Visiting a U.S. physician to receive medical treatment may not seem like a typical activity of a “tourist for pleasure,” but if you want to travel to the U.S. for medical reasons you must apply for a B-2 tourist visa at your local U.S. embassy or consulate. To do this, you will need to show that this treatment is medically necessary and unavailable in your home country, as well as prove that that you can afford to pay the often extremely high costs of U.S. healthcare.
This article will discuss who will qualify for a B-2 visa for U.S. medical treatment and how to demonstrate your pressing need for health services in the United States. For more general information about who is eligible for a B-2 tourist visa, see Nolo’s article “A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify?”
What You Must Show to Obtain a B-2 Visa for Medical Treatment
In order to qualify for a B-2 visa for the purposes of treatment by a U.S. physician, you will need to show U.S. immigration authorities that you plan to make a brief and temporary visit to the U.S. for necessary medical attention that is unavailable in your home country. You will need to provide evidence that you:
- are traveling to the U.S. solely to receive medical treatment
- plan to stay for a temporary and specified period of time that is corroborated by a letter from your treating physician
- have a permanent residence outside the United States as well as other binding ties (such as family and a permanent job) that will demonstrate that you intend to return home
- have a valid, unexpired passport enabling to you to return to your home country at the end of your visit
- have the financial means to pay for your travel and personal expenses during your U.S. stay, and
- have the financial means to pay for the costs of your medical treatment.
You Must Obtain Letters From Both Your Physician and a U.S. Healthcare Professional
B-2 travelers seeking medical treatment must provide U.S. officials with a letter demonstrating their need for U.S. medical treatment. Ideally you will provide a letter from your local treating physician (on official letterhead) describing:
- the nature of your illness or ailment
- the diagnosis and your recommended treatment
- the reason why this treatment is unavailable in your home country (for example, the poor quality of hospitals and medical equipment or unavailability of health services related to your condition), and
- the doctor’s recommendation that you seek U.S. medical care.
You must also provide a letter from a healthcare professional in the U.S. who is willing to treat you. Before you apply for the B-2 visa, you should do your research and contact a variety of medical professionals who can treat your condition to get an idea how long you will need to be in the U.S. and how much you may be expected to pay for the treatment and any related costs such as tests, doctors’ fees, hospitalization, and prescription medication. Once you have decided on a doctor who can best serve your needs, obtain a letter from the U.S. physician or medical facility outlining:
- the doctor’s willingness to accept you as a patient based on the information received from your local physician
- a detailed treatment plan for your medical condition
- how long you will need to stay in the U.S. to complete your medical treatment, and
- the estimated cost of all medical procedures, including fees for inpatient and outpatient care.
You Must Show That You Can Pay for Your Treatment
The price of U.S. medical services can come as a shock to visitors who are accustomed to government-subsidized care in their home countries. You will need to show U.S. government officials that you have adequate financial resources to pay for the medical treatment that you need. You will not be able to rely on any U.S. welfare or public assistance, because the law says that people who are likely to become a “public charge” will not be eligible for a B-2 visa.
Therefore, be ready to provide bank statements or other records showing the amount of cash that you have immediately available to pay your medical costs, as well as for your expenses during your stay in the U.S. (such as housing, food, and transportation).
If you do not have enough income to show this, you can have a U.S. relative or friend agree to sponsor you using Form I-134, Affidavit of Support. This person will need provide information about his or her employment, income, bank accounts, and other personal property to show that he or she has enough resources to cover your expenses during your trip to the United States. Be aware that Form I-134 is considered an enforceable contract between the person signing the form and the U.S. government. In addition, providing Form I-134 to show sponsorship of your trip is not a guarantee that the U.S. official will approve your visa application, especially if the costs of your medical treatment are very high. You will have a better chance if the person guaranteeing to pay for your costs is a close relative such as a parent, spouse, or child.
You May Be Examined by a Physician at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate
Although medical exams by U.S.-authorized doctors are mainly required of people who wish to immigrate to the U.S. permanently, you may be required by the local U.S. embassy or consulate to have such a medical examination in order to receive a B-2 tourist visa for medical treatment.
The purpose of this exam is to determine whether or not treatment for your disease or ailment is available in your home country, but you will also be screened for any communicable diseases that would make your inadmissible to the United States. For more detailed information about medical exams overseas, you can see the U.S. State Department’s website on this topic.
You May Be Inadmissible for Certain Health-Related Grounds
People with certain contagious diseases are considered “inadmissible” to the U.S. and may not be able to obtain a B-2 visa for medical treatment.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) maintains a list of those diseases that it considers to be of “public health significance” for the purposes of immigration. These communicable diseases include sexually transmitted diseases such as syphilis and gonorrhea and bacterial diseases such as tuberculosis and leprosy. Also included are contagious diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, smallpox, and yellow fever.
In 2010, the CDC removed HIV from the list of diseases that rendered travelers inadmissible to the United States. To learn more about this, see Nolo’s article “How Health Issues Can Make You Inadmissible to the U.S.”
How to Apply
If you think you are eligible to travel to the U.S. for medical treatment, the next step is to learn more about how to apply for a B-2 visa at “Application Process for a B-1 or B-2 Visitor Visa.”