The USA is a wonderful place to travel and, sometimes, the standard 90 day visa waiver just isn’t long enough to explore this vast and contrasting country. What’s more, the rules for using the visa waiver program can be beyond complicated. If you’re on an extended trip or plan on travelling in and out of the US, you may need to thing about getting a B1/B2 visa for the USA.
What is a B1/B2 Visa and Why Should I Get One?
A B1/B2 visa for the USA is a non-immigrant visa for tourism and business. You are not allowed to work in the US on a B1/B2 visa. The purpose of this visa is for travel longer than the 90 days given under the Visa Waiver Program, attending conferences or business meetings, participation in amateur sports and medical treatment.
You will need a B1/B2 visa if you plan to travel for more than 90 days total around the US, Canada, Mexico and Caribbean islands as the Visa Waiver Program counts time in these countries towards your VWP time. Read my post on understanding the Visa Waiver Program for the USA for an in-depth explanation of this.
Your B1/B2 visa allows you multiple entries into the US, for up to six months at a time and is valid for 1, 5 or 10 years. (The duration of the visa seems to depend on where you apply for it.) If your passport expires while your visa is still valid you don’t need to re-apply for the visa. Just keep your old passport with you to show you have the visa.
Requirements for a B1/B2 Visa for the USA
You’ll need to provide supporting documents to show that you do not intend to remain in the US after your legitimate purpose of travel has ended. This may require demonstrating strong social, economic, family and financial ties to your home country. It may be necessary to provide some of the following:
- Letters of employment and payslips
- Proof of ongoing academic studies
- Proof of funds, i.e. bank statements, asset statements
- Evidence of ownership of property
- If visiting relatives, it is helpful to show that they are themselves in the U.S. in legal status
Basically, you need to show that you do not intend to use this visa to live in the USA.
Process for Getting a B1/B2 Visa for the USA
- Fill in the online application form. Allow at least 30 minutes to do so and be prepared to list dates of your last five visits to the US and every country you’ve been to in the last five years. You need a digital photo which you can take yourself and crop to fit the visa guidelines using a special tool at the end of the application process.
- Once your application is complete you will need to print out or email the DS-160 Visa Application form. If you choose to email it to yourself, don’t panic, it takes a couple of hours to come through. Do not lose this form! It is essential you bring the DS-160 to your visa interview.
- Find out the wait time for an appointment and processing at your nearest consulate using this link. Wait times vary from 1 day to 14 days so plan accordingly! Don’t book any travel until you know roughly how long it’s going to take to get your visa.
- Book an appointment. This is done via the online booking system for your nearest consulate. You’ll need to pay for your visa via credit card in order to book your appointment. Attend the appointment.
- Bring along you passport, your DS-160 application confirmation form (this is essential!!) and your supporting documents.
- Be polite and respectful and prepare to answer questions such as your purpose for visiting the US, how long you plan on staying, when you plan on returning to your home country and how you plan on paying for your travels. You will be told if your application is successful during the appointment.
- Wait for your visa to be processed, added to your passport and sent back to you. We applied in New Zealand, and the application process went very smoothly, taking just over one week to complete from start to finish.
I’ve researched the rules for the obtaining a B1/B2 visa ad nauseam so I’m confident I can answer any questions you may have on it. If you’re having an issue working it out for your trip, I would be happy to help. Just leave me a comment below and check the box to indicate you would like to receive replied to your comment.
Great break down! I so wish we’d applied for the visa, but we might run into problems proving ties to New Zealand, especially when we’re untied ourselves.
Brilliant tips, thanks for putting this info together it’s been really helpful as we’ll be applying in the next few weeks. I had no idea we may need proof of property ownership and employment – gah!
I’m currently studying in Mexico on exchange and I entered the country through the USA on the VWP with ESTA. There was almost no information available on government websites about how the 90 days includes Mexico and I’m now in my final month of the 90 days. Is there anyway to extend my visa now that I’m here, or do I need to take a quick trip to Guatemala to avoid getting in trouble when I leave the country to return home?
A US visa waiver can’t be extended. You’ll need proof that you exited the countries covered under the VWP. A trip to Guatemala would be a smart idea. Chances are you’ll probably be OK but I wouldn’t risk it.
Thanks for the great tips, Bethany. What if you want to spend longer than six months in the US? We’re an Australian family thinking of RVing across the States. Can the DS-160 be extended, or can you cross the border and apply for another one?
We spent 18 months total away and just did some trips outside the US when it was time to reset our 6 months. We went to Mexico for a month and Canada for 4 months. We also went to Europe from Canada for a few weeks for a break from driving and on a couple of Caribbean cruises although they didn’t seem to stamp us out of the US for some reason. I would just say, if your plan is to cross borders, make sure you do it for a decent length of time so it doesn’t just look like you’re doing a border run for the sake of it. When we crossed back from Canada to the US for the final time we were given a very stern talking to actually and told we had to leave the country by the date stamped on our passport or else. I got the impression that they didn’t like that we’d done so many consecutive 6 month blocks! But that truly depends who you get on the day. What’s your rough plan Michael? Happy to chat to you about our route. We drove about 30,000 miles around America and Canada in our time! Criss crossed the country back and forth and up and down. 🙂
Thanks Bethany, this makes it feel like the States could seriously be an option for us. Until now, we’d been considering a year around Australia but we’d prefer to see the States. Keen to see the whole west coast and Grand Canyon, and New England as the leaves change colour in the fall, with winter somewhere with snow. Canada would be great too. Haven’t planned the cross country route yet – tips welcome!
We’re aiming to do it in an RV but not sure how to go about buying one as a foreigner. I have friends in LA and Boston so could use their address if I need one for registration. Do you know how people go about selling an RV at the end? I imagine it can take months – are there dealers who can do it for you?
I don’t know about RVs as we did everything by car. You definitely need a friend with a US address to help with the registration and insurance process. It’s impossible otherwise. I have a couple of posts with road trip itineraries for the US but this is probably the main one –
There is an RVing group on Facebook that would probably be your best bet for the questions on buying and selling RVs. – https://www.facebook.com/groups/4805712531/
You could also join our family travel forum on FB as I know there are some RVing families in there too – https://www.facebook.com/groups/familieswholovetravel/
Thanks, I’ve joined both groups 🙂
Hi Bethany, I am hoping you can advise me, I took a trip in November to Utah to travel my best friend who is an American citizen, it was only 3 weeks and we spent most of that time at the various ski resorts, since it wasn’t nearly e ought time to see the rest of Utah, we planned another trip for March – August, 5 months in which we plan on visiting the rest of Utah, Arizona, and Nevada, this will be only my second visit to the US but there are so much people on various visa sites saying I will denied entry into the US because I will be there for 5 a month stay. Flights (return flight included) are already booked so I am having bit of anxiety after reading all the comments saying I will be denied at the POE. Can you perhaps advise me? Thanks so much
You can’t stay for 5 months without applying for a visa. The visa waiver is valid for 90 days only. You have to apply for a visa or change your plans I’m afraid.
My wife and I and our three children are in the initial stages of planning our trip. We are planning to leave Australia in January and travel the US and Canada for a prolonged period before moving onto Europe where we will finally settle. We ideally would like to do a 1yr trip in the US / Canada as we have numerous friends through the US. I suppose this would be like a gap year during which I would not be looking to work in the US as such (I can work remotely and support us while travelling the US).
Having started doing research it is looking as though the visa side of things could be quite tricky. Is there any way we could secure a longer than 3mth visa to accommodate this or can you suggest any other ways we may approach this? We haven’t locked in our schedule so we have a fair degree of flexibility on this.
Any ideas would be most welcome!!
You should apply for the B1/B2 visa that I mention in this post. It allows you to stay for up to 6 months in the US. Then you can go to Canada and then back to the US if you like.
Any tips concerning visa but also in general for someone who is looking to travel the USA for an extended amount of time (let’s say a year or two) during which I would like to be able to work an actual job for a month or two at a place I enjoy or just because I need the money to continue my travels
You can’t work on the tourist visas I’ve mentioned above. You can travel in and out for a year or two though, quite easily so long as you’re in for six months max and then out for a few weeks at least before returning for another six months.
My boyfriend and I are looking at doing a road trip around the U.S. for as long as we are possibly allowed- information above was really helpful- I just wondered for us to apply do we get interviewed separate or will they lodge our applications together and make 1 decision for the both of us?
We did our appointment as a family but everyone has to do their own application and pay the fee.