Discover America Radio

Entrance Requirements

Travel Alert: New ESTA Requirements

Effective November 3, 2014, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established additional data fields of information in the travel application submitted via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for those seeking to travel to the United States from countries in our Visa Waiver Program (VWP). DHS has also updated some of the old ESTA questions by rephrasing them in a manner that is more user friendly. Those seeking to travel to the United States from VWP countries will be required to provide additional information such as additional passport data, contact information and other potential names or aliases. These changes ensure the safety of travelers to the United States. The ESTA site updates also make the application process more straightforward and reliable by using clear language and allowing DHS to grant visa waiver travel to more individuals with common names. Travelers who have already submitted an ESTA application do not need to submit another one.

Additional information on the new data elements and on the ESTA system can be found at

Arriving in the USA

Enhanced Ebola screening is now occurring at five U.S. airports with a new tracking program for all people entering the U.S. from Ebola-affected Countries

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs & Border Protection (CBP) are screening for Ebola at five U.S. airports that receive over 94 percent of international travelers, including the Ebola affected nations of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Passengers arriving in the United States whose travel originates in Liberia, Sierra Leone, or Guinea are required to fly into JFK International Airport in New York, Newark Airport in New Jersey, Washington-Dulles, Chicago-O’Hare, or Atlanta International Airport, where enhanced entry screening will occur.

For more information please visit:

Travel Advisory: The USA has updated entrance requirements and electronic devices may be screened. Please be advised that powerless electronic devices will not be permitted onboard aircraft bound to the USA.  Click here to read the TSA's press release and the statement issued by Homeland Security.

Your airline will give you documents to complete while en route to the USA. All travellers are required to complete Customs Declaration Form 6059B. Those travellers who are non–U.S. citizens and are requesting admission to the USA with a visa will also be handed Form I-94 (white), Arrival/Departure Record.

You must go through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), for immigration and customs processing. CBP must approve your entry upon your first airport landing in the USA.

At Passport Control, most foreign travellers need go through the US-VISIT process. A CBP officer takes your electronic fingerprints and a photograph as part of your travel record. US-VISIT uses biometrics—such as fingerprints—to establish and verify your identity and identification materials and to check you against a watch list of known or suspected terrorists, criminals and immigration violators. You may be asked questions such as what you do for a living, whether you have enough money for your visit (a credit card is a smart precaution), and when and how you will be leaving the country (bring a copy of your itinerary). It is advisable that single parents and guardians travelling with a minor should have proof of legal custody.

After Passport Control, gather any baggage and enter Customs.


Every visitor entering the USA from abroad needs a passport. Foreign passports must be valid for at least six months longer than your intended stay in the USA unless your country of origin is exempt from that requirement – see the exempt countries at this CBP website.

Foreign nationals entering the U.S. are also required to present a valid visa issued by a U.S. consular official unless they are:

  • a citizen of a country eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme
  • a lawful permanent resident of the USA
  • a citizen of Canada orother visa exempt country
A foreign national travelling by air who is a citizen of a country eligible for the Visa Waiver Programme must have an approved ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorisation) before travelling to the USA. You may apply for ESTA at

If you are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Programme country (see section below) and your passport was issued before October 26, 2005, it must be “machine readable” (with two lines of letters, numbers and <<< at the bottom); if it was issued between October 26, 2005, and October 25, 2006, it must be machine readable and include a digital photo; and if it was issued on or after October 26, 2006, it must be an e-passport with a digital photo and an integrated radio frequency identification, or RFID, chip containing biometric data.

Canadian citizens travelling from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda, by land or sea, will be required to present one of the following travel documents: Passport, Enhanced Driver's licence, Trusted Traveller Card (NEXUS, SENTRI or FAST), or Secure Certificate of Indian Status.

