Applying for a visitor visa can be an extremely stressful process. Guidelines often seem unclear and contradicting information on different websites can make the whole process even more confusing.
That's why we've assembled some helpful information about the U.S. visitor visa application process, including a list of all the documents you will need to complete the online application and to take with you to your visa interview.
But first, you should verify that a visitor visa is indeed the visa required for your travel to the United States.
Do You Need to Apply for a USA Visitor Visa?
According to the U.S. Department of State, visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas for those wanting to enter the United States either temporarily for business (B-1 visa), for tourism (B-2 visa), or for a combination of both (B-1/B-2).
Travel Purposes Permitted by the Business Visitor Visa (B-1)
- Consulting with business associates
- Attending a professional conference
- Settling an estate
- Negotiating a contract
Travel Purposes Permitted by the Visitor Visa (B-2)
- Visiting friends or relatives
- Receiving medical treatment
- Participating in social events
- Participating in amateur performances
- Enrolling in short, non-credited courses of study
Travel Purposes Not Permitted by the U.S. Visitor Visa
- Credited studies
- Paid performances, or professional performances in front of a paying audience
- Arrival as a crew member on a ship or aircraft
- Work as a member of the foreign press
- Permanent residence in the United States
Travelers coming to the U.S. for B-1 or B-2 purposes for a period of 90 days or less may be eligible to travel without a visa under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Follow the link to find out if your home country is one of the 38 countries participating in the VWP and to see if you meet the requirements to travel visa-free.
Visitor Visa Application & Interview Documents
Once you're sure that you require a U.S. visitor visa, you'll need to gather documents to begin the application process. Often, this is where the confusion starts.
The documents needed for the visitor visa application process fall into two categories: required documents and supporting documents:
- Required documents — Those that every visa applicant needs for their application.
- Supporting documents — Vary depending on the circumstances of your trip to the United States. The purpose of these documents is to show U.S. officials that you are not traveling to the United States for the purpose of immigration.
Therefore, they must prove that:
- The purpose of travel is for temporary business or pleasure
- You plan to remain for a specific, limited period
- You have funds to cover expenses in the United States
- You have a residence and other binding ties outside of the United States that will guarantee your departure at the end of your visit
Not all U.S. consulates and embassies require the same documents for the visitor visa application. For a location-specific list of required documents, visit the directory of U.S. embassies to consult the U.S. consulate or embassy where you plan to apply.
What Documents Are Required for the U.S. Visitor Visa?
The first step of the U.S. visitor visa application process is to complete the online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (Form DS-160).
Documents Required to Complete the Online Application
- Your passport — Must be valid for at least six months beyond the date you plan to leave the U.S.
- Your travel itinerary — If you've already made travel arrangements.
- The dates of your last five visits or trips to the United States — If you have previously traveled to the United States. Depending on your home country, you may also be asked for your international travel history for the past five years.
- Your resume or Curriculum Vitae — You may be asked to provide information about your current and previous work history.
- A photo (See "Photo Requirements" at the end of this section)
After you've submitted the online nonimmigrant visa application, print the application confirmation to bring with you to your interview.
Visa Application Fee
Next, you may be required to pay the non-refundable visa application fee of 160 USD. If you are not prompted to pay online, you will have to pay at your interview. Be prepared to pay the exact amount in USD or the equivalent in local currency, as specified on your consulate's website. You should also be sure to check in advance which types of payment are accepted.
Then, make an appointment for an interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate where you will be applying. At this interview, you will be asked to provide various additional documents.
Documents Required for Your Interview
- Your passport — Valid for at least 6 months beyond your projected period of stay in the United States.
- Old passports — Not listed as a required document by the U.S. Department of State, but frequently listed as a required document on other websites. You should bring these just in case, as it is always better to be overprepared.
- Your DS-160 application confirmation page
- Your application fee payment receipt — If you are required to pay before your interview.
