Visiting the United States
The International Student Advisers provide some information about entry into the United States (U.S.) for the purposes of tourism or meetings/conferences.
Information about impact of recent executive orders and court cases in the United States, can be found on our United States travel advice page.
What is on this page
- U.S. Visitor Visa
- Visa Waiver Program
- Before leaving for the United States
- Entering the United States
- Returning from the United States
- Further Questions?
U.S. Visitor Visa
Citizens of a select group of countries (whose travel plans and passports meet all the necessary requirements) do not automatically require a visa to enter the United States as a visitor. Instead they may participate in the Visa Waiver Program. Citizens of all other countries must get a visa to be eligible to enter the United States. The visitor visa is usually known as a B1/B2 (Visitor for Business or Pleasure) visa.
General information on U.S. visitor visas is available through the U.S. Department of State. The U.S. Government has also provided a general guide for those applying from within Canada on YouTube.
Scheduling a visa interview
The U.S. visa application process includes a mandatory interview. Interview appointments, for those currently in Canada, are scheduled online (If you are not already in Canada, see below). You must pay your visa application fee before making your appointment. You must also have your passport and have completed the DS-160 form available at: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/. After doing so, you can book the appointment through: https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-CA/niv. Those in Kingston will usually schedule their interview at the United States Embassy in Ottawa.
Current/recent U.S. Visitor Visa holders
Some current and recent U.S. Visitor Visa holders may be able to renew their visa without requiring an interview.
The Interview Waiver or Personal Appearance Waiver Programs exempt qualified applicants from the normally required interview. It is still necessary to go through the process of scheduling an interview (as noted above). Eligible applicants will be notified as part of that process.
When to Apply
If you meet the requirements set by the U.S. government, you can apply at any time. U.S. immigration officials expect you to prove your ties to the country where you are applying from. For those in Canada, they often expect you to prove those ties by completing at least one academic term (and maybe more) before applying.
Exchange (and other short-term) Students
If you will be in Canada for one year or less, it is advisable to apply for your visa before coming to Canada.
If you apply in your home country, please note that information on current country-specific fees and the maximum length of a visa (based on citizenship) can be found through the U.S. Department of State. Note: The visitor visa is the B1/B2 visa.
It can take as little as a couple of days and as many as 6 weeks to get an interview. Information about how quickly you can schedule an interview is available through the U.S. Department of State (you will be asked to identify the consular office).
After the interview, it can take a few days to a few months for a final decision to be made. Most decisions are made within a few days of the interview. You can check the status of your application by entering the barcode number from your DS-160 form and the location of your interview at: https://ceac.state.gov/CEAC/
A U.S. visitor for business or pleasure visa (B1/B2) application will cost $160US. If you are a citizen of a country that has a specific fee for U.S. citizens, then you will ALSO be charged a “reciprocity fee“. Fee payment must be made as part of the interview scheduling process.
If you apply in Canada, your U.S. Visa (if you get one) is likely to expire no later than your Canadian temporary resident status (ie. Study Permit, Work Permit, etc.). In addition, if there are special limitations on the visas issued to U.S. citizens that hope to enter your home country as a visitor, those same limitations may apply to you. This is known as reciprocity.
Like the Canadian Temporary Resident Visa, a U.S. Visa does not allow the holder to stay in the U.S. throughout its validity period. The length of time you can stay is determined when you are admitted into the country.
What to bring to the interview
It is extremely important to follow the instructions provided when you make your visa appointment. Students should generally bring a transcript, proof of registration, and proof they have money to support yourself and pay for their studies here in Canada.
Graduate students, particularly Ph.D candidates, are advised to bring a resume/CV outlining research and publications.
After your interview
One of three things is likely to happen at the end of your interview:
- If your application is successful, the visa officer will explain that they must keep your passport so that they can attach the visa. Passports are returned using Loomis Express. See details below.
- If your application is unsuccessful, the visa officer will return your passport and give a basic explanation of their decision.
- If your application requires additional/administrative processing, the visa officer should give you the choice of keeping your passport until you hear from them, or to leave it at the visa office. Because this additional processing can take a very long time, it is often best to keep your passport with you. If they decide to issue the visa at the end of the processing, they will contact you and give you instructions for sending in your passport. After the visa is issued, passports are returned using Loomis Express. See details below.
The Kingston Loomis Express depot is at 1150 Gardiners Road. Once notified via an e-mail from Loomis, you can either pick-up your passport there from 7 to 9:30am or 4 to 6:30pm, Monday-Friday or set-up delivery to another address with them (at an additional cost).
What to expect when entering the U.S.
A visa does not guarantee entrance to the United States. You may be inspected at the point of entry. You will be enrolled in the United States Department of Homeland Security US-Visit program. This includes the collection of a digital photograph and fingerprints. More information about what to expect can be found on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website.
If allowed to enter, you may be issued an Arrival/Departure Record (I-94) or a stamp that will be placed in your passport. Either one will include the date by which you must leave the country. If you are not issued an I-94 but require proof of your admittance to the United States (beyond the stamp) you can access it online.
Visa Waiver Program
Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)
Those planning to enter the U.S. by airline or cruise ship through the program must complete an online form prior to their visit to the United States. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) is an automated system used to determine the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program.