Exceptions to the requirements include:
  • Canadian citizens at pre-clearance Canadian airports may present a NEXUS card at a NEXUS kiosk.
  • USA Lawful Permanent Residents are required to present a Permanent Resident Card or other evidence of permanent resident status.
  • Canadian citizen children under age 16 arriving by land or sea from Canada or Mexico may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad or a Canadian Citizenship Card.
  • Canadian citizen children under age 19 arriving by land or sea from Canada or Mexico and travelling with a school group, religious group, social or cultural organisation, or sports team, may also present an original or copy of his or her birth certificate, a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a Canadian Citizenship Card.
For more CBP travel information, go to

Visas for Entering the USA

Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the USA must first obtain a nonimmigrant visa for a temporary stay. The visa allows you to travel to the USA port of entry and request permission of the USA immigration inspector to enter the country. For general information about applying for a visitor visa, including documentation and fee requirements, please visit For information on arrival procedures in the USA, including customs requirements, please visit

Note: As of July 27, the Department of State has made continued progress on restoring our system to full functionality. As we restore our ability to print visas, we are prioritizing immigrant cases, including adoptions visas. System engineers are performing maintenance to address the problems we encountered. As system performance improves, we will continue to process visas at U.S. Embassies and Consulates worldwide. We are committed to resolving the problem as soon as possible. Additional updates will be posted to as more information becomes available.

What is a visa?
A visa is permission to apply to enter the USA. A U.S. consular officer will issue a visa after determining that the applicant is eligible to travel to the USA under a particular visa classification.

Who needs a visa?
A visitor (temporary) visa is required of all visitors seeking to enter the USA with the exception of nationals of Canada and countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Programme. Currently, 36 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Programme. For a list of participating countries and additional information on the Visa Waiver Programme, visit

Applying for a visitor visa
Applicants for visitor visas generally should apply at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where they live. As part of the visa application process, an interview at the embassy or consulate consular section is required for visa applicants from ages 14-79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger and age 80 and older do not require an interview, unless the embassy or consulate asks them to be interviewed.

You can complete a U.S. visa application online at Once you have completed the application, the next step is to make an appointment for a visa application interview. The wait time for an interview appointment for applicants can vary, so we strongly encourage you to apply as early as possible. Visa wait times for interview appointments and visa processing times for each U.S. embassy or consulate are available at To learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and more, please visit the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply. You can find a list of all U.S. embassy and consulate websites at

There are different categories of visas that correspond to your purpose of travel, and each one has its own application procedures. If you are travelling to the USA for a reason other than tourism or temporary business—for example, to study or for temporary employment—you will need the correct visa. You can find more information at

Further visa inquiries
Questions on embassy-specific visa application procedures and questions on visa ineligibilities should be addressed to the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will be applying. Please be sure to check, which has complete information about the U.S. visa process. Very often you will find the information you need.

Note: Beginning Wednesday, November 12, most business and tourist visas from China to the United States will be valid for 10 years. Previously valid for one year, Chinese travelers will now be able to make multiple entries for a decade without having to reapply for their visas. The validity period for student visas is also increased from one year to five years. For more information, visit

Customs Regulations

As a routine matter, U.S. Customs and Border Protection may search your belongings even if you don’t declare anything. The full list of customs rules is at, but some frequently asked questions include:

What may I bring in duty-free?

  • No more than 200 cigarettes and 100 cigars per individual 18 and older.
  • Up to one litre of alcoholic beverages per individual 21 and older.
  • Gifts and purchases valued at a maximum of $100 total.

What are the rules regarding large amounts of money?
Anyone travelling with $10,000 or more in cash—whether it’s in U.S. dollars or any other currency—must declare it.

What are common mistakes travellers make?
Some items will be confiscated if you try to import them, such as counterfeit goods; Cuban cigars; most agricultural (plant and meat) products; and drug-related equipment. The presence of any illegal drugs will result in prosecution.

Border Crossings

In order to enter by land from Canada or Mexico, certain documents are required beyond your passport and visa (if necessary):

  • Driver’s licence. (Canadian and Mexican licences are enough, although an International Driving Permit is not a bad idea.)
  • Registration paperwork for the vehicle.
  • Proof of liability insurance.

The entry time varies depending on the border crossing. The current wait times are updated hourly on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s website at

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