If you are planning a trip to the USA, make sure you know the procedures before, during, and after crossing the US border. Here's some useful advice on documents and processes at the airport as well as current immigration regulations.
The US government has lifted the Corona-related travel ban. As a result, fully vaccinated international travelers are allowed to fly to the USA again.
Effective June 12th, 2022, the United States has lifted the COVID-19 testing requirement for travelers from foreign countries. However, the general vaccination requirement against COVID-19 remains in effect.
In addition, there are certain post-entry testing and quarantine recommendations, as well as additional obligations for groups that are allowed to enter unvaccinated
The following individuals may travel to the United States again without detour:
For full details on rules and exemptions, visit USA Travel and Corona.
The situation can change at any time due to a new decision of the US government. Therefore, we recommend that you obtain the latest information before traveling to the USA.
During your trip to the USA, observe the hygiene rules, follow the recommendations of airlines and hosts, and take care of travel health insurance coverage in good time before your flight in order to be on the safe side during your stay in the USA.
To enter the USA, you will need a number of documents that you should carry with you at all times. These include:
We also recommend that you bring proof of your ties to your home country to prove your intention to return home to US border officials. This can be, for example, a copy of your lease or employment contract.
The easiest way to enter the USA is with a Green Card. The US immigrant visa gives you almost all the rights of a US citizen, so you don't have to provide any further proof when crossing the border and save a lot of time.
For a trip to the USA, your biometric passport usually has to be valid until the day of your departure. However, this only applies if the country in which your passport was issued is a member of the so-called "Six Month Club."
Six Month Club
Countries that are members of the "Six Month Club" enjoy an exception to the otherwise applicable six-month rule. This means that a passport must be valid for six months beyond the planned date of departure in order to enter the USA.
A list of Six Month Club countries is updated regularly on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. The more than 100 "club members" include, for example, all countries in Europe, as well as Canada, Egypt, New Zealand, Brazil, and many South American and African countries.
Not currently on the list, for example, are Afghanistan, China, Bangladesh, Iran, and North Korea. Travelers to the US from these and many other countries must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after the date of intended departure.
If you do not have a biometric e-passport but only a temporary passport, you may still be able to enter the United States with a US visa. This also applies to children who only have a children's passport. The following rules apply:
|Document for USA trip||Possible entry|
|Biometric passport (e-passport)||with ESTA or US visa|
|Temporary passport||only with US visa|
|Temporary identity card||none|
|Children's passport||only with US visa|
ESTA makes traveling to the USA much easier because the uncomplicated travel authorization is fast and cheap to get. However, you may only apply for an ESTA if you come from one of the participating countries (Visa Waiver countries).
Currently, 40 countries are members of the Visa Waiver Program. If you qualify for ESTA, you are allowed to stay in the USA for up to 90 days at a time visa-free.
|Waiting time||72 hours max|
|Interview appointment at US Embassy||not applicable|
|Length of stay||90 days at a time, multiple entries possible within the validity period|
|Costs||$ 21 (or € 49.90 with additional security)|
|Possible help with the application?||Additional security through ESTA agencies such as The American Dream|
|Advantages of a US visa|
|Who is allowed to travel with a visa?||also possible without an e-passport (a temporary passport is sufficient in most cases)|
|Rights in the USA||working and studying, also possible (depending on visa)|
|Length of stay||180 days and longer (depending on visa)|
The ESTA application process only takes a few minutes. You can apply directly on the US government's website or - if you want to be on the safe side - at an ESTA service agency.
An agency will take care of the application process, point out errors and deadlines, and protect you from an ESTA block due to possible formal errors. A money-back guarantee can also be booked.
With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!
You can apply for a US visa on the website of the visa service provider CGI Federal or - if you want to be on the safe side - at a US visa agency. The agency will take care of the application process, point out errors, and deadlines and protect you from a rejection of your visa.
You pay the US visa fee of at least €150 (depending on the visa) during the application process. This is followed by an interview at your local US embassy or consulate, where you will have to defend and prove the reason for your application.
