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What papers for America do you actually need?

Documents for


What papers for America do you actually need? That’s a question we also had before our trip to the USA. And also a question we are frequently asked. But the answer is very simple and straightforward. You only have a few things to get right when traveling to the USA from Europe. We explain it briefly below.

International Passport

An international passport is familiar to everyone. This is the burgundy-colored booklet (in Belgium! Other countries have a different shade of color) you need to travel outside of Europe. You simply apply for this passport at your town hall and a few weeks later, or sometimes after just a few days, you will already have it. Very easy to obtain but expensive to purchase. An international passport costs about 70 euros. There is also an urgent procedure for people who need a passport quickly. This one will cost 200 euros. Unfortunately, you cannot save on these costs. Because without an international passport, you are simply not allowed to enter America.

Papieren Amerika - auto rijden
Border control

Papers for the US


ESTA is an electronic system that records your information and gives you permission to travel to America for up to 90 days. This is a replacement for the paperwork you normally have to fill out on the plane when traveling to another country. Nothing to worry about. Applying for an ESTA is not difficult but it is necessary! You can do it yourself from behind your computer on the site that was created for this purpose. Here you must click “submit a new application” and answer the questions honestly. After this, it may take a week before you get a response that your ESTA is okay.

Attention! For this application, you will first need your international passport. Don’t have this yet and you don’t have time to apply for an ESTA after that? Then you can also follow the old procedure at the airport and fill out a paper. This will take more time though and may well be stressful too. This is because it can happen at any time that you are no longer allowed to enter the country. Also keep in mind that your ESTA document costs money. We paid $14/person, which translates to about 12 euros. Again, you can’t save on this because you need it and at the airport itself it will cost you more.

These papers for America are only valid if you want to stay in America for less than 90 days.

Driver's License

For your driver’s license, you don’t need to apply for additional documents. In fact, your driver’s license from home is also valid here. Even though some websites claim otherwise. You can use it perfectly here and all car rental companies also accept your European driver’s license. So for your driver’s license, you don’t need extra papers for America.

Will I definitely be allowed to enter America with these papers?

With these papers you are not quite sure that you can enter the USA because at the airport itself there is a border control of course. But if you have nothing to hide, you’ll easily get past this and have enough with these documents. Also, don’t forget to print out your ESTA and bring it with you as proof.

Hopefully we have been able to answer your question: What papers for America do I need to enter America? Attention! This is only the procedure for when you travel to America as a tourist for up to 90 days and not to work or live! If you still have questions or if something is not clear, please do not hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to help you.

Visa for America
Streets Los Angeles

Types of visas


1 ESTA (no visa)

If you are going to America as a tourist and do not want to stay longer than 90 days in the country you should not apply for a visa but for an ESTA. This is a digital travel authorization to travel to America. In this way they check that you are not a danger to the country or have been in one of the countries that is in conflict with the US. You can easily apply for it online for example at This document is mandatory! As a tourist, you will not enter the country without the ESTA.

You can also secure this document now for a trip in the future because your ESTA is valid for two years. So in case of any cancellation or rescheduling of your trip due to the coronavirus, your visa is still valid. You may return to America several times with this ESTA but you may only stay there for a maximum of 90 days at a time. In other cases, you will need another visa for America.

How long does an application take?

Applying for your ESTA does not take that much time. You apply for this online, which will take about half an hour. And normally after a few days you will have an answer that is either positive or negative. Although as a Belgian you will rarely get a negative answer if you don’t have a criminal record. Sometimes an application can take a little longer. For example, once when we made an application, we didn’t get the answer until 1 week later. So don’t panic if you don’t get an answer right away. You can also take an urgent procedure, but this often costs a little extra. You can then expect the approval or rejection of your ESTA often after an hour though.

Tourists who have been to Iran, Iraq, Yemen, North Korea, Libya, Sudan, Somalia or Syria after 2011 unfortunately cannot apply for an ESTA. You will have to contact the embassy for another application in that case.

2 Non-immigrant visa

You should only apply for a non-immigrant visa if you want to stay in America as a tourist or student for a period longer than 90 days. This, for example, if you want to travel the Pacific Crest Trail, which requires at least 150 days. This particular visa does require you to go through a thorough procedure. For example, you will need to properly explain what you will be doing and where you will be staying. Not every reason for staying for a period longer than 90 days is accepted just like that. You cannot apply for this visa to America online. You must contact the U.S. Embassy for this purpose. They will then give you the different options of what can and cannot be done and more importantly, what is the right visa for your trip. More information can be found here.

How long does an application take?

The time to apply for this visa to America is difficult to determine. In fact, each case is different and will take a different amount of time to complete. What is certain is that it is best to apply for any visa on time. It is often not settled in one week.

3 Immigration Visa

Another visa for America, which is not really applicable to a tourist, is the immigration visa. With this visa you apply for permanent residence in America. A visa that is popular but rarely, if at all, given by America. You can only obtain this through your employer in America, marriage or by investing a lot of money in America. So, unfortunately, this is not for everyone. This visa is also sometimes called a Greencard. This also gives you the right to buy property in America.

Diversity Lottery

There is one exception to the above visa though. For example, each year there is the Diversity Lottery. A contest organized by the U.S. state in which 55,000 of these visas are given away each year. Although the chances of winning are minimal. Because every year about 20 million people register for this contest. You can easily find the Diversity Lottery online.

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