Entry to the USA and visa waiver program

Entry to the USA and Visa Waiver Program

Unfortunately, it has not been easier in recent years to travel to the US for a vacation or a business meeting. As a traveler, you must now take some precautions before you can leave. The amended requirements are based almost exclusively on additional security measures adopted in recent years, which have been adopted as a result of the terror against America. It is possible at any time for these specifications to change, so only general conditions can be mentioned here.

In general, it can be stated that the safety regulations for flights to the USA are particularly acute. It is therefore not exaggerated, if the airlines ask their guests for such flights, at least two hours before departure, in the case of acute danger situation even longer in advance to be at the airport. These timings should also be considered when leaving the US. It is also advisable to follow the latest media before each flight to America and to be informed in any case of doubt at the consulate, the American Embassy or the Foreign Office (for Germany).

As a general rule, foreigners generally require entry to the United States visa . Members of many nations, including Germans, Austrians and Swiss, but for a normal holiday stay from Visa Waiver Program Make use. Thus, as the name implies, the visa requirement is waived if certain conditions are met.
Unless otherwise limited, this applies to all stays in the US for holiday purposes that do not exceed 90 days. However, it is possible that people who could actually use the Visa Waiver Program also need to apply for a visa. This is experienced when applying for the ESTA, which all travelers need.

Anyone traveling to the US for other purposes, for example, to work in the US – even with occasional or unpaid work, for example as Au Pair, study or language courses Visiting or staying longer than three months requires a visa. There are different types of visas. Important: Anyone who has entered the United States under the Visa Waiver Program without a visa can not change the purpose of their stay or extend it to more than 90 days. In particular, those who stay in the country without a visa for more than 90 days (so-called overstay) must expect serious consequences from the American authorities.

Regardless of whether you travel to the US with or without a visa, every traveler is subject to a variety of security requirements.

Of course, the general safety precautions for air traffic apply – in addition to the passport control, the screening of the baggage and the person control also includes the prohibition of carrying large amounts of liquids in hand luggage – also for US flights. For these, however, there are a number of additional measures that have been imposed by the US Homeland Security Authorities on airlines and airports. Please note the following points:

Registration via ESTA
Only those who have a visa issued by the US embassy or consulate or who submit their data in advance via the electronic registration program ESTA may enter the country.
Search the luggage and open suitcases
Both checked and carried in the passenger compartment luggage is thoroughly, possibly repeatedly examined and possibly searched. It is recommended not to close suitcases before they are checked in. The US authorities reserve the right, if necessary, to forcibly open suitcases for search if there is an initial suspicion.
Transmission of information
Already when booking a flight, certain information from the booking, including flight route, name of the traveler and chosen payment method, electronically to the US authorities .
Specification of an address at the destination
Even before departure, passengers must provide an address in the US as the destination of their journey. If you want to travel around the country, it is best to give the address of the first hotel. This address is already entered in the flight booking and is also required for ESTA. Please do not think up an address!
security questions
The staff at the airports in the country of departure are asked to ask the passengers some questions, for example who has packed the bags and whether they have always been under supervision.
When entering the US, every passenger, except babies and toddlers, must have fingerprints and be photographed. In addition, the officer can ask questions, for example, for the purpose of travel, but also for personal backgrounds. This is definitely the wrong place for bad jokes or false information, otherwise you can find yourself in a cell.

The Visa Waiver Program

In principle, citizens of more than 30 countries, including Germany, Austria and Switzerland, may enter the United States for normal tourist or business stays or with the purpose of transit to a continuing journey of up to 90 days without a visa. This is done in the context of the so-called Visa Waiver Program, which exists since 1986. Under this program, it is not allowed to take up employment or to request an extension of the residence permit beyond the 90 days. It is permitted to leave the US for Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean within the 90 days and re-enter within the period, but re-entry will not start a new 90-day period.

However, to participate in this program and enter without a visa, travelers must meet the following requirements:

  • Every traveler, even babies and toddlers, needs their own passport that can be read automatically. Children’s IDs or identity cards are not accepted. All other passports require a visa.
  • The passport must be valid at least until the day after departure from the USA.
  • Entry into the United States is on board a regular airline or a regular shipping company or by land from Canada or Mexico.
  • All travelers (except those arriving by land) must present a valid US return or onward ticket upon commencement of the journey, the date of which is not later than 90 days after entry. In addition, this ticket may not end in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean for departure.
  • It must be in the run-up to the trip – be recommended at least 72 hours before departure – an electronic travel permit (ESTA) have been issued.
  • There can be no dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan.
  • Those who have stayed in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Somalia or Yemen after March 2011 can not easily join the Visa Waiver Program.

However, it is important to know that the final decision on entry is with the immigration officer, ie the official at the destination airport. At the first airport on American soil, which travelers enter, one arrives before the baggage claim for the entry control. Here, the passport is presented, as a rule, some questions, for example, for the purpose of the stay made and made various security checks. The officer then deals with the application for entry, so to speak. The passport will then be stamped, with the approval granted. The earlier usual stapling a sheet in the passport is no longer there.


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Christina Cherry
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