What is a visa?
A visa is an official document that allows foreign citizens 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.
Traveling to the U.S. without 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
U.S. visa categories
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.
Types of nonimmigrant visas
The majority of nonimmigrant visas are issued to international travelers for business and tourism, students, temporary workers, and exchange visitors.
(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
(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
Form I-914 (T)
Form I-918 (U)
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
Types of immigrant visas
Most immigrant visas are issued to family members of U.S. citizens and LPRs followed by employment-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
(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
Diversity visas (DV)
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:
- Make sure the information on your visa is correct.
- 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, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status 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.
- Refugee resettlement
- Violence against Women Act (VAWA)
- Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
- Deferred Enforcement Departure (DED)
- Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
- Humanitarian Parole
- Special situations
An immigration lawyer or legal representative can help you review your options. Many organizations and lawyers offer free or low-cost legal services.
The information on this page comes from trusted sources, including USA.gov, travel.state.gov, and USCIS.gov. We aim to offer information in plain language that is easy to understand and updated regularly. This page is for guidance. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice.