How to apply for an American visa

Updated April 17, 2017

An American visa is issued by a US Embassy or consulate. It gives the holder the right to travel into the United States. Non-immigrant visas are for temporary admission, while an immigrant visa applies to an indefinite or permanent stay. These are notoriously difficult to obtain. If you are a holiday maker staying less that three months, you do not need a visa as long as you are a citizen of a country with a visa waiver agreement with America. This includes the UK.

Non-Immigrant Visas

Decide which class of non-immigrant visa is appropriate for your needs. There are many types of American non-immigrant visas -- for example, a student visa, business visa or religious worker visa. Go to the Embassy of the United States website for further information and to determine whether you meet basic requirements --

Schedule an appointment with a US consular staff member. Call 09042 450 100 between the hours of 8 am and 9 pm Monday to Friday or between 9 am and 4 pm Saturday. Calls from the UK cost £1.20 a minute from BT landlines and more from other networks and mobiles. Make sure you have all your personal details handy, including UK address, email address and passport number. You will also need a credit or debit card to pay the required machine-readable visa (MRV) fee. The standard fee is $140 but may be up to $390 for certain classes of visa.

Attend the interview. You must bring your confirmation letter and MRV fee receipt with you for presentation to the security guards at the Embassy gate. If you don't bring these, you appointment may be cancelled. Your fingerprints will be electronically scanned as part of the interview process.

Wait for your visa to be approved. All passports with visas will be returned to the applicant by DX Secure, a courier agency contracted to the US Embassy. Wait times can vary, but according to the US Department of State Consular Affairs website, visiting non-immigrant visas applied for in London take an average of four working days to process.

Immigrant Visas

File an immigrant visa petition with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. US immigration law provides for the issuance of immigrant visas in four general categories: immediate relative, family based, employment based and the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, known as the "green card" lottery. For more information on whether you qualify and how to make an application, go to the US Embassy website,

Fill in the forms, which are lengthy and may include police checks. Pay the fees. Before your application is processed you are required to pay the visa application fee. These begin at $400 for an immigrant visa.

Attend the medical examination and visa interview as instructed. Your application will be processed by either the National Visa Center in New Hampshire or the Immigrant Visa Unit at the Embassy in London. It will normally take four to eight weeks to be contacted about an interview date.

Attempt to win the "green card lottery". The Diversity Immigration Program is a yearly random selection of 55,000 immigrant visas for people from countries with low rates of immigration to the US. The only official way to apply for the DV lottery is directly through the official US Department of State website during the specified and limited-time registration period. Applicants who are selected are notified by the Department of State, Kentucky Consular Center by letter.


An appointment for an interview may be scheduled only through the Operator Assisted Visa Information Service; appointments cannot be scheduled by email.

Family or married couples applying for visas at the same time may schedule one appointment per family or couple. All others must schedule individual appointments.

A child under the age of 14 is not required to attend the interview. If the parent is applying for a visa, he or she may bring the child's application to the interview.

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About the Author

From New Zealand and now freelancing in London, Alice Hudson began her writing career in 2004, specializing in health and fitness, lifestyle and personal finance. Her work has appear in the "Hawke's Bay Today" daily newspaper and "The Herald on Sunday." Hudson attained a Bachelor of Arts and diploma in journalism from the University of Canterbury.