Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to visit the United States must first obtain a visa. Visitor visas are nonimmigrant visas for persons who want to enter the United States temporarily for business (visa category B-1), tourism, pleasure or visiting (visa category B-2), or a combination of both purposes (B-1/B-2).
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) enables most citizens or nationals of participating countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without first obtaining a visa. Travelers must have a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval prior to travel. An approved travel authorization is not a visa. It does not meet the legal or regulatory requirements to serve in lieu of a United States visa when a visa is required under United States law. If you prefer to have a visa in your passport, you may still apply for a visitor (B) visa.
Individuals who possess a valid visa will still be able to travel to the United States on that visa for the purpose for which it was issued. Individuals traveling on valid visas are not required to apply for a travel authorization.
Here are some examples of activities permitted with a visitor B1 visa (or ESTA):
- consult with business associates
- attend a scientific, educational, professional, or business convention or conference
- settle an estate
- negotiate a contract
Here are some examples of activities permitted with a visitor B2 visa (or ESTA):
- vacation (holiday)
- visit with friends or relatives
- medical treatment
- participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
- participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
- enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)
These are some examples of activities that require different categories of visas and cannot be done while on a visitor B1/B2 visa or ESTA:
- paid performances, or any professional performance before a paying audience
- arrival as a crewmember on a ship or aircraft
- work as foreign press, radio, film, journalists, and other information media
- permanent residence in the United States