If you have a business trip to the United States coming up, you’ll want to make sure you are well prepared, so you have everything in order in terms of your passport, visa and what to say to officials when entering the country. It is unlikely that you will have any problems when passing through immigration, but it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Whether or not you need a visa for your business trip to the United States depends on where you are from, how long you plan on staying and your reasons for travel.
If you are travelling to the United States for temporary business reasons - for less than 90 days – and you come from one of the 38 participating countries, you may apply for an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program. This allows you to enter the country without having to apply for a full B-1 Business Visa. In this case, you will need to check your eligibility, pay the processing fee and then simply turn up to the airport with your passport and you’ll be good to go. Your ESTA will remain valid for up to two years unless you: (1) receive a new passport, including an emergency or temporary passport; (2) change your name; (3) change your gender; (4) change your country of citizenship; or (5) need to change your responses to any of the “yes” or “no” questions on the ESTA application. You can apply for your ESTA here.
If you are not from one of the 38 qualified countries, you will need to organise a B-1 Business Visa prior to travel. A B-1 Business Visa is required if you are travelling to the United States for any of the following reasons:
You will need to schedule an appointment with your nearest US embassy, taking along all required documents, including evidence of your intended business activities. For those travelling under normal circumstances, with a fully-completed application form, full payment and all required documents, your visa should be processed and back to you within around 7 working days.
If, for any reason, you are not given a B-1 visa or are advised at the interview that a waiver of ineligibility is required before the visa can be issued, you will need to wait weeks, months or even years for the process to be completed.
Taking time to organise your business visa therefore needs to be factored in before you make any meetings or business arrangements.
The only people who have slightly different rules when it comes to travelling to the United States on business is those who are citizens of Canada and Bermuda. More information for business travel for these citizens can be found here.
Even if you just have one business meeting during your trip to the United States, it is always better to state this and ensure you are travelling on the correct visa rather than lying to officials and risk being denied entry in future. It may be possible for immigration officials to check your luggage and if they find suits, business cards or marketing materials when you’ve stated you’re going on vacation suspicions may arise. The above reasons are all valid, so you don’t need to worry if you plan on travelling for a meeting, conference or negotiation.
If you plan on travelling to the United States for paid work from a US business while you’re in the country, you will need apply for a work visa instead.
Please remember that applying for the incorrect or inappropriate visa for your purpose of travel may lead to serious problems that completely affect your travel plans and potentially even future trips. Therefore, never assume anything! Always check your eligibility for visas or visa waiver travel and give yourself plenty of time to prepare.