So you’ve got the 3 Ps (passport, plane ticket, phone) packed for our Gulf Coast paradise? That’s a good start. Did you remember to check the expiration date of your passport as well? Great. U.S. citizens flying domestically don’t need to carry passports, at least for now. You do need to have a REAL ID-compliant driver’s license or photo ID card, though.
If traveling from abroad you also need additional documentation either in the form of a visa or an ESTA, in order to enter the U.S. Which one you need depends on your country of origin and the length of your stay.
We recommend checking this way in advance. You don’t want to enter a state of panicked frenzy just as you are about to take off upon realizing that you’ve overlooked this small, crucial detail. Or worse, only discovering your faux pas once you’ve landed and are being ushered towards border control in a single file lemming train of passengers.
Getting an ESTA
Currently, there are 39 countries participating in the so-called Visa Waiver Program. Travelers who hold passports from these countries can travel to the US for business or tourism purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. You’ll just need to obtain an approval through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization Scheme (ESTA)
If your country is in the list you need to apply for an ESTA no later than 72 hours prior to travel to the U.S. You can do this online straight via US Homeland Security website. It costs $14.00 and you usually receive a response within seconds of submitting the application. To ensure plain sailing, it is advisable to get this out of the way as soon as you start planning your trip.
Getting a VISA
If you need to stay longer that the permitted 90 days (and once you’ve gotten a taste of our award-winning beaches and laid-back lifestyle we don’t blame you), if you are an exchange student – or if your country doesn’t fall under the Visa Waiver Program – you will require a non-immigrant visa. This is a longer process where you need to tick all the requirement boxes.
Once you’ve submitted your application documents, which is subject to a fee ranging between $160-$205 depending on your visa, you will be cited for an interview. Head over to the U.S. Department of State’s website to check the step-by-step process and a detailed list of requirements.