- A photo — In case the digital upload of your photo fails while completing the DS-160 Form, you must bring one printed photo that meets the photo requirements (see "Photo Requirements" below)
- Must be in color
- Your head should measure between 1 and 1 3/8 inches (22 to 35 mm)
- Recent (less than 6 months old)
- Taken in front of a plain white background
- Taken in full-face view directly facing the camera
- Neutral facial expression with both eyes open
- Taken in clothing you wear on a regular basis
- Uniforms are not allowed, unless worn daily for religious reasons
- Hats or head coverings are not allowed, unless worn daily for religious purposes (in this case the head covering may not cast a shadow over the face)
- Headphones, wireless hands-free devices, or similar items are not allowed
- Hearing devices are allowed in your photo
- Eyeglasses are no longer allowed, except in rare cases when they cannot be removed for medical reasons (in this case, you'll need to provide a medical statement from a medical professional/practitioner)
If eyeglasses are permitted:
- Frames must not cover the eyes
- They must not be any glare obscuring the eyes
- There must not be any shadow obscuring the eyes
You can review examples of acceptable and nonacceptable photos on the U.S. Department of State website to get a better understanding of these guidelines.
Nonacceptable photos include photos copied or scanned from driver's licenses or other official documents, snapshots, magazine photos, low-resolution photo booth photos, mobile phone photos, or full-length photos.
Digital Photo Requirements for the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application
- Dimensions — The image must be square (height = width). Dimensions must be between 600 x 600 pixels at minimum and 1200 x 1200 pixels at maximum.
- Color — The image must be in color (24 bits/pixel) and in sRGB color space, which is the common output for most digital cameras.
- File Format — JPEG.
- File Size — Less than or equal to 240 kB (kilobytes)
- Compression — The photo may need to be compressed in order to be under the maximum file size. Compression ratios should be less than or equal to 20:1.
- If you use a scanned photo — It must be 2 x 2 in (51 x 51 mm) and be scanned at a resolution of 300 pixels/in (12 pixels/mm).
In addition to uploading a photo with your online application, some embassies and consulates require that you also bring a photo to your interview. Consult your local consulate to find out if this applies to you.
What Supporting Documents Should You Take to Your Interview?
During your visa interview at a U.S. consulate, you will be required to show additional documentation that may vary depending on your location and your reasons for traveling to the USA. These supporting documents include any documents that provide evidence of:
- The purpose of your trip
- Your intent to depart the U.S. when your trip ends
- Your ability to pay for the trip
Here, we have provided suggestions of supporting documents to take with you, organized by category.
Proof of the Purpose of Your Trip
- Your travel itinerary
- Round-trip flight information
- Hotel or accommodation arrangements
- (If visiting family or friends) — a letter of invitation
- (If traveling for temporary business) — the contact information of any U.S.-based business associates, and/or your business card
- (If planning to attend an event) — proof of the event and/or an invitation card or brochure
- (If traveling to seek medical treatment) — these 3 specific documents:
A medical diagnosis from a local physician explaining the nature of the ailment and the reason for seeking treatment in the USA
A letter from a physician or medical facility in the United States stating that they are willing to treat your ailment and specifying the projected length and cost of treatment (including doctors — fees, hospitalization, and other medical-related expenses)
Proof that transportation, medical, and living expenses in the U.S. will be paid. This proof may be in the form of bank or other statements of income or savings, or certified copies of income tax returns (yours or the person or organization paying for treatment)
Proof of Your Intent to Depart the U.S. at the End of Your Trip
- A letter of employment from your home country
- Proof of family ties in your home country, such as birth certificates of children or elders who require your care
- Property documents such as deeds, photographs of the property, and personal affidavits regarding the property
Proof of Your Ability to Pay All Costs of the Trip
- If you cannot cover all costs related to your trip, you may show evidence that another person will cover some or all of the costs for you. In this case, you would bring a letter of financial support from your guarantor, a copy of their ID, and documents showing their ability to financially support your trip.
