How to Enter the United States

Learn about common procedures for entering the United States.

Apply For a Visa

The U.S. Department of State issues visas to foreign nationals traveling to the United States through its embassies or consulates. However, you do not need a visa for your business meeting or for vacation if you are a citizen of the 38 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

Your reason for travel will determine the type of visa you need to enter the U.S. Some of the most common requested visas are:

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Procedures for Entering the United States

When you arrive in the United States, you must show valid travel documents as part of the entry procedure. The document(s) required depend on the country you are arriving from and your citizenship or status.

Arrival from Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative covers travel by land, sea or air from Canada, Mexico, and Bermuda:

Arrival from Other Countries

  • All travelers entering the United States from all other countries need a passport upon arrival (regardless of their country of citizenship).
  • Permanent residents and foreign nationals may also need a U.S. visa; you must apply for a visa before you start your trip.
  • Learn more about bringing food, pets and medication to the U.S. 

Entry Denials

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers conduct arrival inspections using the same criteria for all foreign nationals visiting the U.S. They have sole discretion concerning your admission to the United States, even if all your travel documents, including your visa, are in order.

Note: While there are no rules prohibiting pregnant visitors from entering the United States, doing so to give birth is not one of them. A CBP officer will consider your pregnancy when deciding on your admission.

For more information, contact Customs and Border Protection:

  • In the United States: Call 1-877-CBP-5511 (1-877-227-5511); TTY callers dial 1-866-880-6582
  • Outside the United States: Call 1-202-325-8000

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Refugees and Asylum

Refugees

Refugees are people who fled their homes for a variety of reasons, including persecution (or the fear of persecution) and war, to find protection elsewhere.

If you believe you need protection as a refugee, contact the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or another international nonprofit volunteer agency. If these organizations are unavailable to you, contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The refugees' entry process into the U.S. involves many government agencies as part of the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program, which explains the resettlement and a refugee's arrival.

Asylum

Asylum is a form of protection available to refugees. You must meet certain conditions to request asylum in the United States. After getting asylum in the U.S., you:

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Last Updated: March 01, 2017

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