We are often asked how we manage to be on the road for so long in the USA.
And yes, because normally the United States only allow travel from 3 months maximum, to stay longer you therefore need a B2 Visa.
What is that ? What steps should be taken? How to get your B2? We tell you everything here!
Feedback on this Visa for long-term travelers in search of a Road Trip.
When you plan a trip to the US, there is not much to plan to do I'ESTA (the electronic authorization mandatory to be done just before departure). A real formality settled the day before, even at the airport for the heads in the air...
But with an ESTA in your pocket (to be done before each trip), you can only stay in the United States for "only" 3 months. If it is more than enough for a vacation in New York or Los Angeles, it is less so for anyone planning a long road trip to the land of Uncle Sam. The territory is so large that it would take a lifetime to explore every corner, we know something!
He is possible to extend the ESTA, but here it gets more complicated. The process is not obvious. You have to do that on site, be able to receive your answer at a fixed address in the USA (not necessarily easy when you travel, especially when you don't know the date of receipt), in short a real headache, with an uncertain outcome.
The other "technique" is to travel to Mexico or Canada for a while and of return via a land border to the USA (but after 2-3 days it never works…). The customs officer will find that suspicious. But if you can prove that you have the necessary money to travel, that you have a return ticket, travel insurance in the event of a problem (not mandatory but very reassuring), and a route 3 months maximum planned, so maybe, and we say maybe, that he will allow you to re-enter the territory... It is at the discretion of the customs officer! In any case, it does not work every time and therefore it can jeopardize your trip. Better not count on it!
But what is the real good solution then?
Very little known (in view of the many questions we receive on this subject), it allows you to stay in the United States 6 months a year for 10 years. That's in theory! But in practice it's a bit different, and in a good way (for once…).
Thanks to this visa sesame, there is no longer any need to do the ESTA before departure. This is a real visa affixed to the passport. It does not allow you to work, be careful, it is “ONLY” a tourist visa!
In the facts, you can actually spend more than 6 months a year, because 6 months are given each time you enter the territory, except if you are returning from one of the two neighboring countries (thus via Canada or Mexico). It is once again at the discretion of the customs officer (see above), and, we repeat, only after having spent some time in one of these two countries (at least 1 good month and again…).
To be sure ofget to new 6 months, so you have to go further than mexico by road (for example when we went to Central America during our first failed attempt to do the Pan American, arrived at the American customs, we had again 6 months without the slightest question), or take a flight for an excursion in another country (Cuba, Central or South America, etc.) or even make a round trip of a few weeks in France.
So yes, this last solution is not ideal either, but for our part, we have sometimes had to spend a few weeks / months in France (unfortunately once or twice, not by choice), for example to a birth or other important event or to see our families again for the holidays.
> In short, the thing to remember is that you will therefore have a 6-month tourist visa for each entry (excluding the “post turn” in Canada or Mexico).
Now, of course, that's the big question. To get a B2 Visa, you have to do it in advance. It's not like ESTA which is a simple authorization. Who says visa, says passage to the American Embassy in Paris.
For that, you have to start with complete the DS-160 form online, by already completing a whole bunch of lines (passport number, etc…).
You will then have to pay directly the amount of the visa is 160$ (in 2022), non refundable in case of cancellation or refusal.
At last, several meeting dates are available at the end of the process. They are given on average one month after the online request has been made. Note that it is necessary one appointment per person aged 14 to 79, even for the same family…
On site you can group appointments, even if you are not married, so that requests for the same travel plan are processed together.
At the end of the process you will be given a code not to be lost, you will be asked for it at the embassy.
Once this step has been completed, all that remains is to book a train ticket for Paris for D-Day (or a metro ticket for Parisians…).
- beware ofhave a passport valid for more than 6 months at the time of the meeting...
- The appointment can be moved in advance if you have an impediment.
- When applying DS-160 you will be asked for a US standard photo ID. You can do it at home on a white wall with good light and crop it to the right size.
It is not because it is a tourist visa that you can arrive as a tourist at the embassy... Far from it, you will undoubtedly be turned back...
