Where do Americans need visas

If you are planning to travel to the United States, you will need to apply for an ESTA or a USA visa.
Only travelers with US or Canadian citizenship do not need a visa or ESTA to travel by plane or (cruise) ship to the USA. A visa or ESTA is also required if you only have one transit in the US. However, it is often not necessary to apply for a visa for the USA. Germans, Austrians, Swiss and most other European citizens can also travel to the USA with an ESTA. Applying for an ESTA is much easier, faster and cheaper than applying for a visa for the United States.

First of all, check whether you even need a USA visa
On this page you will find detailed explanations of the different visas for the USA. Many travelers conclude from the information available that they need a B-1 or B-2 visa to the United States. Often wrongly, because an ESTA is usually sufficient. So first check whether you can use an ESTA for your trip; To do this, you must meet the requirements that apply to the use of the ESTA and you are not allowed to stay in the USA for longer than the validity period of the ESTA. If you do need a visa, you should first read in the following paragraphs which of the various visas for the USA is best for you to apply for your trip.


USA visa information

  • 1. When is a visa required to travel to the USA?

    You do not need to apply for a US visa if an ESTA (meaning abbreviation) is sufficient for your trip. This is often the case, but not always. B. not if you want to invest in a company or do journalistic activities in the USA. You will also need a visa if you are going to be employed by a US employer or to study in the United States.

    You only need a visa in the following cases:

    • You want to stay in the US for more than 90 days
    • You are traveling for any reason other than business, pleasure or medical treatment
    • After March 1st, 2011 you were in Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen, North Korea, Syria, Libya or Somalia
    • You have the citizenship of one of these countries (possibly as a second citizenship)
    • You are traveling on a private plane or boat, or on an airline that does not participate in the ESTA system
    • You cannot answer "no" to all security questions in the ESTA form
    • Due to the provisions in Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act did not receive an ESTA
    • You do not have the nationality and therefore also do not have a passport of a VWP country

    Are you unsure whether an ESTA is sufficient? Read everything about the ESTA here

  • 2. US Visa Overview

    If you cannot obtain an ESTA, apply for a visa to enter the United States. Please note: As with an ESTA, approval of a visa application is no guarantee that you will be able to enter the United States, as was once again painfully evident in the 2020 corona crisis. Upon your arrival, the border protection authorities are entitled to refuse entry without giving any reason. This happens if there is a suspicion that you pose a threat to the security of the USA or the health of the population or you may have violated Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act violated. To this end, travelers undergo regular random checks upon arrival in the United States.

    US visas can be broken down into two main categories: non-immigrant visas and immigrant visas. Non-immigrant visas are visas where the purpose of travel is to stay in the United States only temporarily, e.g. B. for tourism, business, work or study. Immigrant visas are visas for people planning to immigrate to the United States.


    1. Visas for vacation and business travel

    B-1 visaTemporary visa USA for business travel for up to 180 days per entry where:
    • You negotiate or hold meetings with business partners.
    • You are attending meetings or conferences with an educational, scientific, or business background.
    • Companies that deliver machines or operating systems to the USA can, under certain conditions, send their fitters or engineers to the USA for e.g. assembly, repair and maintenance work with this visa.
    B-2 visaTemporary USA visa for tourism for a stay of up to 180 days per entry if:
    • You want to vacation in the USA
    • You want to visit friends or relatives in the USA
    But even if:
    • You are receiving medical treatment in the United States
    • You participate in music and / or sports events or competitions
    • You are attending a short, relaxing course or training (e.g. a two-day cooking class while you are on vacation in the United States)
    Combination of B-1 and B-2 A temporary visa for vacation and business trips for a stay of up to 180 days per entry. This is a combination of the B-1 and B-2 visas

    Please also note what is not allowed with a B-1 visa, B-2 visa or the combination B-1 / B-2: You are not allowed to study or attend school in the USA, you are not allowed to apply for a US- American employers work (including internships, voluntary work or au pair work), are not allowed to be paid for appearances or commercial services and are not allowed to enter the USA as a member of a ship or aircraft crew with this visa and you are not allowed to stay in stay in the USA.


