If you wish to come to the U.S. as a visitor for business or for pleasure, you may need or wish to apply for a visa first. (People from certain countries, including those participating in the Visa Waiver Program, do not need to get a visa before coming to the U.S. for short tourist visits – see “Who Can Visit the U.S. Under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)” for more information.)
First, make sure you are eligible for the visa. See "A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify?"
Overview of Application Process
Applying for a B visa is fairly straightforward. You fill out one U.S. government form, prepare some documents (including an itinerary, financial documents, and proof of ties to your home country), pay some fees, and make a visit to a U.S. consulate for a personal interview.
It’s important, however, to take this process seriously. Failure to present a complete and compelling application can lead you to be one of the many people denied a B visa each year. The consular official who will be reviewing your case won’t have much time for argument – you’ll need to get it right the first time.
Forms and Documents to Prepare
Your application for a B-1 or B-2 visitor visa will consist of government forms as well as documents that you collect yourself. The most critical form, called DS-160, can be completed only online. You will bring the remaining documents and forms with you to your visa interview.
Your B visa application should consist of the items listed below.
- Form DS-160. Nonimmigrant Visa Application. After filling this form out online at the DS-160 page of the State Department website, you will need to print out a page with a bar code, and bring that page to your consular interview.
- MRV fee
receipt. After you have paid the relevant machine-readable visa (MRV)
application fee at a nearby financial institution ($160 as of early 2014), you
will get a receipt. The financial institution at which you must pay depends on
the country; check the website of the U.S. consulate where you plan to apply
for your visa to get a bank location. Most consulates will not allow you to pay
the visa fee at the time of the interview.
Visa reciprocity fee. You may have to pay an additional fee if you are from a country that charges similar fees for visas to U.S. citizens.
- Your passport. This must contain an expiration date that is at least six months later than the end of your intended B-2 stay in the United States.
- One photo of you. This must be U.S. passport-style, and measure two inches by two inches. We recommend you go to a professional photographer, who will know all the required specifications.
- Documents showing the purpose of your trip. For example, you might include a travel itinerary and proof of your hotel, bus, and various ticket arrangements. Within these documents should be evidence of your intent to depart the United States at the end of your stay, such as a plane, bus, or boat ticket home.
- Employer letter if applying for B-1 visa. If you are coming to the U.S. on business, bring a letter from your foreign employer that describes your job and explains what you will be doing for it during your stay in the United States. The letter should make clear that you will be paid only from sources outside the U.S., and state a date when you will be expected to return from your trip. If you will be attending a trade show or similar business event, bring promotional materials, flyers, and proof that you are registered for the show.
- Evidence that you will return to your home country. Gather proof that you own a home or have a long-term lease on an apartment, evidence of relationships with close family members staying behind (such as birth or marriage certificates), and documents showing that a job will be waiting for you upon your return (such as a specially written letter from your employer). The idea is to show that your ties to your home country are so strong that you would never overstay your U.S. visa.
- Proof of ability to cover your expenses while in the United States. You must show that once you arrive in the U.S., you are not going to need to seek employment or rely on public assistance (commonly called welfare). Depending on your situation, this might include a Form I-134, Affidavit of Support filled out and signed by a U.S. friend or relative (a form issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services or USCIS); a letter from a friend or relative inviting you to visit, stating you are welcome to stay with him or her; bank statements showing your accessible cash; personal financial statements; and evidence of your current sources of income (such as pay stubs and an employer letter).
Attending a Consular Interview
Check the website of the U.S. consulate that provides nonimmigrant visas in your area. It will explain whether you need to submit your application by mail in advance, or can just walk it in. See “The Day of Your Consular Interview” for what to expect at this review of your application.