If you plan to come to the U.S. as a visitor for business or for pleasure, you might need to apply for a visa first, in a category known as B-2. (People from certain countries, however, 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 B-2 visa, and that it suits your needs. See A B-2 Visa for Visiting the U.S. as a Tourist: Do You Qualify? As a brief preview, you'll find that the main qualification criteria include that you wish to visit the United States only for pleasure or for medical treatment, that you plan to stay for a limited, specific period of time (not permanently), that you live outside the United States and plan to go back to your home (or to some other country that you have permission to enter) after your U.S. stay, and that you can afford your U.S. trip.
Overview of B-2 Visa Application Process
Applying for a B visa is straightforward. You must 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 cause you to be one of the many people denied a B visa each year. The U.S. consular official who will review your case won't have much time for argument, so you will need to get it right the first time.
Forms and Documents to Prepare for B-2 Visa Application
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 out online at the Apply for a Nonimmigrant Visa 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.
- Visa application fee receipt. You will likely be required to pay the visa application fee at a nearby financial institution ($160 as of 2023) before your consular interview, and you will then 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 U.S. consulates will not allow you to pay the visa fee at the time of the interview.
Visa issuance/reciprocity fee. You might have to pay an additional fee if you are from a country that charges similar fees for visas to U.S. citizens. Unlike the application fee, you will pay the visa issuance fee (also called visa reciprocity fee) at the time of your interview.
- Your passport. This must contain an expiration date that is at least six months later than the end of your intended B-2 visitor stay in the United States.
- One photo of you. This photo 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. See the State Department guidance for photo specifications and a tool to make sure your photo meets the requirements.
- 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. If you'll be attending a wedding, conference, or some other event, include the invitation, confirmation, and so on. (Fortunately, even if the event is cancelled, you can still use your visa for travel to the United States, so long as your activities stay within the parameters of what the visa permits.) Within the various documents you present 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 United States 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, for example, 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). You will also need to show sufficient funds to pay for your return travel.
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.