What documents are needed to travel to the USA?

What documents are needed to travel to the USA?

Any stay in the United States, for whatever reason, requires you to submit to various formalities to obtain several travel documents. Indeed, all it takes is one missing or inappropriate document for the US customs services to refuse access to US territory. To avoid this disappointment, we detail all the essential travel documents to go to the USA .

The passport: a mandatory travel document to stay in the USA

To enter American soil, the American authorities require all foreign nationals to have a passport. But beware, there are some specific rules to follow when it comes to this identity document.

Passport category

In order to travel to the USA, the American State requires travelers to have one of the following two passports:

  • electronic passport (issued in France from April 2006 to June 2009);
  • biometric passport (issued since June 2009).

The new generation passport, called biometric, is equipped with an electronic chip listing information on the identity of the holder (civil status, height, fingerprints, etc.). If you have any doubts about the type of passport you have, just check the cover page of your identity document, when the word “passport” is underlined, it means that it is indeed a biometric passport.

The validity of the passport

In addition to the category of passport, it is essential to check that you are traveling with a valid passport. To do this, simply check the expiry date of the identity document. In case of expired passport, it is obvious that you will not be able to go to the USA. You will therefore have to apply for a passport at your town hall. Attention, we advise you to anticipate this step, because the renewal of a passport requires several weeks of waiting. It would be a shame to cancel your trip to the USA, simply because of an invalid passport.

The valid passport also has another major function: it allows you to apply for a residence permit, whether for a US visa or for an ESTA .

The authorization of stay: a travel document necessary to enter the United States

The US government has one of the strictest immigration policies in the world. As such, the US Department of Homeland Security pays particular attention to travelers wishing to travel to the USA. To ensure that they do not plan to remain illegally on American soil, the American administration has set up two travel documents: the visa and the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

ESTA: an electronic travel document

ESTA is part of the visa waiver program set up by the US government. The exemption program was created with the aim of encouraging tourism in the USA while easing the procedures for entering the territory. ESTA is a security measure to keep an eye on the profile of each visa-exempt traveler.

In concrete terms, the ESTA authorization is an electronic travel authorization allowing travel to the United States without a visa. This document is intended for nationals of the 38 member countries of the Visa Waiver Program. Note that if you are in possession of a French passport (or of an EU country), you are eligible for ESTA. But beware, the conditions of use of this travel document in the USA are strict:

  • the trip must be limited to a maximum stay of 90 days;
  • it must be a tourist stay, a business trip or a transit;
  • entry into the USA must be by air or sea.

The ESTA application

Applying for an ESTA is very simple. To do this, simply access the official website of the US government or a private site specializing in the issuance of this travel authorization, then fill out an online form.

To complete the ESTA form, you must fill in the information on your passport (civil status, passport number, country of citizenship, date of issue, expiry date, etc.). In order to make sure that you do not represent any threat for the country, you will then have to answer a brief questionnaire. The questions asked relate in particular to your criminal history, your previous trips or your state of health.

To validate your ESTA file, you will have to pay the application fee. Your request will then be processed within 72 hours. If you meet the ESTA eligibility criteria, your admission should go smoothly. It is not uncommon for the request to be approved within minutes of submission.

If ESTA authorization is granted, you can then go to the United States without a visa, as many times as you want for two years, which is the validity period of the authorization. If your ESTA authorization request is refused, it is likely that you do not comply with the conditions of the Visa Waiver Program. In this case, you will need to apply for a visa.

The non-immigrant visa

The non-immigrant visa is also a temporary residence permit, however, it applies to more specific cases than for the ESTA. Be aware that the USA visa comes in dozens of different versions, each applying to a specific situation. Here are some examples of the most frequently used visas:

  • B2 visa: tourism;
  • B1 visa: business trip;
  • F/M visa: international students;
  • J visa: trainees;
  • H1-B visa: specialized professions;
  • H2-B visa: seasonal or temporary non-agricultural workers.

How to apply for a visa?

After determining which type of visa corresponds to your trip, you will need to complete the DS-160 form on the US Embassy website. Once completed, you will need to pay the visa fee ($160 for the majority of visas) and submit your application.

Depending on the type of visa requested, you may be asked to gather supporting documents and submit an application to the United States Embassy during an interview with a consular officer.

If the visa application is approved, the visa will be affixed to your passport. The passport will then be sent to you by post.

The validity period of the visa is variable, it varies from 6 months to 10 years and is sometimes renewable.

As you will have understood, any trip to the USA cannot be done without a passport and a residence permit. You are now ready to cross the Atlantic, have a nice trip!