The U.S. Department of State issues visas to foreign nationals traveling to the United States through its embassies or consulates . However, you do not need a visa for your business meeting or for vacation if you are a citizen of any of the 39 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.
Your reason for travel will determine the type of visa you need to enter the U.S. Some of the most commonly requested visas are:
- Immigrant visa for permanent residency
- Visitor visas for tourism or business
- Fiancé(e) visa to marry your U.S. citizen fiancé(e), and live, in the U.S.
- Visas for students
- Business or professional visas for citizens of Canada and Mexico
- Transit visa for traveling through the U.S. on your way to visit another country
When you arrive in the United States, you must show valid travel documents as part of the entry process. The documents you need and whether your passport needs to be valid for six months after your travel dates depend on the country you are arriving from and your citizenship or status.
Arrival From Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda
The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative covers travel by land, sea, or air from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda:
- American citizens entering the U.S. must show a valid passport, U.S. passport card, a Trusted Traveler Program card (NEXUS, SENTRI, Global Entry or FAST), or an enhanced driver’s license. If you have any questions, contact your carrier to find out if they require a specific document.
- Lawful permanent residents of the U.S. need to show a Permanent Resident Card (Green card). A passport is not required.
- Citizens of Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Bermuda can find the necessary travel documents from the Department of Homeland Security under “land and sea entry.”
Arrival From Other Countries
- All travelers entering the United States from all other countries need a passport upon arrival (regardless of their country of citizenship).
- Permanent residents and foreign nationals may also need a U.S. visa. You must apply for a visa before you start your trip.
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers conduct arrival inspections using the same criteria for all foreign nationals visiting the U.S. They decide your admission to the United States, even if all your travel documents, including your visa, are in order.
Note: While there are no rules prohibiting pregnant visitors from entering the United States, doing so to give birth is prohibited. A CBP officer will consider your pregnancy when deciding on your admission.
Learn about bringing pets, food, and medication to the U.S.
- For more information, contact Customs and Border Protection.
Top Types of Immigrant Visas
Most people who come to the U.S. using an immigrant visa receive one of the following types:
- Family-based visa, for those with a family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident
- Employment-based visa, which generally requires a job offer from a U.S. employer
Key Steps for Obtaining an Immigrant Visa
- In most cases, someone must “sponsor” you, or file an immigrant petition for you.
- Once the petition is approved, and there is a visa available in your category, you apply for an immigrant visa. You do this through a U.S. consulate abroad. Find one in your country in this directory of U.S. consulates.
- Get a medical examination.
- Go to an interview.
- You’ll then receive a decision on your application.
Review the details of this process for getting a family- or employment-based visa.
Another way to seek an immigrant visa is through the Diversity Visa Lottery program. This program lets people from countries with low U.S. immigration rates take part in an annual drawing for an immigrant visa.
After You Get Your Immigrant Visa
Once you get your immigrant visa, you’ll have to pay a USCIS immigrant fee before you’ll receive your Green Card. The best time to pay the fee is after you pick up your immigrant visa from the U.S. consulate, before you leave for the United States.
When you receive your immigrant visa, you’ll get a sealed packet of documents to give officials at the U.S. port of entry. If you pass inspection, you’ll be admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident, and will receive your Green Card in the mail.
Don’t Apply for an Immigrant Visa If You’re in the United States
If you’re already in the U.S., you do not have to apply for an immigrant visa to become a permanent resident. Instead, you can apply for a Green Card through an adjustment of status. This way, you won’t have to return to your home country to complete visa processing. You’ll still have to go through key steps like those required for an immigrant visa application:
- Someone must “sponsor” you, or file an immigrant petition for you.
- Once the petition is approved, and there is a visa available in your category, you apply for a Green Card from within the U.S.
- Get a medical examination.
- Go to an interview.
- Wait for a decision on your application.
Refugees are people who fled their homes for a variety of reasons, including persecution (or the fear of persecution) and war, to find protection elsewhere.
If you believe you need protection as a refugee, contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another international nonprofit volunteer agency. If these organizations are unavailable to you, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate.
Asylum is a form of protection available to refugees. You must meet certain conditions to request asylum in the United States. After getting asylum in the U.S., you:
- Get permission to bring your spouse and children to the U.S.
- Become a permanent resident.