Apart from the list of documents required to get there:
- Valid passport
- Photo meeting the requirements for a US visa
- Confirmation of Form DS-160 submission + code
- Proof of payment of visa fees
- Embassy interview confirmation page
So what should be planned?
What must be kept in mind, and we will come back to it below, is that if you make this request it means that you have a TRAVEL project of more than 3 months. Without this, the embassy will have absolutely no interest in granting you this visa… and yes, of course, it is made for that…
What you have to do is prepare a nice file that includes:
- A detailed letter of intent that describes the reason for the trip.
- Your planned route over more than 3 months and less than 6 months (even if it is not precise, a google map with the main stages is enough).
- A very recent account statement, showing your available savings for this trip (no savings account, you must have access to this money). The savings must be at least 2000€ per person per month, because even if you will certainly spend less, this includes for them: the costs on the spot but also the price of the plane tickets, etc… (the official amount requested by the American authorities is 266$ per day, which is enormous, we grant you, but in reality not applied).
- Proof of your attachment / your links with France: lease, a deed of ownership which proves that you will return at the end of your stay. If you are definitely leaving your accommodation for a trip of several years (Pan-American, world tour, etc.), you may still have your accommodation at the time.
- Proof that you have a job in France waiting for you when you return from your trip: employment contract, employer's certificate, sabbatical leave certificate, registration with Ursaff / chamber of commerce / etc… for self-employed workers or on their own. In short, you have understood the idea, you work IN FRANCE! At the time when we made these visas (in 2015), teleworking was not widespread, but we can hope that today teleworking with a French or European company must certainly be accepted without problem.
- If you rent one or more accommodations, the receipts for the rents collected each month (so it is not necessary to have a lot of savings at the time of departure but at least enough to pay for the tickets and an envelope of a few thousand euros in case seed).
- All other documents useful to the understanding of the travel plan by the person who will receive you at the embassy.
All this for what in the end? Just to prove:
- That you are not going to work in the USA!
- That you have enough money on hand (or falling each month) for this trip.
- That you have a travel plan of more than 3 months AND less than 6 months.
Without these three criteria, don't even hope to have the sesame, no need to start applying for a B2 visa.
- You will also be asked to list your social media profiles by providing your usernames.
- Since the health crisis, questions about your vaccinations have also been added. To travel to the United States you will need to be up to date with your COVID-19 vaccines.
When you arrive, it's a bit like at the airport: control of the passport, the code and your meeting time, security gate, search and all the stuff. Be careful, you will not have your phone afterwards. It will be confiscated upon entry, so don't keep any information you need on it... ditto for your backpack, suitcase, you will only be entitled to the necessary documents.
Then you will be given a ticket with a passage number, if you are several on the same travel plan, now is the time to say so to group your passage in front of the person from the embassy.
After a few minutes of waiting (generally the schedules are well respected), you are called. Don't expect to arrive in a large office with an American flag, it's more like the bank, or the post office (more secure).
After the usage checks (passport, etc…), and your travel history in the United States the first question (in French) is usually: “Why do you want this visa? », “What is the purpose of your trip? »
So that's where you have to put on your best smile and clearly answer the question. No need to stretch out on a long monologue, it must be clear, precise, and supported by your precious documents, the map of your route at the top of the stack: “We are planning a 6 month trip to the United States to visit this great country. We have established an itinerary in this time frame, and have enough savings / annuities for it, and done well in relation to our work in France which we will find after our big trip” (for example, to be adapted on a case-by-case basis, but basically that's it).
Then, you will certainly be asked more in relation to your savings, your work, etc. IThere are no trick questions, just answer. If you combine all the criteria, no reason to worry. We will also take your fingerprints and we will probably keep your file if it is necessary in their eyes.
At the end of the interview, you will leave your passports, you will thank the nice lady, or the nice gentleman, for her welcome, and wish her a very good day (in fact, that's normally all the time you have to do it, not just here…)
Direction the exit where you will recover your business and telephone before going to see the Eiffel tower to decompress a little. And no, you won't get the answer right away... Unless you really said a big mistake, you forgot an important document, or you weren't clear enough, to the point that a big big doubt remains.
