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Was gilt es bei einem Visum für die USA zu beachten?, Bild: Harun Ozmen / shutterstock

Visa to enter the USA

Before you can get on the plane to explore America’s west coast with the impressive national parks, San Francisco and Los Angeles, for example, you have to apply for a visa for the USA. But what travel regulations must be observed?

The ESTA application

ESTA is an abbreviation for “Electronic System for Travel Authorization”. Since January 2009, this electronic entry permit has replaced a form that previously had to be filled out on airplanes or ships. The automatic ESTA system allows visa-free entry to the USA for a period of up to 90 days.

According to the regulations of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, ESTA is an electronic system for obtaining a travel authorization as a visa-free program (VWP).

According to a recommendation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the ESTA visa should be applied for at least 72 hours before departure.

If you want to apply for an ESTA, you have to fill out a form on the website of the “U.S Customs and Border Protection” on the personal data form. At the end of the form, a fee of $14 is due. An ESTA can also be applied for at a visa agency. However, then higher costs are incurred.

Information for the application

Applicants applying for an ESTA entry permit must provide some information about themselves and a valid passport, as well as answer a few other questions.

If you want to apply for ESTA, you must provide various information. These are:

  • first and last name (identical to the information in the passport),
  • Sex
  • other personal data that were used,
  • Country and place of birth,
  • Date of birth
  • country of current main residence,
  • Contact details
  • passport details,
  • personal details of the parents,
  • information about the employer,
  • information about contacts in the USA,
  • Contact details for emergencies and
  • Security issues, such as criminal records, visa refusals, medical conditions, etc.
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An ESTA entry permit has a validity period of 24 months. Travelers are allowed to stay in the U.S. for a maximum of 90 days within these 24 months without needing another visa. The prerequisite is a passport valid for 24 months.

Background to the ESTA procedure

The ESTA travel authorization is a suitable alternative to a visa for vacationers, Image: DesignRage / shutterstock

A few years ago, the U.S. immigration authorities launched the “Visa Waiver Program” for short: “VWF”. This system is an electronic entry permit for all participating countries, which allows citizens of these nations to apply for an electronic entry permit. Electronic application means that cumbersome forms and long waiting times are rented. Currently, 36 nations are involved in the “VWF”. These include most countries of the European Union as well as the Federal Republic of Germany, as well as Australia, Japan and Chile.

Apply for visas

In principle, all nationals of a foreign country need a visa to stay in the United States. A basic distinction is made here between visas for temporary stays (non-immigrant visas) and visas for permanent stays (immigrant visas).

Travelers to the USA should inform themselves early on about the different types of visas that are necessary to enter the USA. First of all, check whether you are not still in possession of a valid entry visa. However, please also note that an entry visa issued by an American mission abroad, i.e. an embassy or consulate, is not an automatic guarantee of entry. Under certain circumstances, you may even be denied entry.

The respective visa categories for entry into the United States

ESTA Visas for the United States

The entry permit, which is applied for through the ESTA procedure, is suitable for private or business travel. The nationality of the applicant is decisive. As a rule, the electronic entry permit is confirmed to travellers from the Federal Republic of Germany.

The tourist visa or B2 entry visa

San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Image: Travel Stock / shutterstock

You can apply for a tourist visa for private travel, family visits, or medical treatment in the United States. Travelers who are not eligible for an ESTA visa also have the option of applying for the B2 entry visa.

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The business visa or B1 entry visa

The B1 entry visa is suitable for business trips that want to go to the United States for work or business reasons. This includes, for example, participants in meetings, congresses or conferences. In principle, the B1 entry visa also allows you to take up employment.

The Transit Visa C

You can apply for a transit visa for the United States if your actual destination is in a third country and you are at a United States airport for transit.

Crew Visa C1/D for the United States

If you are a member of an aircraft crew or a member of the crew of a cruise ship operating in the United States, you will need a C1/D crew visa for the United States.

J1 visa for student exchange with the United States

You will need the J1 visa if you are participating in an organized student exchange. Student exchange programs are administered and approved by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), which reports to the U.S. Department of State. This United States entry visa covers one year of high school. It also includes the exchange programme for pupils and students of a secondary school.

Entry visa F1 for a language course in the United States

The F1 visa for the United States is for those who want to take part in a language course in the United States or intend to study there. The F1 entry visa is also aimed at those who want to organize a student exchange themselves. It is also aimed at those who want to study in the United States, with this comprising both short- and long-term courses. However, in the F1 visa, no high school year does not include

Apply for a tourist visa or visitor visa B2 for the USA

The B2 visit visa for the United States is a tourist visa to allow travelers to stay in the United States for purely private or purely tourist purposes. At the same time, this means that it is only a visit stay. Taking up employment, but also carrying out an internship or a course of study are not permitted. A B1 business visa is required for these purposes.

The USA visa B2 is also not suitable for a longer stay and therefore not for immigrants. It is generally limited to a maximum of 180 days per entry. The tourist visa for the USA is suitable for those who want to stay there longer than the ESTA allows with the limited duration of 90 days. The B2 visa is for stays of more than 90 days for the purpose of vacation, family visits, medical treatment or participation in events.