Getting a U.S. visa can be a long and hard process. Fortunately, with adequate preparation and careful work, your U.S. visa can be processed efficiently and you’ll be visiting the United States in no time. Different U.S. visas have different requirements. Below, you’ll find the standard U.S. visa requirements needed before applying for an American visa.
Standard U.S. Visa Document Requirements
Certain documents are required on every U.S. visa application. No matter what kind of visa you’re trying to obtain, you’re going to need the following standard documents:
- Application form, either the DS-160 form (for non-immigrant visas) or the DS-260 form (for immigrant visas)
- A passport that is six months valid beyond your planned date of departure from the United States
- Two photographs that meet the U.S. visa photograph requirements
- Valid payment method for a visa fee to schedule an interview
Online Application Form for U.S. Visas
If you’re visiting the United States temporarily for business or pleasure, then you need a non-immigrant visa application (Form DS-160). If you’re planning to permanently reside in the United States, then you need an immigrant visa application (Form DS-260). Online applications are available for both types of visas.
You are required to input all information into the form in English. Most questions are mandatory: you are required to answer them before submitting your visa application. At the end of the application, you’ll see a box saying, “Sign Application”. You must click this button before submitting your visa application form.
Once you’ve completed the form, submit it and print the confirmation page. Take the confirmation page with you when you attend your interview at the U.S. embassy.
Non-Immigrant Visa Application Form DS-160 Online
The online application Form DS-160 for a non-immigrant visa can be found here. There are two parts to the application. The first part will ask basic personal and biographic details about yourself. The second part asks about your security status, criminal status, and background.
- First and Last Name
- Marital Status
- Date and Place of Birth
- Mobile Number
- Email Address
- Passport Number
- Passport Expiration Date
- Family Information (Including the Names of your Parents)
- Education Information
- Work Information
The second part of the DS-160 online application asks questions pertaining to your security risk as a visitor to the United States. You’ll be asked if you have ever been arrested, for example, or if you have ever been convicted of a crime. You may be asked if you have ever violated a law related to drugs and other controlled substances, if you have ever engaged in money laundering, or if you have ever participated in genocide.
You can view a sample full DS-160 application form in PDF format here.
Immigrant Visa Application Form DS-260 Online
If you are applying for an immigrant visa, then you’ll be required to complete a DS-260 application form. You can begin the DS-260 immigrant visa application form here. Similar to a non-immigrant visa application form, you’ll be asked questions about your biographic information, criminal history, and family. The DS-260 application is significantly more detailed than DS-160.
- Full Name (in English)
- Full Name (In Your Native Alphabet or Language)
- Date and Place of Birth
- Home Address
- Phone Number
- Email Address
- Occupation Information
- Education Information
- Family Information (Information About Your Parents, Spouse, Children, Former Spouse)
- Previous U.S. Travel Information
- Previous International Travel Information
Next, the application will ask various questions about your background to determine if you are a security threat to the United States. Be prepared to provide your:
- Medical and Health Information
- Criminal Information
- Security Information
- Immigration Law Violation Information
- Other Miscellaneous Information
You are required to have a valid passport to apply for a visa to the United States. Your passport must be valid six months beyond your planned stay in the United States. Certain countries are exempt from this requirement, however, and some visitors may only need a passport that is valid for the duration of their stay and not a day longer.
Passport requirements include:
- Valid and Legal Passport
- Expiry Date Six Months Beyond your Planned Date of Departure from the United States
- At Least One Blank Page (Your Visa Will Be Attached to the Blank Page)
You need two photographs to apply for a visa to enter the United States. This is one of the main requirements of all visa applications.
The DS-160 and DS-260 online application form have a section where you can upload your photo. If the upload fails, or if you do not yet have a photo, then you can also submit your photo on the date of your embassy appointment. Even if you’re able to upload your photo online during the application, we recommend bringing it to your embassy interview in case it’s needed.
Most U.S. visas come with a fee ranging from $150 to $200. Unlike most countries, the United States requires visitors to pay a visa fee upfront. You are required to pay your application fee before booking an appointment at a U.S. embassy.
The visa fee is non-refundable. If you cancel your embassy appointment or if your application is rejected, then your fee will not be returned to you.
You may need to provide supporting documents as evidence to the answers provided during your online application. These documents can include a travel itinerary for your visit to America or sponsorship documents from a U.S. citizen (for an immigrant visa).
Previous U.S. Visas
If you have visited the United States with an older passport, then you should take that old passport with you to your embassy interview as proof that you have previously obtained legal entry to the country.
What are you planning to do while in the United States? Are you attending any business conferences? Are you visiting the Grand Canyon? Are you meeting with friends and family? A clear itinerary will help boost your visa application. A good visa application itinerary includes documents like purchased flight reservations showing your planned date of entry and exit to the United States. You might also show other reservations, like hotel reservations, train tickets, bus tickets, etc.
Proof of Accommodation
The United States can be expensive. For your visa application to be approved, you’ll need to provide proof of accommodation showing where you are planning to stay in the U.S. This can be something as simple as the address of your friend’s house. Or, it could be print-outs of hotel reservations.
