirmation letter. Bring this letter with you on the day of the interview.
Prepare your Documents
Depending on your visa type, you may be required to bring different documents to your interview. You are required to bring all of the following documents with you to your embassy interview:
- A valid passport
- Form DS-160 confirmation page and code
- A photograph that meets the photo requirements
- Your interview confirmation letter
- Payment confirmation for visa application fees
Beyond these standard documents, you might have special requirements depending on your visa. Someone applying for a student visa, for example, may be required to bring information about their school. Someone applying for a non-immigrant work visa will be required to bring additional information about their employer.
Attend the Visa Interview
The final step in the U.S. non-immigrant visa application process is to attend the visa interview at a U.S. consulate or embassy. Arrive early to ensure you don’t miss your appointment. All U.S. embassies have strict security requirements. There may be lines. You may be required to leave certain items in an off-site locker – or leave them at home.
After arriving at the embassy, you will attend an in-person meeting with a consular officer. The meeting can take anywhere from 60 seconds to 60 minutes. Some interviewers will ask dozens of questions to verify the nature of your trip. Others will ask two or three questions before stamping your approval. It depends on your case, your visa, and the consular officer.
After the interview is complete, you need to wait for your application to be processed. Processing times vary between visas. Some visas will be approved within hours or days of your embassy interview. Other visas can take weeks or months. We recommend only making travel arrangements after your visa is approved. You will find out if your visa has been approved or denied after the visa has been processed.
U.S. Immigrant Visa Application Process
If you’re planning to move to the United States, then you may be traveling using a U.S. immigrant visa. The U.S. immigrant visa application process is similar to an ordinary visa application process although there are certain important differences.
Here are the basic steps you need to take for a U.S. immigrant visa application:
Step 1) File the Petition
Step 2) Choose an Agent
Step 3) Pay your Fees
Step 4) Submit Visa Application
Step 5) Submit Supporting Documents
Step 6) Attend the Interview
File the Petition
The first step in receiving a U.S. immigrant visa is to file the petition. This must be done by your contact in the United States – like your spouse, family member, or employer. The family member or employer in the United States must submit a petition for you to the USCIS. The petition will be reviewed by staff and then approved or denied. Until your petition has been approved or denied, you cannot take any further steps.
If your petition is approved, then you will be told to visit the National Visa Center (NVC) website. There, you will need to complete several steps to begin your U.S. visa application. After completing these steps, you will receive a confirmation letter featuring different information about your visit to the United States, including your NVC Case Number, your Beneficiary ID Number, and your Invoice ID Number.
Choose an Agent
Immigrant visa applicants are required to choose an agent. The agent will serve as your point of contact for all visa-related matters. Some people choose to list themselves as an agent. Others list their attorney, friend, family member, or employer. To choose your agent, you must file Form DS-160, Choice of Address and Agent to the National Visa Center. This can take a few weeks to be processed.
Pay the Fees
U.S. immigrant visas come with different fees depending on your type of visa. Generally, there are two fees you need to pay with all U.S. immigrant visas, including:
- Immigrant Visa Application Processing Fee
- Affidavit of Support Fee
These fees can be paid online via credit card or through the mail via check. Follow the instructions in your NVC letter. You will need your NVC Case Number and Invoice ID Number to pay your visa application processing fee.
The affidavit of support fee is paid by your family member or employer within the United States.
Submit Visa Application
The next step is to submit your form DS-260, Application for Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration. This form is similar to the Form DS-160 you may have filled out for non-immigrant visas. However, it requires more information.
DS-260 will ask basic information about yourself and your background. You need to complete all of the information on the form. Form DS-260 will also ask for your NVC Case Number, Beneficiary ID Number, and Invoice ID Number. Once the form has been submitted, you will receive a confirmation page and number.
Submit Supporting Documents
Different U.S. immigrant visas have different supporting documents. If you’re immigrating to the United States sponsored by an employer, for example, then you may be required to submit information from your employer. If you’re immigrating to the United States to reconnect with a spouse, then your spouse may be required to submit specific information.
All documents must be in English. Any non-English documents must be accompanied by an official, notarized translation. All of these documents are submitted to the NVC based on the instructions received in your letter.
Attend your Interview
All immigrant visa applicants must attend an interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate. The National Visa Center will schedule your visa interview. The interview might involve just you. Or, it could involve you and multiple members.
Typically, you’ll be informed of your interview time and date at least 30 days in advance. This gives you ample time to prepare paperwork for the interview. At the interview, you will be asked questions by an official, at which point it will be determined whether you are eligible for entry to the United States based on your U.S. immigrant visa.
Does a U.S. Visa Guarantee Entry to the United States?
A United States visa does not guarantee entry to the United States – regardless of whether it’s an immigrant or non-immigrant visa. The visa simply gives you the ability to attempt to access the United States at a port of entry – like an airport or land border crossing. It does not guarantee entry into the United States. The CBP officer at the port of entry has the final say governing your entry into the United States.
You may be detained and questioned at the U.S. port of entry. If your answers are unsatisfactory, or if the officer finds that you have lied on your application, then you may be refused entry to the United States.
What Happens When My U.S. Visa Expires?
When your U.S. visa expires, you can renew your visa using a similar application process.
Your visa’s expiration date will be clearly listed on the visa itself. All visas will clearly display the date they were issued and the date they will expire. You are not required to renew your visa until your expiration date has passed.
How to Apply for a U.S. Visa from the United Kingdom
U.K. citizens can travel to the United States without a visa. However, residents of the U.K. may be required to apply for a U.S. visa through their home country if they are not a citizen of the U.K. or any other Visa Waiver Program country.
How to Apply for a U.S. Visa from Canada
Canadians do not need a visa or ESTA to travel to the United States. However, Canadian residents who are not citizens of Canada (or any other Visa Waiver Program country) can apply for a U.S. visa from Canada to visit the U.S.
How to Apply for a U.S. Visa from Australia
Australia residents who are not citizens of Australia (or any other Visa Waiver Program country) can apply for a U.S. visa from Australia.