Entry requirements for the USA

The USA has very strict entry requirements. We explain the most important guidelines you need to follow so that you won't run into any problems at the American border.

Documents for entering the USA

Entering the USA is only possible with a valid passport as well as a valid residence permit.

Passport

The main requirement for entry into the USA is to have a valid passport that meets the following requirements:

  • The document must be a biometric passport (e-Passport).
  • If you are from a country that is a member of the "Six Months Club," the passport must be valid for at least until the end of your stay in America. For citizens of other countries, the passport validity should be 6 months beyond the end of your trip to the USA.

ESTA: visa-free travel to the USA

The abbreviation ESTA stands for "Electronic System for Travel Authorization" and refers to a computer-based system for traveling to the USA without a visa. An ESTA travel authorization can be obtained by citizens of the 41 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

You can apply for the practical ESTA permit in a quick and uncomplicated way via an online form. The ESTA permit will then remain valid for 2 years or until the expiration of your passport. Within the validity period, ESTA holders are allowed to enter the USA several times with a maximum stay of 90 days at a time for the following purposes:

  • Vacation
  • Visiting friends and family
  • Short business trips (meetings, conferences, contract negotiations)
  • Professional training (short-term training courses, private leisure studies)
  • Medical treatments
  • Transit

The ESTA application should be submitted at least 72 hours before your departure to the USA to ensure timely processing. In general, however, it is recommended to apply for ESTA about two months before your trip. This will give you enough time to obtain a US visa in case your ESTA application is denied.

If you are traveling to the USA with children, they will need their own biometric passports and their own ESTA authorizations. You can conveniently submit the ESTA for children as an ESTA group application along with your own form.

Visa for the USA

If you do not qualify for ESTA or plan to stay in the United States for more than 90 days, you will need a US visa that matches the purpose of your stay.

US visas have a validity of up to 10 years and allow you to stay in the USA for a maximum of 180 days at a time. Compared to ESTA, applying for a visa involves higher costs, more effort, and longer processing times. These vary from category to category. The most common visas for the USA include:

  • Visitor visa (B visa)
  • Student visa (F visa, J visa, K visa)
  • Work visa (E visa, H visa, I visa)
  • Transit visa (C visa)

Import regulations for the USA

The American border officials are known to be exceptionally tough. To avoid problems at the border, you need to find out which items you are allowed to take in your luggage before you fly to the USA.

Some goods can only be transported to the USA in specified quantities and under certain conditions. In some cases, additional forms must be submitted. Some products and items are even strictly prohibited upon entry into the USA.

Transporting food to the USA

When transporting food to the USA, you must be very careful. Many food products may only be brought across the US border in designated quantities, provided they are wrapped in their original commercial packaging. This includes the following products:

  • Roasted coffee
  • Tea
  • Baked goods, cookies, cereals
  • Chocolate
  • Sweets
  • Roasted nuts
  • Marmite and Vegemite spreads
  • Pasta
  • Flour
  • Spices
  • Mushrooms
  • Hard cheese
  • Ready-made sauces (without meat)
  • Vegetable oils
  • Juices

Note: It is possible that stricter regulations apply to products from certain countries of origin, e.g., if there have been cases of animal diseases in a region. It is, therefore, best to find out about the current regulations and prohibitions on a daily basis.

Bringing medication to the USA

You may bring prescription medications into the US in your carry-on luggage if you need them. It is important that they are kept in their original packaging. You will also need a document from your doctor, issued in English or translated.

Importing alcohol into the USA

Adults aged 21 and older may transport one liter of alcohol (except absinthe) duty-free into the United States. Travelers under the age of 21 are not allowed to bring in alcohol – not even as a gift.

Cigarettes and tobacco

Adult travelers can bring up to 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars, or 250 grams of loose tobacco into the USA duty-free. If you are a smoker, you should also note that filled lighters are not allowed in your luggage. You are only permitted to carry one small pack of safety matches in your carry-on luggage.

Customs form for the USA

If you are carrying declarable goods or quantities of goods, you must complete Declaration Form 6059B with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and submit it to Customs Control upon arrival. There, the products will be inspected, and the duties due will be calculated. Alternatively, you can complete the online form at the Automated Passport Control (APC) kiosk or at the Global Entry kiosk (for Global Entry program members only).

Transportation of weapons and ammunition

Handguns, hunting weapons, and ammunition are allowed in checked baggage for the USA with approval from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. However, you must ensure that they are transported in a sturdy and lockable box. Furthermore, it is necessary to fill out form AE 2075 for approval.

Prohibited goods when entering the USA

You may not bring these goods and items into the USA under any circumstances:

  • Illegal drugs
  • Fully and semi-automatic firearms
  • Knives
  • Certain foods: meat and meat products, fish and fish products, fresh dairy products, fresh eggs
  • Plant seeds and bulbs
  • Products from endangered species (e.g., ivory, coral, certain types of fur)
  • Counterfeit branded goods
  • Pornography
  • Products from countries on the current US embargo list (e.g., Cuba, Iran, Syria)

Please note

The import regulations for the USA can change at any time at short notice. Before entering the United States, it is best to check the US Customs and Border Protection website for the current regulations if you want to bring products into the US that you are not sure are allowed.

Limits for cash and other means of payment

You may bring cash, other means of payment (e.g., traveler's checks), and securities into the USA duty-free to a maximum amount of $ 10,000 in the aggregate. If you wish to bring in larger amounts, you must complete and file a FinCEN Form 105 (Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments) with U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Entry denied: What now?

If you have had problems with border officials and were denied entry into the USA, you can contact the US authorities through the Travel Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) to find out more about the reasons for the denial and, if necessary, appeal the decision.