- One or more recent tax returns
- Several recent bank statements
- Other financial documents, such as your tax ID, bank fixed deposits, shares, life insurance policies, bonds, etc.
- Proof of visitor health insurance to demonstrate that you will be able to pay for unexpected medical expenses you may incur during your stay in the USA. Some visitor health insurance policies, such as Atlas America insurance from Tokio Marine HCC — MIS Group, provide policyholders with access to a visa letter they can use as proof of coverage.
NOTE: Visitor health insurance covers many unexpected injuries and illnesses, but it does not cover medical expenses you plan to incur when the purpose of your travel is to seek medical treatment.
The documents listed above are just suggestions of possible supporting documents. You may not need all of them, but it is generally better to show up to your visa interview overprepared, with too many documents, than it is to show up with too few.
Be sure to consult the U.S. consulate where you are applying for specific information about supporting documents that may be required.
Tips for Navigating the Visitor Visa Application Process
Applying for a United States visitor visa can be a long and difficult process. Wading through all the forms and fees only to be rewarded with an intense interview can seem very scary. However, with the help of these practical tips and tricks, you'll be breezing through it in no time.
1) Be Prepared to Complete the DS-160 in English Only
All of your answers must be typed in English characters and written in English, except when you're asked to provide your full name in your native alphabet. Applications in other languages won't be accepted and you may be required to submit a new application. To make it easier for non-native English speakers, translations of questions are available in a drop-down menu.
2) Research Is Your Best Tool
Do your research, and then do it again. Each country has its own specific requirements. Use the directory of U.S. embassies as a starting point in your research. This site has links to the website of every country's U.S. embassy with additional helpful information.
Another good resource is anyone who has already been through the visa application process. Turn to friends and family or join a forum or group on social media of other people who have applied in the past.
3) Check and Double-Check Your Completed Application
Before you submit your online application, proofread and check for errors. Make sure you've provided an answer for every single box on the application. If the question does not pertain, then write "not applicable" or "N/A" and use the additional information boxes to explain the answers that you gave. Keep in mind, applications with empty responses will not be accepted.
4) Wait Times Vary, So Apply Early
Filling out the DS-160 form isn't likely to take you long, but between the time it takes to get an appointment at the embassy/consulate and the time it takes for them to process your application post-interview, it could be a month or more before you receive your visa.
Avoid expedited processing fees by starting the process early. The U.S. Department of State has provided a resource for checking the approximate wait time for your consulate or embassy. Most embassy or consulate websites provide this information as well.
5) Get Organized Ahead of Your Interview
Keep track of the things you need to bring with you to the interview. Make sure you have all documentation (both required and supporting), as well as copies, if they are requested. The dossier you take to your interview may end up being quite large, so labeling papers and organizing them in a way that makes documents easy to find is a good idea.
6) Be Positive
Bring a good attitude to the interview. Being polite and courteous will go a long way. Always make eye contact so the interviewer doesn't think you are trying to hide something. If you tend to get nervous, remember that doing research will help you be more confident.
Another good idea is to dress nicely and to arrive at the interview early. If you get intimidated, just remember that the consular officer performing the interview is not your enemy. He or she is just doing their job.
7) Be Prepared for Anything
There may be some surprises in the interview, but don't let them worry you. Remember, the interview may be conducted in your language or in English. If you are not sure what the interviewer has said because of an accent or language barrier, calmly and politely ask them to repeat themselves.
Also be prepared to answer "what if" questions, such as "What if you are offered a job while you are in the United States? Would you take it?" If you answer this question with, "I would take the job," then your application will most likely be denied. The interviewers are not asking you these questions because they doubt you, but because it is their job to determine which applicants may illegally remain in the country.
8) Check Your Visa Carefully
Congratulations! Now that you have your visa, the last thing to do is carefully check it and confirm that all the information is correct. Make sure your name is spelled right, and that everything is accurate. Enjoy your trip!