Your guide to the U.S. visa: types & requirements

You may need a visa to travel to the USA. Learn about the types of U.S. visas that are available and which one you will need. Read about how to apply and prepare for your interview.

What is a visa?

A visa is an official document that allows people to travel to the United States for a specific purpose. A visa is stamped or placed into someone’s passport or travel document. A visa indicates the number of times a traveler can enter the United States and the number of days they can stay.

specimen US visa

Do I need a visa?

Not all people traveling to the U.S. require a visa. The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows citizens of 40 countries to travel without one. You must meet the following requirements:

  • Be a citizen or national of these 40 countries
  • Have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from the date you plan to travel to the U.S.
  • Have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
  • Be traveling for business or tourism purposes
  • Plan to stay in the U.S. for 90 days or less

Types of U.S. visas

There are two categories of visas: 

Nonimmigrant visas are for people visiting the U.S. temporarily. 

Immigrant visas are for people moving to the U.S. permanently. 

Nonimmigrant visas

The majority of nonimmigrant visas are issued to international travelers for business and tourism, students, temporary workers, and exchange visitors.  

Visitor visas
(business visas (B-1 or VWP), tourist visas (B-2 or VWP), medical treatment (B or VWP)
Business, pleasure or tourism, and medical treatment for a short period of time
Prove you have funds to cover all costs of your trip
Academic or vocational program for international students
Prove  acceptance into an academic or vocational program
Temporary worker visas
(H-1B, H1B1, H-2A, H-2B, H-3, L, O, P-1, P-2, P-3, Q-1)
Employment for a short period of time
Approved Form I-129 petition 
Humanitarian visas 
(victims of human trafficking (T), victims of crime (U)
Victims of human trafficking and other crimes 
Be willing to help law enforcement investigate or prosecutive crimes
Spouses of U.S. citizens to enter the U.S. while they wait for an immigrant visa
Approved Form I-129 petition; proof that your marriage is genuine and financial support  
Fiances of U.S. citizens to travel to the U.S. to marry
Approved Form I-129 petition; evidence of relationship 
Diplomats, government officials, and employees who work for international organizations or NATO
Diplomatic note or travel order

Immigrant visas

Most immigrant visas are issued to family members of U.S. citizens and LPRs followed by employment-based visas. 

Family-based visas
(IR1, CR1, IR3, IH3, IR4, IH4, IR2, CR2, IR5, F1, F3, F4, F2A, F2B)
– A spouse,  fiance, child, parent, or sibling of a U.S. citizen 21 and older.
– A spouse or unmarried child of a U.S. LPR 
Proof of financial support 
Employer-based visas
(E1, E2, E3, Ew3, SD, SR, SI, SQ, C5, T5, R5, I5)
Priority workers, professionals holding advanced degrees, skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers, religious workers 
DOL certification approval, approved Form I-140 petition, proof of job offer, proof of financial support
Afghans who were employed by or on behalf of the U.S. government or who
worked with the U.S. military as a translator or interpreter
Proof of employment for at least 12 months, recommendation letter from employer
People from countries designated for diversity visas
Proof of high school education or two years of work experience
Permanent or conditional residents who have left the U.S. for more than one year 
Permanent resident card, reentry permit

Find a complete list of immigrant and nonimmigrant visas

Which type of visa should I apply for? 

Each visa relates to a specific group and purpose of travel. Use the Department of State’s Visa Wizard tool to figure out which visa you should apply for. 

Contact your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate for questions about which visa services they offer and requirements.

How can I apply for a visa?

Follow the instructions for filing each form. Be prepared to pay fees and provide supporting documents. Find more detailed steps on family-based visas.

How can I check the status of my application?

You can check the status of your application online via the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). You will need to type in your case number. 

You can also check visa interview wait times for your local embassy or consulate.

How can I prepare for the visa interview? 

Nonimmigrant visa interviews are generally required for applicants 14-79 years of age. Immigrant visa interviews are required for all applicants immigrating to the U.S. 

Prepare for your interview. You will need to bring your visa application confirmation page, application fee payment receipt, and passport to your interview. You may also need to bring your photo and documents about your trip. 

Immigrant visa applicants will also need to complete a medical examination.    

Attend your interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. The consular officer will collect your digital fingerprint scans at your interview. The officer will ask you questions to decide whether you qualify for a visa. If you need an interpreter, the rules vary by location. Ask ahead of time. 

How will I get a decision on my visa?

In many cases, the consular officer will inform you about the decision in your application at the end of your interview. 

If your visa application is approved, the officer will stamp a visa in your passport. You will get instructions on when and how your passport will be returned to you. You may have the option of picking up your passport another day or having it shipped to your home. You should then:

  1. Make sure the information on your visa is correct. 
  2. Pay the visa issuance fee to USCIS before you travel to the U.S.

If your visa application is denied, the officer will explain why you are ineligible for a visa to come to the U.S. If you are not eligible for a visa, you may be able to apply for a waiver. The officer will let you know if you if a waiver is available and how you can apply for it.  

If your visa application is put on hold, it means your case needs more processing. The officer may say you are missing documentation or ask for more evidence.

How can I extend my stay? 

You can file Form I-539 to extend your stay in the U.S. You should file for an extension at least 45 days before your visa expires. You can also use this form to change your nonimmigrant status. You can submit your application online or by mail. 

What are other ways to travel to (or stay in) the U.S.? 

The US offers humanitarian programs that allow certain people to travel to and stay in the U.S. temporarily or permanently.

An immigration lawyer or legal representative can help you review your options. Many organizations and lawyers offer free or low-cost legal services.

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The information on this page comes from, USCIS, the Department of State, and other trusted sources. We aim to offer easy to understand information that is updated regularly. This information is not legal advice.