    2. Visas for (college) school or work in the USA

    F visaThis visa is issued to foreign students who are enrolled in a recognized US university or college. In addition to the student themselves, their spouses and children can also travel to the USA with this visa.
    H visaThis visa is issued to foreign (qualified) workers who want to work temporarily in the USA. With this visa, workers with (highly) specialized jobs can travel to the USA.
    J visaThis visa is issued to foreign workers (such as au pairs) and students who are participating in an exchange program. The purpose of the law on which this visa is based is to promote mutual understanding between US citizens and people from other countries through cultural and educational exchanges.
    L visaThis visa is issued to foreign workers in an establishment located in both the worker's home country and the United States. Only an employee who has been employed by this company for at least one year can obtain an L visa. The L visa is valid for a maximum of seven years and is valid for the employee as well as the spouse and children.
    M visaThis visa is issued to foreign students who want to take part in a non-academic study program. These include, for example, part-time training, evening courses or schools (not universities) with professional training or technical qualifications. The spouses and children of these persons can also travel to the USA on this visa.
    O visaThis visa is issued to people who have special skills in the fields of science, art, education, trade and industry or sports. These people must be able to demonstrate success in their respective specialist area and demonstrate that their employment in the USA is temporary.
    P visaThis visa is issued to foreign athletes, entertainers, artists and employees or team members who support these people in their activities.
    Q visaThis visa is issued to participants in an international cultural exchange program.

    3. Visas for other specific purposes

    A visaThis visa is issued to representatives of foreign governments who travel to the United States to participate in official government activities in the United States. This visa is therefore issued to diplomats and foreign officials.
    C visaThis visa is issued to travelers in transit who are traveling on to another country immediately after arriving in the United States. This is de facto a transit visa (but for transit you can usually apply for an ESTA as well).
    D visaThis visa is issued to foreign crew members of seagoing ships and international aircraft. With this visa pilots, flight attendants, captains, engineers, sailors and service employees of (cruise) ships can enter the USA.
    E visaThis visa is issued to persons who work in companies whose main business purpose is international trade, services to (institutional) investors, or who have invested substantial sums in companies in the United States. For example, it is about investors or dealers who want to travel to the USA.
    G visaThis visa is issued to diplomats, civil servants, and workers who work for international organizations in the United States. This type of visa can also be issued to family members of these people.
    I visaThis visa is issued to representatives of foreign media. This type of visa can be issued to employees of the press (such as journalists), radio and TV, so that they can work in the USA for a certain period of time.
    K visaThis visa is issued to fiancées of residents of the United States. Non-Americans can travel to the USA with a K-1 visa. That person must then be married within 90 days of arrival to remain in the United States. The K-2 visa is issued to single children under the age of 21 so that they can live with their parents.
    R visaThis visa is issued to pastors of various religions (recognized in the USA) who want to stay in the USA for a certain period of time. You must be a member of a religious community or a non-profit organization (NGO, for example a denominational hospital), and this religious (church) NGO must have existed or be established in the USA for more than two years. Family members can also receive this visa (in the case of family members, the R-2 visa).
    S visaThis visa is issued to witnesses or informants in the course of police or public prosecution investigations. A maximum of 200 of these visas are issued each year. The issue of this visa must be applied for by a police or judicial service.
    TN visaThis visa is issued to citizens of Mexico or Canada with a profession or education that is on the NAFTA list. These individuals must have completed this training at a minimum of a bachelor's level and they must begin their employment in a pre-determined job in the USA.
    U and T visaThis visa is generally issued to crime victims who have suffered physical and / or psychological damage and who want to help the police or the courts solve the crime (and their immediate family members).
    V visaThis visa is issued to spouses and minor children of residents of the United States who are permanent residents. This allows residents with permanent residence permits to join part of their families in the United States as part of family reunification.