After your interview appointment, you may be required to pay additional fees, which vary depending on the visa category. These are, for example, for the examination of the certificates and documents you have submitted.
After a waiting period, which can vary greatly depending on the visa (but at least 15 days), you will receive your passport with the issued visa or may pick it up at the embassy.
Depending on the purpose of your trip to the USA, your visa category will also differ. If you do not want to work or study in the USA, we recommend an ESTA instead of a visa. For all other purposes, there are the following visa categories:
For USA visitors who do not intend to work or study in the United States, the following visa categories are available:
For individuals who wish to work in the United States, the following visa categories are available:
For students, interns, and seasonal workers (e.g., summer job) in the USA, there are the following visa categories:
US immigrant visa (Green Card) Immigration to the USA is allowed with the following US immigrant visas:
The entry requirements for the USA are subject to frequent changes. Therefore, you should check the current rules daily, e.g., on your flight provider's website, before you fly to the States.
In addition to organizational obligations such as entry permits and visas, hygiene regulations, and the necessary collection of personal data, the entry regulations also govern the import regulations for the USA.
The import regulations for the United States govern the transport of food, stimulants, cash, medicines, pets, and weapons into the United States.
With the customs declaration (which is filled out either electronically or by hand), you provide information about which goods, items, animals, or food you want to bring across the border.
If you want to take your pet with you to the USA, you will need a health certificate and a vaccination certificate from a veterinarian. The specific transport regulations for airplanes vary depending on the airline, so we recommend a personal consultation.
Clarify the following questions with your travel provider:
You should also check with a board-certified veterinarian about the following:
Be sure to bring translations of health certificates and vaccination cards with you to the airport. When crossing the border, US Customs may do another health check on your pet.
Lack of vaccination (e.g., rabies vaccination) is often a reason for temporary "confiscation" of pets at the US border. They must then be quarantined for 30 (or in the worst case even 120) days.
To ensure that everything goes well, you should contact your US embassy a few weeks before your trip and discuss bringing your pet to the USA under the current conditions.
When entering the USA with certain medications such as sleeping pills, heart medications, cough medications, or flu medications, you should be able to provide U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials with a medical certificate, including an English translation.
You are allowed to bring the following food items into the USA in unopened packages:
You are not allowed to bring the following foods into the USA:
If you fly to the USA from Europe, you will be traveling for at least eight hours, but mostly between 12 and 20 hours. There are numerous non-stop flights to the USA and many cheaper offers with 1 - 2 stops.
Prices for USA flights vary from a sensational €230 to over €1,000 to particularly remote areas, such as Alaska. Among the airlines that bring you to the USA are American Airlines, United Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Austrian Airlines, and Lufthansa.
If you are looking for a particularly cheap flight to the USA, you can follow the 90-day rule common among travel experts. It is said that airfares remain stable up to 90 days before the flight and then increase rapidly.
Don't forget: You'll also need an ESTA or US visa for your USA trip. Since the waiting time for a visa can vary greatly depending on the category, we recommend a lead time of several weeks. Traveling with ESTA is much faster (max. 72 hours waiting time).
Before you can board the plane to the USA, you have to go through a few processes at the airport. You will not even notice some of them because your data, which will now be thoroughly checked again, may have already been submitted when you booked your flight.
You can check-in for your flight online before you even get to the airport. This saves time during check-in. It's best to check your airline's website to see how digital check-in works in your case because it varies from company to company.
Shortly before your departure to the United States, your airline will transmit some of your personal information. This includes
If the data transfer has not already taken place at the time of booking, you will be asked for it at the latest at check-in (online or at the counter).
Your personal data will be forwarded to the U.S. Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as part of the "Secure Flight" program in order to be checked against the documentation systems of law enforcement agencies, intelligence agencies, and other organizations.
