Which document to enter the United States?

Documents to go to the United States

Organizing a trip to the USA can sometimes be complex. Indeed, traveling to the United States requires collecting documents proving your identity and validating your trip.

In this article, we detail all the documents you need to set foot on American soil.

Why does a trip to the United States of America require travel documents?

Foreign nationals, especially those from the European Union, do not travel to the United States as they travel to the Schengen area. Indeed, if you are used to going to Europe, you know that the identity card is the only piece of identification necessary for this type of trip. However, to go to the USA, it is not the same thing.

You should know that the US government is very strict vis-à-vis tourists who go to US territory. This mistrust has grown over time, especially after the September 11 attacks. That is why their goal is to strengthen security measures and only let in tourists who do not pose a danger to the internal security of the country.

What document to go to the United States?

travel docs

Here are the four main documents you will need to travel to the United States.

The COVID-19 vaccine passport

Since the re-opening of the American borders on November 8, 2021, travelers from abroad must be fully vaccinated against the Coronavirus (COVID-19) for more than 15 days to enter the United States. A negative COVID-19 test of less than 48 hours is also required by the airlines before being able to board the plane, even if the passenger is vaccinated.

The biometric or electronic passport

The success of your trip depends above all on the possession of an electronic or biometric passport. Indeed, an identity card will not suffice for a stay in the United States. Also, if you do not have a passport, you cannot receive a travel authorization, which is the second document to have. The passport must of course be valid, so check its expiry date.

If you do not have a passport, it is advisable to apply to your town hall. The passport application requires you to provide passport photos and your fingerprints. The duration of the procedure can be more than a month, so make your request in advance.

A travel authorization

Once you have a valid passport in your pocket, you can apply for authorization, because the American authorities must accept your arrival on the territory before your departure. You have the choice between two authorizations which are the USA visa and the ESTA authorization. Please note that a simple transit also requires one of these authorisations.

The US visa

To apply for a visa, you must go to the American embassy. Upstream, an online form must be completed and then an appointment made with a consular officer. It is this interview at the US Embassy that will be decisive for your departure to the United States.

The visa application sometimes requires several months of waiting and is expensive, but the visa is more suitable for a long stay (stay exceeding 90 consecutive days) or for a reason for travel not covered by ESTA.

The travel documents to be presented to enter the United States will be specified to you by the embassy or consulate. Depending on the nature of your trip, you may be asked for additional supporting documents.

ESTA USA authorization

The ESTA authorization is only for nationals of member countries of the visa waiver program offered by the US government. You can find the list of countries concerned by the device on the government website. France is a beneficiary country, so French nationals can apply for this travel authorization. Note that several eligibility criteria must be taken into account. In addition to participation in the Visa Waiver Program and possession of a valid passport, travelers must travel to the USA for a temporary stay (90 days maximum) being either a business trip or a tourist stay, made by air or sea. .

To obtain an ESTA, you must apply online. There is therefore no need to go to the United States Embassy to apply for ESTA. The form to fill out is on the official website of the US government. Private sites also offer a simplified ESTA form and assistance if needed. The document is issued within 72 hours (sometimes less, thanks to electronic systems). The price is low and it is valid for two years if the validity of the passport allows it.

You do not need to physically bring your ESTA authorization before your trip to the USA: the authorization being electronic, it is linked to your passport number. Be careful to make a new application if you have a new passport.

A ticket to leave the territory

For any temporary stay (excluding the green card), proof of exit from American territory will be requested by the immigration officer when you pass through customs. A return plane ticket or an onward ticket will prove to the agent that you do not intend to stay longer than authorized in the United States.