- Don't hesitate, don't answer: "I don't know", “we will see on the spot”, “maybe” in short, you have a serious project and it must be clear in your head! Imagine if it's not clear to you for the person in front...
- Do not say that you plan to work on site, even voluntarily, or go WOOFING. This visa is ONLY for tourist purposes!
Keep in mind that it is the person you will see on the spot who will decide whether or not your file continues to make its way until obtaining the visa. Because even if your file is then processed a second time to be fully checked, it is indeed she who "sorts" the requests and asks the essential questions.
Well no ! You will have the answer about two weeks after your visit to the embassy in Paris. Your passport will be returned to you with your visa stuck inside, or not, and with a letter which will therefore confirm whether or not you have obtained your Visa.
In case of refusal you will not have any explanations. It is that you have necessarily said a dumpling or that your file was not serious enough (take a step back), but know that you can always reapply (and pay again as a result).
Unfortunately, sometimes, regardless of the number of requests, the personal, professional and/or financial situation will have to change considerably for the embassy to review its position.
Before leaving for a long trip we advise you to read this article for prepare for your departure and don't forget anything.
It is not because you have had your B2 Visa that this precious sesame will open all the doors for you. Once there, at the airport (or port) in the USA (no need to do the ESTA before departure), arrived at customs, you will not escape the same questions after showing your visa directly. On the contrary… Same question as at the embassy, you will probably go to a back room with another customs officer (no stress, this is generally the case and it is normal otherwise your case would take too long to process at the counter). Short, therefore imperatively make a copy of your famous file (you know the one from the embassy with your itinerary and everything…), before leaving (and don't put it in your suitcase in the hold, you won't have gotten it back yet…).
This will again support traveling with a B2 Visa because, yes, now that you have it, We still have to prove why! It's like that, the customs agent was not at your appointment in Paris.
So don't worry, it's just a formality, and even if he seems rough to you at first, he will relax and maybe even give you your first tips for your trip, if there is no queue behind you.
A stamp later with the date of leaving the territory inscribed, So here you are now in the USA for a maximum of 6 months.
Enjoy, there is so much to see!
- If you are starting a van trip arriving via Canada (most travelers who have sent their vehicle from Europe by freighter, arrive via Halifax), you will then arrive in the USA via one of the many land borders. In this case, apart from the usual formalities for everyone, the customs officer at the gate will ask you to park a little further on in a dedicated car park, then go inside the offices to complete an i94 form (you don't do it). Same questions than above and 6$ per person to pay. You will then be attached to a small white paper in your passport to be returned when leaving the territory (not to be lost). During this time, your vehicle may be searched. Generally, you are then asked to leave your phones on the dashboard and the keys in the vehicle, but it's not always the case.
- If you travel with a pet, dog, cat, hamster, raccoon, newt,… you will also have to payan entrance fee for your animal. Be careful to have the proof of vaccination animal with you and all his papers. Don't expect to return to the USA with a cute little dog picked up on the side of a road in Mexico without it being in order.
- Attention, once entered the USA, if you go to Canada or Mexico, your visa continues to run to USA. Example: you spend 1 month in the USA, then you go to Canada for 3 months before returning to the USA. You will therefore have 2 months of Visa left in the USA. This is especially valid for those who wish to go to Alaska by land: they have to go through Canada, so plan your travel time between countries accordingly.
- In the event that your Visa terminates while you are in one of the neighboring countries (and even if you only spent 1 month in the USA in the end), then we come back to what we wrote at the beginning: it is at the discretion of the customs officer (it's good, there are some who have followed everything). But usually, if you spent a short time in the USA before going to Mexico or Canada for a long period, and you then return to the USA while your visa has expired in the meantime, there is very little chance that he will refuse your new entry.
- If you wish to stay longer, you can get a B2 visa extension for another 6 months. For this a I-539 request must be made after a minimum stay of three months in the USA and at least 42 days before expiration. The cost is 370$ per person…