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Travelling to the USA

There are several types of visas available if travelling to the USA. If travelling for a holiday, to attend a conference, study, undertake research or participate in an exchange programme you may need to obtain a non-immigrant visa – such as a B1 business visa, a B2 tourist visa or an F1 student visa or a J1 student exchange visa.

The information here has been carefully checked but be aware that the information is liable to change and we cannot accept responsibility for this - you should refer to the US Embassy website for up-to-date information. If you are planning to apply for an immigrant visa for the US we would advise you to seek legal assistance in making the application. The information in this section only applies to short-term visits.

It can be very difficult to obtain a US visa from a country other than your home country. This is because US immigration law assumes that you wish to migrate to the USA and you must disprove this assumption by showing strong ties to another country. The US Embassy in your home country is best placed to assess your outside ties than the US Embassy in London which will not verify or evaluate information from other countries. If you are planning a trip to the USA we would strongly advise you to apply for a visa from your home country if at all possible. If you are planning to apply from the UK, these guidance notes explain what you will need to do.

If you travel via the US on your way to somewhere else you may need a transit visa and should check with your travel agency whether this is the case.

It is essential that you apply for your visa in plenty of time, and you should not buy any non-refundable tickets before your visa has been granted. The US embassy website gives an indication of how long current non-immigrant visas are taking to process. The appointment wait time will increase at busy times of year such as the months prior to summer holidays.

Planning your application

For all non-immigrant visa applications the form DS-160 must be completed. You will be advised at your visa interview how long the processing of your application will take in your individual case. The average time for most non-immigrant visas is 5 days but for some categories it can take 5-10 days, and, if additional checks are needed, it can take up to 90 days.

Application forms can only be completed on-line. Do not print a copy and fill it in by hand as the Embassy will not accept anything other than an on-line application form. The advantage to an on-line application is that it will prompt you if you have not fully-completed the form. The application will time out after 20minutes so make sure you read and follow the instructions regarding saving your form. You will also have the opportunity to upload a digital photo as long as it meets the exact requirements as detailed on the website. Once you have submitted your data it will be transferred onto the DS-160 form and allocated a special bar code. You should print this off for your own records. Once you have completed the form, you can book an appointment at the US Embassy.

Booking an interview appointment

All applicants aged 14 to 79 are normally required to attend an interview and walk-in applications are not accepted. You should check the visa processing time on the US Embassy website in advance as you may need to book ahead. You cannot make an appointment by email or post.

In order to book your appointment you will need to create an on-line account:

After creating your account, please follow the process and guidance for each of the below steps:

1. Provide your DS-160 number;
2. Determine your visa type;
3. Select a courier return location**; there are 31 around the country, delivery is free to these
4. Pay your U.S. visa fee via debit card (Visa or Mastercard);
5. Schedule an appointment;
6. Select and pay the optional home delivery document option ($30.00 per applicant) by credit card if you would like your passport posted back to your home address.


Currently the visa application (Machine Readable Visa) fee is US $160 payable in pounds sterling. The amount you will be charged is subject to fluctuation as it is linked to the US dollar exchange rate.

The fee receipt is valid for 12 months if you need to re-schedule your appointment. However it is non-refundable and non-transferable and will therefore not be refunded if your visa application is unsuccessful or you cancel your interview appointment and do not re-schedule it within the next 12 months.

If you are applying for a F1 or J1 visa you will also need to pay the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee. The SEVIS fee for F1 is $200 (approx £131), for J1 $180 (approx £118) and it is non-refundable. Your payment will take 3 days to clear and you will receive an I-901 receipt which you need to take to your appointment.

Attending the US Embassy in person for an interview

You will receive written confirmation by email of the date and time of your appointment and you must take this letter, and the fee receipt email with you to present to the Embassy security guards. Allow plenty of time for travelling. If you arrive more than half an hour after your scheduled time you will not be admitted and will have to reschedule your appointment. Also, if you arrive very early you will have to wait to be admitted. Do not take any large bags with you as you will not be allowed to take them into the building. Do not take a mobile phone or any electronic equipment such as Blackberries, iPods or PDAs with you as these are not allowed within the Embassy. Liquids of any kind in a bottle, carton or cup are also banned. If you take any of these prohibited items to the Embassy it will lead to considerable delays at the security check-point and you may have your appointment cancelled.

You will also have your fingerprints electronically scanned. If you have any cuts or blisters on any of your fingers or thumbs it will not be possible to do this, your application will not be processed and you will be asked to reschedule your interview.

Once you are through security control you will be given a number and will have to queue to see a Consular Officer. The Consular Officer will ask you about your travel plans and your commitments in the UK. You should take as much documentary evidence as possible to back up your plans. Also try to prepare in advance and think about how you will answer questions about your trip to America and your studies in the UK.


You will need:

  • Your appointment letter (sent to you by email)
  • Visa application payment receipt (sent to you by email)
  • SEVIS I-901 receipt (F1 and J1 only)
  • Cash or credit/debit card as some nationalities are also required to pay an issuance fee – you will be advised on the day if this is the case for you
  • Printed copy of online application form D-160 (advisable for your own reference but not mandatory)
  • A passport valid for a minimum of six months beyond the intended return date of the period of stay in the US and with at least one blank page (for some nationals including UK nationals this 6 month validity requirement is waived)
  • One passport-type photograph which meets US State Department regulations – see Embassy website for detailed requirements - in case your photo has not uploaded correctly (and/or £7 in coins in case you need to retake it at the Embassy).
  • A University status letter showing your course details and dates - you can request this from Student Reception in University House or on-line. You must show that you intend to return to the UK after your visit, for example, to continue your studies, attend graduation or honour a scholarship agreement
  • J-1 visa only – a completed DS-2019 form ‘Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status' from your sponsor (University), must be original document
  • F-1 visa only - a completed I-20 form from your host university, must be original document
  • Recent bank statements showing you have sufficient funds available to cover all your expenses whilst you are in the United States
  • Evidence of destination and planned travel arrangements such as conference registration, hotel bookings or an invitation letter from a host. Do not buy non-refundable tickets until you have your visa
  • Medical insurance if you already have this or details of insurance you intend to purchase when you buy your air ticket
  • Any other evidence of ties and commitments to a country to which you intend to return after your visit to the US – this could include family, property, employment or professional ties

All documents must be originals and you should keep photocopies of everything you submit including your passport.

