What do I need to travel to the United States?


1. Possess a valid passport

U.S. Customs and Border Protection may limit the period of admission on the Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record to the expiration date of the traveler’s passport. Certain countries are also required to possess a passport valid for six (6) months beyond the period of stay, with the list of exceptions hyperlinked here.


2. Apply for a U.S. visa category if required

Certain types of U.S. visa categories may be obtained directly at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate through the submission of a DS-160 Online Consular Visa Application, payment of the Machine Readable Visa (MRV) fees, scheduling of a visa interview appointment, filing any required applications in advance, attending the visa interview appointment, and waiting generally 1-2 weeks after the interview for visa stamping. Other visa categories may require an approval in advance from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which requires a petition, government filing fees, and supporting evidence as proof of qualification for the specific type of visa category. Canadians can also apply for certain visa categories at a U.S. Port of Entry at a land border or international airport.

Canadians are visa-exempt for certain activities but must present an application if applying for visa-exemption under a work-authorized visa category, such as Trade NAFTA (TN) visa or an L-1 Intracompany Transferee visa.

Citizens of certain countries are eligible to travel visa-waiver under the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) for visitor purposes up to ninety (90) days per trip at the discretion of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Limitations of ESTA include the inability to change or extend status from within the United States. Travel on private aircraft generally requires a B-1/B-2 Visitor Visa even by travelers generally eligible for ESTA.


3. Be ready for anticipated questioning by U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon arrival to a U.S. Port of Entry

Common questions include your purpose of travel, duration of stay on this specific trip, and intent to return to your home country if required. It’s important that your purpose of travel and duration of stay align with the visa category, including if entering visa exempt or visa-waiver under ESTA as a visitor.

For visitor travel, proof of accommodations and round trip travel itinerary are recommended to show departure within a specific period. Frequent travel within a short duration, especially more than 6 months per year as a visitor, may raise questioning and result in a denial of entry or, in extreme cases, expedited removal (i.e. deportation) with a 5-year bar on applying for U.S. immigration benefits. U.S. Customs and Border Protection may place nonimmigrant travelers in secondary inspection where they may review publicly available information such as Social Media and even go through cell phones, which can lead to findings and significant immigration consequences that may be difficult or impossible to overcome.

For travel on a work-authorized visa, keep in mind that you are generally only authorized to perform approved work activities for your sponsoring U.S. employer or agent. It can be helpful to have a recent employment letter and paystubs to present only if questioned.


4. Check I-94 Arrival/Departure Record on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website to confirm proper admission and period of stay



The above is informational and not intended to be legal advice. Please consult with an experienced business immigration attorney on your specific facts and circumstances before proceeding with any U.S. immigration strategy.