You've already saved a lot of time thanks to online check-in, but you'll still have to make a quick appearance at the counter to drop off your luggage. Present your passport and booking confirmation, and then lift your luggage onto the conveyor belt next to the counter.
Your suitcase and boarding pass will be given a matching sticker. The boarding pass will tell you which gate to go to and which seat you have on the plane.
Some airports have an automatic baggage check-in system. Look for the appropriate machine, which weighs your suitcase, scans the flight ticket, and prints out the adhesive label. Then place your bag on the conveyor belt next to the check-in counter.
If you find the handwritten note "SSSS" on your boarding pass, this is an indication that you need to allow a little more time. US airlines occasionally select travelers for "Secondary Security Screening Selection" (SSSS).
This is where your carry-on luggage is searched, you're patted down, and an officer asks you a few questions about your trip. Don't panic: As long as you stick to the truth, you'll be out of there in a few minutes and can fly to the USA without worrying.
During the security check, you place your carry-on luggage and certain clothing items, such as jackets, scarves, or belts, in plastic trays designed for this purpose so that they can be pushed over a conveyor belt into an X-ray scanner.
While your luggage is being scanned, you will go through the screening process by passing through a metal detector or full-body scanner. You may be asked to remove your shoes. T
he security check is often a lengthy affair. Therefore, you should join the queues between 30 and 60 minutes before departure. After the security check, go to your gate, the number of which is on your boarding pass.
When your plane is ready to board, the hustle and bustle begins in the gate waiting room. Have your passport and boarding pass ready and stay calm - no one will take your seat. Have a good flight!
Your plane has landed softly, and you are entering the airport. But before you can actually cross the US border, you have to pass a US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer.
After getting off the plane, you end up in the waiting hall with all the other passengers, from where you spread out into the different queues for passport control.
As a tourist or business traveler, you take the "Visitors" queue and usually need a lot of patience there. If you are lucky, one of the immigration officers will redirect you to the APC (Automated Passport Control), where everything is much faster.
Cell phone use is strictly prohibited in the waiting hall and at customs and in conversation with border guards!
There are different ways to shorten your waiting time at the US airport. These include automated passport control (APC), which you are allowed to use after being asked to do so by a US border official.
The so-called Global Entry procedure can also shorten your waiting times at the airport. However, it requires membership and is only worthwhile for passengers who travel to the US frequently.
The easiest way to minimize airport wait times is to have a Green Card. With the US immigrant visa, you no longer have to stand in the long queue but can use the convenient entrance for US citizens and Permanent Residents.
Your passport will be checked upon entry into the United States either in person by a US border agent at the counter or the electronic APC terminal.
As an ESTA traveler, US citizen, Canadian citizen, or Green Card holder, you are eligible to use the APC machine. ESTA travelers must first wait for a US border official to prompt them before proceeding to the APC.
You will go through the following steps at APC:
Before crossing the border during the final interview, you may have to correct your fingerprints, and the border guards may ask you a few questions.
If you have your passport control done by a border official at the counter instead of at the APC, you will still have to fill out the customs declaration for the USA by hand. You will be given the form during the flight or use the copies available in the waiting lounge.
CBP is America's largest law enforcement agency responsible for securing the nation's borders. Therefore, a US Customs and Border Protection officer makes the final decision about your entry into the United States.
Answer any questions briefly, accurately, and truthfully. Possible questions could be:
Here, as an ESTA traveler, you can respond with "Pleasure," "Holiday," (for a vacation), or with "Short business meeting." If entering as an exchange student or on a work visa, you would, of course, also state this truthfully.
Be brief and do not mention that you would like to live or work in the USA. Suppose you are entering on ESTA or a visitor visa. Otherwise, you might be suspected of trying to immigrate illegally.
Again, answer briefly and precisely. A brief "2 weeks" or "2 months" will suffice. Answer quickly and don't hesitate, lest US border agents could become suspicious.
