Saturday, July 20, 2024

United States of America

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Every country or territory decides who can enter or leave through its borders. For specific information about the evidence you’ll need to enter a foreign destination, check with the nearest embassy, consulate or immigration department of the destination you’re entering. 

The US has strict entry requirements. US authorities won’t allow you to enter the country if you don’t comply.

If you’re visiting the US for less than 90 days, you may be eligible to:

  • apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and
  • then enter under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP)

Otherwise, you’ll need to get a visa before you travel.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions, including currency, customs and quarantine rules, can change at short notice. Contact your nearest US Embassy or Consulate for the latest details.

More information:

Visa-free travel for short stays

If you plan to visit the US for less than 90 days, you may be able to travel under the VWP. This includes travel to the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

The VWP is intended for short, infrequent visits to the United States and can be used by tourists and business travellers. Conditions apply. 

Ensure you know all terms and conditions before applying for your ESTA and attempting to enter the US under VWP.

If you don’t satisfy US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at your port of entry that you’re entitled to be admitted under the VWP, you may be denied entry and detained. 

You can’t enter the US under the VWP if you have:

  • been denied an ESTA or denied previous entry under the VWP
  • been denied a US visa
  • an emergency passport, document of identity or Provisional Travel Document
  • a criminal record
  • been arrested but not convicted
  • dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Sudan or Syria
  • travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since 1 March 2011, with limited exceptions
  • travelled to Cuba since 12 January 2021 (see ‘Travel to Cuba’ below).

Before you can travel under the VWP, you must apply and be pre-approved via the ESTA.

US authorities recommend applying as soon as you know you’ll be travelling. ESTA approvals can take up to 72 hours.

ESTAs are valid for 2 years and for multiple entries.

You’ll need to apply for a new ESTA if:

  • you renew your passport within the 2 years and/or
  • your VWP eligibility changes

If there are differences between your ESTA, passport or ticket information, you could be:

  • referred for secondary inspection (where a CBP officer may interview you) and/or
  • refused entry

If your ESTA application is denied, you must apply for a visa from a US Embassy or Consulate.

US authorities generally won’t tell you why your ESTA application was rejected, and you can’t appeal their decision. 

If you provide false or incorrect information on an ESTA, you may be permanently banned from future travel to the US.

More information:

Visas

If your ESTA application is denied or, you’re not eligible to travel under the VWP, or you intend to stay for more than 90 days, you’ll need to apply for a visa from a US Embassy or Consulate.

The category of visa you need to apply for will depend on your reason for travel.

More information:

Entry into the US

An approved ESTA or valid visa allows you to board a US-bound plane or vessel or request entry at a land border. It doesn’t guarantee entry to the US.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port of entry will decide if you can enter the country.

Entry requirements are strict. Authorities have broad powers when deciding if you’re eligible to enter and may determine that you are inadmissible for any reason under US law.

At the port of entry, be prepared to answer questions about:

  • the purpose of your visit
  • how long you plan to stay
  • where you will stay
  • your ties to Australia

Officials may ask to inspect your electronic devices, emails, text messages or social media accounts. If you refuse, they can deny your entry.

Whether you enter the US under the VWP or on a visa, you’ll likely need to have:

  • an onward or return ticket that doesn’t terminate in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean unless you’re a resident of one of those countries, and,
  • proof you have enough money to support yourself during your stay

You can be refused entry if you provide false information or can’t satisfy the officials you’re visiting for a valid reason.

You may be held at the port of entry or a nearby detention facility while US authorities arrange for you to be returned to Australia (or the last country you visited).

If you’re refused entry under the VWP, you generally don’t have the right to an attorney or to appeal the decision.

The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf, and our ability to provide consular assistance in these circumstances may be limited.    

Arrival and departure record (Form I-94)

When you arrive at the port of entry, US authorities will determine your admissibility and decide when you must leave the country. This date may be different from the expiry date of your ESTA or visitor visa.

A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official should:

  • stamp your passport and write the date by which you must leave the US 
  • issue you an electronic Form I-94 (Arrival/Departure Record)

Your I-94 is evidence of your legal status in the US and shows the date by which you must leave the country.

You can check your I-94 with CBP each time you enter the US.

If you stay past your I-94 expiry date, you can be detained, deported and banned from re-entering the US.

Renewing your I-94 and/or extending your stay 

You can’t extend or renew your I-94 by travelling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean for 30 days or less and then re-entering the US.

If you travel to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean and return to the US while your I-94 is still valid, you’ll be readmitted for the amount of time left on it.

If your I-94 has recently expired and US authorities think the purpose of your trip outside the US was only to be issued a new I-94 to extend your stay in the US, they can:

  • refuse you entry
  • detain and deport you

If you’re on a visa and need to extend your stay in the US, lodge a request with US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Form I-539 before your I-94 expires.

VWP entrants are generally not eligible to extend their stay beyond 90 days or change their status.

If a serious emergency, such as hospitalisation, prevents you from departing before your I-94 expires, USCIS has the discretion to grant you additional time to leave. This is known as ‘satisfactory departure’.

For further information, see Immigration Relief in Emergencies or Unforeseen Circumstances

To request satisfactory departure, contact the USCIS Contact Center.

Health-related requirements

US authorities may still deny boarding any US-bound traveller showing signs of illness.

Expect enhanced screening procedures, including for domestic flights within the US.

For further information regarding precautions to take before and during travel to the US and after arrival, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website.

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