Foreign Travelers – Entry Into the United States

Unlike most countries around the World, the United States requires all air passengers to enter the country before getting a connecting flight onto their final destination outside the USA. You will need to complete a visa as if you were staying in the U.S. When passing through Customs, you will be asked to present your passport. Then, you will need to pass through a security line before boarding a plane to depart the U.S. Since this is often a time-consuming process, be wary of scheduling a connecting flight close to your arrival time in the U.S.

Passports and Visas

A passport and a visa are the two critical documents you will need to enter the United States. The process for obtaining a passport varies from country to country, and you will have to work through your home country’s own foreign ministry to secure one.

A visa tells the United States government who you are, why you are traveling to America, when you are arriving and when you plan to leave. To obtain a visa for travel to the United States, you must fill out an application for a visa and submit it to the American embassy in your country. Application forms and details are available at the U.S. State Department’s Website.

The approval rate for visa applicants is very high (about 75%), and even higher for those applying for student visas. However, a visa does not guarantee entry into the U.S. At the port-of-entry where you clear immigration, the immigration officer present has the final say on whether you may enter the country. The visa tells the immigration staff the purpose for your travel to that port-of-entry. It is rare for a traveler with a valid visa to be held at the borders.

If you are from one of 27 (mostly Western European) countries that are part of the Visa Waiver Program, you don’t need a visa to enter the U.S. You can stay for up to 90 days. You must have a machine-readable passport (one with two lines of letters and numbers along the bottom of the photo page). If you have a recently-issued passport it must also have a chip in it. If you enter the U.S. on the Visa Waiver Program you are waiving your right to appeal or contest a decision not to let you enter the U.S. For example, the immigration officer has the final say as to whether you can enter the U.S. and you have no right of appeal.

Due to high security and to prevent illegal immigration, at the port of entry, the immigration process includes taking pictures and information of non-U.S. citizen/residents who enter so the government can track visitors who enter and leave the United States. This process may take at least 30 minutes at the port of entry.

Entry into the U.S. from Canada

As of January of 2007, it is a requirement for Canadian citizens who wish to visit the U.S. to present a passport at the border. Bring your birth certificate and a picture ID, such as a driver’s license. Passports are mandatory for air travel into the U.S. and will be for ground travel into the U.S. as of 2008. However, it is recommended that you bring your Canadian Passport anyways. Using your Canadian Passport will get you through customs more efficiently.

Hilary Basile is a writer for At, you will find valuable tips and resources for handling life’s major events. Whether you’re planning a wedding, buying your first home, anxiously awaiting the birth of a child, contending with a divorce, searching for a new job, or planning for your retirement, you’ll find answers to your questions at, part of the network of sites, provides comprehensive information for those living, working and traveling in the United States via 50 individual state portals. Find state information at []