After this question, you should be able to be reasonably precise about your travel plans. Possible answers might include "Las Vegas.", "I will travel from Chicago to Oklahoma.", or even "I'm doing a camping road trip from the East Coast to the West Coast." Have a copy of your hotel reservation(s) handy in case of need.
You can answer with the name and city of your hotel. Also, answers such as "I am staying with friends in Los Angeles, Pasadena Road." or "I will pitch my tent at the Pacific Wave campground in Santa Monica." are okay.
With this question, officials want to find out about your ties to the United States. Possible answers would be, "I don't know anyone. I am just traveling.", "I'll visit my cousin." or "I am meeting friends in Tacoma."
After the interview, the border official will make the final decision about your entry into the USA and will stamp your passport with the entry stamp that matches your visa (or ESTA).
Check the date briefly and match it with the validity period of your visa or ESTA to avoid later problems when leaving the country. We also recommend that you check the dates on the now electronically submitted I-94 form on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
If you find any errors in the date, point them out to the border guards while you are still there. Once you leave the airport, it will be difficult to correct your latest departure date.
Welcome to the USA! You can now wait for your suitcase at the baggage carousel. Depending on the airport, this can take quite a long time. While you are waiting, you can start thinking about the airport transfer to your first accommodation in the USA.
Shortly before leaving the airport, you will pass through the customs area. Here, you may be called to another inspection. You don't have to worry if you have conscientiously filled out your customs declaration and have no prohibited items in your suitcase.
American airports have a wide range of transfer options to get you to your first accommodation in the US. These include a variety of taxi services, shuttle buses, public transit services, taxi alternatives Lyft and Uber, Greyhound long-distance buses, and the legendary AMTRAK trains.
Many a traveler to the USA has put his foot in his mouth when dealing with American border officials. Since this can, in the worst case, lead to an entry ban, be sure to follow these tips for entering the USA:
If you do not speak English well, inform the US border officials about it. They will then be a little more patient with you.
The border area at the airport is a cell phone-free zone! You are only allowed to turn on your cell phone if you are asked to do so by a border agent.
If you have a layover within the USA, you must collect and check your baggage. If you have a layover in your home country, then this rule usually does not apply.
Officially, customs officials are not allowed to ask you for passwords. However, you need to be aware that officials have the leverage and can deny you entry without giving any reason.
A good way to protect your data from unwanted access would be to buy a second smartphone for your trip. Also, clean up any publicly available data about yourself, including social media posts that could lead to problems with US officials.
There is an absolute ban on marijuana at the airport (no matter which US state)! Alcohol is theoretically allowed, but when dealing with the strict US border guards, an alcohol buzz doesn't make a very good impression.
Unless you are actually entering the USA on a work visa or Green Card, you should not carry any work references in your hand luggage. This is because you may be suspected of trying to immigrate to the US illegally.
When dealing with US border officials, be serious, sincere, and brief. Many a traveler has had to fly straight back home after trying to lighten the unpleasant mood with a joke.
If the US border officials deny you entry into the USA, you, unfortunately, do not have many options to defend yourself on the spot.
However, you can use the online form (Traveler Redress Inquiry Program) to contact the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to have the case investigated. Unfortunately, this only makes sense after your return to your home country.
A final denial of entry is always made by two border officials who evaluate your case one after the other. Normally, you will not find out the reason for their decision.
Once you have been denied entry to the USA, you will only be able to travel with an approved US visa in the future, but not with the simplified ESTA travel authorization.
Aside from court and police records and documents provided, US border agents often rely on gut instinct when deciding whether to grant entry. As a result, it is difficult to predict why.
However, with the hundreds of people denied entry to the United States each day, certain patterns can be discerned. Common reasons for denial of entry include:
If you have all the necessary documents with you, fill out your ESTA or visa application truthfully and follow the entry requirements, then everything will be fine for your trip to the USA.
Not sure where to go yet? Get inspired by our US state portraits or take our test: "Which US region suits you?" Have a good trip!
With an ESTA, you can stay 90 days visa-free in the USA. Apply online now!
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