ESTA Application Fees
There is a fee of $4US to complete the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application. If the application is successful, an additional $10US Authorization fee will be charged to your credit card for a total of $14US.
If you will be entering the U.S. by land (ie. car, bus, train, etc.) through the Visa Waiver Program, the ESTA application is not currently required. There is a $6US entry fee in this circumstance. It is a good idea to have some U.S. currency with you upon arrival to pay this fee.
When to Apply for ESTA
You should do so as soon as you begin considering travel to the United States (when traveling by sea or air). It will take up to 72 hours to process an application. If Travel Authorization is denied, you will be required to apply for a visitor visa.
ESTA Validity Period
The Electronic System for Travel Authorization will remain valid for 2 years or until the expiry of your passport (whichever comes first). If you plan to visit multiple times during that period, you can update your ESTA application.
The length of time you can stay is determined when you are admitted into the country but is not more than 90 days.
What to expect when entering the U.S.
A visa waiver and positive response to an ESTA application (if required) do not guarantee entrance to the United States. You may be inspected at the point of entry. You will be enrolled in the United States Department of Homeland Security US-Visit program. This includes the collection of a digital photograph and fingerprints. More information about what to expect can be found on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security website.
If allowed to enter, you will be asked to pay the fee noted above. Your passport will then be stamped and/or you may receive an Arrival/Departure Record (I-94 white or I-94W green). Either the stamp or the I-94 will include the date by which you must leave the country.
Before leaving for the United States
Proof of Enrolment/Employment
It is strongly recommended that all Queen’s students and scholars get proof of their relationship to Queen’s University before leaving Canada. This may make entering the U.S. and/or returning to Canada easier.
Can get verification of enrollment (at no cost) from SOLUS [accessible through https://my.queensu.ca]. In case further assistance is needed, students can visit the Records and Services section of the Office of the University Registrar (found in the lower level of Gordon Hall).
Can get verification of enrollment (at no cost) from SOLUS [accessible through https://my.queensu.ca]. If the verification of enrollment document does not clearly confirm their status, they can approach their Faculty Exchange Coordinator for further confirmation.
Those planning to visit the United States after finishing their time at Queen’s should make sure they have copies of their airline ticket home instead of proof of their studies in Canada.
Visiting Research Students/Scholars
Can contact their supervisor or the academic department that is hosting them to request verification of their status at Queen’s.
Health care costs in the United States are much higher than costs in Canada and the University Health Insurance Plan (UHIP) offers very limited coverage outside of Canada.
It is extremely important that you consider supplemental insurance when planning to visit the United States (or any country outside of Canada). More information is available from our Health Insurance and Care page as well as our Travel Beyond Kingston page.
Entering the United States
What to Expect
Holding a valid visa for the United States does not guarantee entry, nor does being exempt from requiring a visa (eg. Visa Waiver Program, or Canadian citizens seeking to enter for short-term tourism). A visa (or exemption from the visa requirement) only allows you to present yourself at the border to seek entry. Final decisions about admission into the United States are made by officials of United States Customs and Border Protection. They have the right to inspect all who seek to enter, and do so at ports of entry or pre-clearance areas in select Canadian airports.
Examinations at the border may include questions, fingerprinting, photos, and accessing phones and computers in the traveller’s possession. Refusal to answer questions or provide access to electronics when requested will likely result in refusal to enter the country.
Returning from the United States
Returning to Canada
You may be inspected by Canadian Immigration officials before being allowed to re-enter Canada from the United States. It may be helpful to have proof of your relationship to Queen’s as mentioned above in addition to your valid immigration documents.
Even if you required a Temporary Resident Visa (TRV) to enter Canada initially you MAY not need a valid TRV to return to Canada following a visit to the United States. Please check with our advisers if you are in this situation.
Bringing Goods Back
You may be expected to pay taxes and duties on items that you buy while in the United States. The length of your time in the United States determines the value of goods you can bring back to Canada without needing to pay. Details are available from the Canadian Border Services Agency.
Proof of Departure from the U.S.
Most travelers will have an electronic I-94, however, if you entered the United States via a land border port of entry or were provided a paper Form I-94 at an air or seaport and left the United States with your Form I-94 (white) or, if you arrived by land under the Visa Waiver Program, Form I-94W (green) Departure Record in your passport, it is possible that your departure was not recorded properly.
If you depart by a commercial air or sea carrier (airlines or cruise ships), your departure from the U.S. can be independently verified using the passenger manifest, and it is not necessary to take any further action, although holding on to your outbound (from the U.S.) boarding pass – if you still have it – can help ease your re-entry next time you visit the United States.
If you depart by land, private vessel or private plane, you will need to take steps to verify your departure. If you do not validate your timely departure from the United States, or, if you cannot reasonably prove you departed within the time frame given to you when your entered, the next time you apply for admission to the U.S., Customs and Border Protection officials may conclude you remained in the U.S. beyond your authorized stay. If this happens, your visa may be subject to cancellation or you may be returned immediately to your foreign point of origin.
Further instructions on how to record your departure from the United States after you have returned to Canada is available through United States Customs and Border Protection.
If you have further questions, after reviewing the information above, advising is available (without an appointment) from the International Student Advisers at the Queen’s University International Centre from Monday to Friday between 1:00pm and 4:30pm.