It will help your application if you put together a brief letter concisely detailing the main points supporting your application. This letter should be addressed ‘To Whom It May Concern’ and you should explain any points which may give concern to the Embassy. It should also contain a list of all your supporting documents.

Important information to provide

Purpose of visit

If your visit is related to your studies provide as much evidence as possible of itineraries, bookings or invitations. State if your visit is a mandatory part of your academic course. If appropriate, ask your supervisor to write a short statement about the importance of your trip to your studies to the department or institution. If you will be presenting a paper at a conference in the US it is useful to take along work you have prepared for this.

If you have a relative who has US citizenship and they are hosting your stay they can make a legal declaration which states that they will be legally and financially responsible for you for the duration of your stay.

Proof of studies

If you have invested a lot of time pursuing your degree in the UK, have a strong desire to complete your course or attend graduation this will show that you are unlikely to jeopardise your future education by trying to stay illegally in the US. To show your intention to return to the UK you should submit evidence of results attained, research plans or details of your graduation. You may also wish to ask your personal tutor or supervisor to write you a supporting letter.

Cost of study

You, your family or sponsor are likely to have invested a large amount of money in your education in the UK. You should submit details and documentation showing how much your course and accommodation are costing and include receipts for any tuition or accommodation fees you have paid in advance. This proof of considerable financial investment will help show that you intend to return to the UK to complete your studies.

Scholarship conditions

Clearly state the terms of your award if a sponsor requires you to return home after your studies in the UK and highlight details of any penalties (e.g. financial) you would face if you failed to do so.

Prior travel

As long as you did not stay illegally and abided by the conditions of stay, prior trips to the US or to European destinations show that you have travelled responsibly in the past and this may help your application. If your current passport does not show evidence of this travel then you should include old passports in your application.

Future plans

Include details of your future career plans in your home country and evidence of any links with sponsors or employers. If a post is being held open for you whilst you complete your studies or you have a job offer you should include documentation to show this.


If you have dependent relatives who are not accompanying you to the US then state this as it shows that you have a strong reason to leave the US at the end of your stay. You may wish to get a legal document attesting this drawn up.

Factors which may hinder your application

Applications made from a country where you are temporarily resident are more likely to be refused than an application from your home country. This is because it is more difficult to overcome the US legal assumption that you wish to migrate to the US by showing strong enough ties to the UK which would convince the US authorities that you will return. Their legal term for this is 'nonimmigrant intent'.

For international students it is therefore not advisable to apply for a US visa within the first six months of your stay – this should be done in your home country prior to departure. Likewise, towards the end of your stay, it is not wise to apply for a US visa as the US authorities may consider that you do not have enough reason to return to the UK at the end of your trip.

If you have previously been refused a visa to travel to the US this will decrease your chance of making a successful application. If the refusal was made in your home country then an application made from outside your home country is almost certain to be unsuccessful.

If you have relatives in the US you should explain why they are there and give full details of the length of their stay, job title, status, income etc. Having relatives in the US is unlikely to help your application and more likely to hinder it.

Return of your passport

In general it takes a minimum of three to five working days to process a standard non-immigrant visa application. You will be advised if your application will take additional processing time when you attend your interview. Once the application has been processed it will be passed to the Embassy’s designated courier service. They will despatch your passport to a collection hub or your home address and you will be able to track their progress. You should allow at least seven working days after your interview for your passport to be returned to you.

Visa Waiver Program

Thirty-six countries participate in this programme. There are very specific passport requirements to qualify for this programme. If you are a national of one of the countries participating in the programme but do not have a machine readable passport to the specifications required (see for further information) you will be required to obtain a visa. If you intend to work, study or to stay in the United States for 90 days or longer you are required to obtain a visa.

The participating countries are: Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

Sources of Information

The US Embassy: – click on ‘Visas to the US’ then on ‘Nonimmigrant Visas’

Address: United States Embassy, 24 Grosvenor Square, London W1A 1AE, to write and request written information or attend your interview appointment.

Operator Assisted Visa Information Service on tel: 09042 450100, £1.23 per minute, for visa information, to make an interview appointment and make payment of the visa application fee. Open Monday to Friday 8am to 8pm, Saturday 9am to 4pm (closed on Sundays and public holidays).

Websites – click on ‘How to get a US Visa’ to get to the ‘Obtaining a US Visa’ document which gives a step-by-step general outline of the procedure – this is the US Department of State website and it gives a detailed explanation of government policy and procedures regarding all types of US visa. NB You can check the visa wait times by city (updated weekly) – this website gives an overview of visa information and requirements for all categories of student wishing to study in the US - useful information from the US-UK Educational Advisory Service on applying for a US study visa (F1 or J1) from the UK – for details of the visa waiver programme click on ‘Travel Security and Procedures’ then ‘Crossing US Borders’ – this is the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website for those wishing to migrate to the US and become a US citizen