    The "Green card lottery
    In addition to the above visas, there are also those Green card lottery. In short, this is a lottery game that can win you a US visa. This lottery is carried out on behalf of the American Congress, with 50,000 visas being raffled at random to participants from previously specified countries (including Germany, Austria and Switzerland) every year. It is estimated that 12 to 20 million people take part in this lottery every year - so the chance of winning a green card is very small.

    Choosing the Right Visa for the United States
    In addition to the visas listed in the three tables above, other types of visas can be applied for. In total there are more than 185 different visas for the USA. Each visa has a different target group, different criteria and a different application process. If you have difficulties in choosing the right visa, please read the folder of the “Bureau of Consular Affairs”. This flyer may help you after reading the information on this page. The correct (or incorrect) selection of the visa applied for has far-reaching consequences.

    In which situations do you need to apply for a visa and an ESTA USA?
    If you have a valid, up-to-date US visa, you do not need or apply for an ESTA as long as the purpose of your travel matches the reason stated on the visa. However, if you are traveling to the United States for a purpose other than that for which your visa was issued, you will need to apply for an ESTA (or other visa).

    The legislation and thus the requirements regarding visas for the USA change regularly. We therefore recommend that you read the US government and US embassy websites carefully to be sure that you are applying for the right visa for you and your reason for travel. If you have any doubts, it is best to contact the US embassy or consulate.

  • 3. Possible reasons for rejecting a visa application

    It happens that visa applications for the USA are rejected. The decision to reject the application can be based on the Immigration and Nationality Act be taken, but also be justified differently.

    Reasons for rejection can be:

    • health reasons
    • a criminally relevant past life
    • United States security or public order reasons
    • an assessment that you could be costing the United States health or welfare system
    • the assessment that you intend to stay in the United States without a valid residence permit
    • that you do not have the necessary documents for the visa in question
    • that you do not meet the criteria for the visa in question
    • that you were ever denied entry to the United States
    • that the consulate officer is not convinced that you meet the requirements for a USA visa

    However, this is only a limited selection of the reasons for which the application for a US visa can be rejected. Please also note that the processing of a visa application by the US American authorities takes (much) longer than the processing of an ESTA application. It often takes a month or more to process a visa application, while an ESTA is often granted within a few minutes.

  • 4. Apply for a USA visa

    If you want to apply for a USA visa, you will need the following documents:

    • Two current photographs
    • A valid passport that is valid for at least six months from the date of departure
    • The completed visa application form and:
      • a receipt that you have taken out health insurance.
      • proof that you have sufficient funds to travel to the United States.
      • Evidence to show what exactly you are going to do in the United States. This could be your tickets, a travel plan issued by a travel agency, the booking confirmation, the letter of admission from a university or a letter from your future employer in the United States of America.

    Documents and information about yourself, your family and your visit to the United States will be required to assess your visa application. Please answer the questions correctly and completely in order to avoid delays in processing your visa application.

    Video USA visa application


    When applying for a nonimmigrant visa to the United States, use what is called the DS-160 form. Fill out the DS-160 form online. After completing and sending the form, you must yourself, either on the embassy website or by calling tel. +49 (0) 322-2109-3243 or (0) 62047050390 make an appointment for an interview at the American embassy or consulate. During this conversation (interview), the employee of the consulate or embassy will ask you questions to review your visa application. Children up to 13 years of age and people who are 80 years of age and older generally do not have to take this - otherwise compulsory - interview.


    Advice for visiting an American embassy or consulate
    Please be at the embassy or consulate well in advance of the time allotted for the interview.Sometimes there is a queue - please stay calm, stand in line and follow the instructions of the staff. When entering the embassy or consulate, just like at the airport, you have to go through a body scanner and bags will be opened and checked by the security staff. We recommend that you do not take smartphones, laptops, tablets, cameras, USB sticks, e-books or other electronic equipment with you, as this can delay access because these are also controlled by the security staff. Checking these devices costs a lot of time and can mean that, despite arriving at the embassy or consulate on time, you cannot start the interview on time, which means that the interview cannot be held in full. This can mean that you have to continue the interview on another day, which means that you have to travel to the embassy or consulate again.