Getting a visa is one of the first steps of expat life. But finding one you’re eligible for can be difficult. Read our articles on US visa to learn about different kinds of immigration, nonimmigrant, and dependent visa. Already got one and about to leave? Don’t forget about US Customs regulations!
There are many different types of visa for the US and it is not always easy to identify the one you’re eligible for straight away. Next to the general distinction between immigrant and temporary visas, there are a number of other factors that decide what exact visa category is suitable for whom. It could be that your current or future employer is the one petitioning your application. Or maybe you yourself are thinking of going to the US as an investor and/or entrepreneur? And let us not forget about so called dependents visas which are needed for family members.
Picking the right visa category is not always easy. If you are only planning to make a short trip to the US, either for business or pleasure, and are not from a Visa Waiver Program country, you will need to apply for a B-1 or B-2 visa respectively. Other non-immigrant visa categories, such as e.g. the one for Intracompany Transferees (L-1), are typically based on a petition. This means that your employer (or in some cases you yourself) will first need to file a Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker (form I-129) and take care of any additional requirements (e.g. Labor Certificate). Only when this petition has been approved may you start your application. A similar procedure applies to immigrant visas: Your sponsor, i.e. employer, US relative or you yourself, has to file a petition first as basis for your application. The Diversity Visa Program, also known as green card lottery, is the proverbial exception to this rule.
Nearly all the different visa categories also include the possibility of bringing one’s family, i.e. your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21, with you to the US. They will, however, have to go through their own application process just like the original applicant, based on the initial approved petition. Also note that these dependent visas do not automatically include a permission to work. Instead, only the spouses of some specific visa categories are allowed to apply for employment authorization. On another note, family is surely not the only thing one will want to take along to the US. When packing your belongings and picking what to take and what to put into storage, make sure to keep US Customs regulations in mind. You are not allowed to bring everything or you may import only small amounts of certain items (e.g. alcohol) duty-free. Take a look at our article on the topic to be fully prepared.