You are not required to have proof of accommodation in order for your visa to be accepted. However, if you do not provide proof of accommodation in the country, then you may be asked to provide proof of financial means. This shows you have enough money to book a hotel in the United States upon arrival.
If you are planning to immigrate to the United States, then you may be sponsored by an employer, spouse, or family member in America. Certain sponsorship documents that can be attached to your visa application include:
Affidavit of Support: This letter confirms the sponsor can financially support you during your entire stay (if the sponsor is a friend or family member and not an employer)
Sponsor Proof of Employment Letter: This letter confirms your sponsor is employed, including the salary the sponsor is paid in the United States
Sponsor Payslips: The sponsor may need to provide 3 to 4 recent payslips or pay stubs proving he or she is receiving their stated salary
Bank Letter: A bank letter shows when the account was open, the total amount of money deposited into the account over the past year, and the present balance of the account
You may wish to include property documents in your visa application. Property documents prove that you own a property in your home country or anywhere else. Owning a property is seen as a good thing for a non-immigrant visa application: it proves you have stronger ties to your home country. Someone who doesn’t own property in their home country may be more likely to overstay their visa. Sample property documents can include:
- Original ownership papers, copies of the title or the deed
- Photographs of your property
- Personal affidavit related to the property
Employment and Professional Documents
A letter from an employer is a great thing to include in your visa application. A letter from your employer in your home country can prove that you’re gainfully employed and earning a salary. The letter can also indicate that you’re expected to return to work within two to three weeks when your holiday is over.
Employment and professional documents can include:
If You Are Employed: Bring a letter from your employer indicating your position with the employer, your salary, how long you have worked for the employer, and the authorized length of your vacation.
If You Are Retired: Bring a pension statement or similar paperwork proving your monthly income (if any) or a bank statement proving that you can support yourself while in the United States (if someone is not sponsoring your trip).
If Self-Employed: Bring any information and paperwork possible, including company registration details, income details, and documents proving your solvency.
Family documents can include paperwork that supports your biographic details, including:
- Birth Certificate
- Marriage Certificate
- Photos of Close Family or Friends
- Adoption Certificate (If You Were Adopted)
- Divorce Certificate
- Spouse’s Death Certificate
- Family Death Certificate (If Traveling to the U.S. to Settle an Estate)
Your documents can be written in English or in the official language of the country in which your embassy interview is taking place. If your documents are written in another language, then you will need to pay a competent translator to translate the documents.
Other Document Requirements for Specific Visas
The requirements listed above pertain to all immigrant and non-immigrant visas. They are standard documents and information required for most visa applicants to the United States.
Certain visas, however, may require additional information. A student visa application will require information about the school you’re attending, for example. Below, you’ll find visa-specific documentation that may be required depending on your visa.
Traveling for Medical Treatment
If you are traveling to the United States for medical treatment or for any purposes regarding health or medicine, then you will need to provide additional information about your treatment, including:
Medical Diagnosis from Your Home Country: Your medical diagnosis must be from a local doctor explaining why you need treatment in the United States and why that treatment is unavailable in your home country.
Letter from the United States: You must also have a letter from a medical facility in the United States. The letter must indicate that the clinic can provide your required treatment. The letter should also explain the cost of the treatment. If necessary, the letter might also explain the expected length of recovery.
Proof of Funds: You must also prove that you have the financial means to cover the costs of the medical procedure and all associated expenses – including accommodation, transportation, living expenses, etc.
If you are applying to the United States for a student visa, then you will be required to prove that you have been genuinely accepted at an American educational institution. Your chosen educational institution must be registered as part of the Student Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). Your visa application will also include a SEVIS I-901 fee in addition to the normal visa fee. You will need to provide proof of payment during your embassy interview.
There are a number of different types of work visas available. Depending on your visa type, you might be required to provide different employment-related documentation. Some of the possible paperwork you may be required to provide can include:
- Proof you meet the qualifications for the job (certifications, training, diplomas, etc.)
- Proof of your professional degree (Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Ph.D, etc.)
- Job offer from a U.S. employer
- Your resume or CV
- Letter from previous employers
- State or federal license (if applicable)
- Proof of your extraordinary ability, skills, expertise, or training
Not all work visas require this information. Some work visas are for bringing temporary unskilled workers to the United States. In that case, you may be required to bring less documentation to your embassy interview.
You may be able to enhance the legitimacy of your B-2 visitor visa application with a letter from a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder). This is particularly important if the individual is supporting or sponsoring your trip – say, by providing accommodation or paying for your flights.
This letter can simply indicate that the U.S. citizen or permanent resident is willing and financially able to support the traveler for a certain period of time.
Most non-U.S. citizens will have their fingerprints taken when entering the United States. This can include ESTA applicants and U.S. visa applicants.
Visa applicants may have their fingerprints taken at a U.S. embassy before or after their interview.
ESTA holders may have their fingerprints taken at the point of entry into the United States – say, when going through customs at the airport or passing through a land border. This will only take place the first time you enter the United States on your ESTA.
Certain individuals are exempt from fingerprint collection:
- Children under the age of 14
- Elderly individuals over the age of 79
- A-1, A-2, G-1, G-2, G-3, and C-3 visa holders
- NATO applicants
- Someone who is physically unable to provide fingerprints