Directory of U.S. Visa Types


Differences between “visa” and “passport” for traveling overseas


Difference between passport and visa

It is required to obtain visa suited for your purpose other than passport if you wish to travel overseas for long period. Passport is a personal identification certificate issued by government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs of each nation, and traveler’s nationality can be cleared at a glance.
On the other hand, visa is an entry permit issued by government of visiting country for citizen of foreign nationality to allow the entry. Passport and visa have different characters and so as issuers. More explanations are made on this page for passport; required for traveling overseas, and visa; necessary for entry and stay in the visiting country.

What is passport?

Passport is an important certificate to show travelers identity and required when citizen of the own country is traveling foreign countries. Not only certifying nationality and identity but also an official document requesting grant of accommodation and the protection to a foreign government official are listed for travelers staying overseas. Carrying passport and presentation of it are required when departing for overseas and returning from there, and what if you forgot or lost your passport, not only unable to enter the country but also unable to aboard to the aircraft. The person who do not carry passport is not able to go overseas in general, make sure to carry your passport.

Cases when passport presentation is requested

1. Immigration at the airport
2. For visa application
3. Boarding an international airline
4. Identification card presentation requested by immigration official and/or police officer
5. Checking in a hotel
6. When using travelers check

What is visa?

A visa is an entry permit for citizens of foreign national issued by government of visiting country for allowing the entry. It is issued for only the person who is approved from pre-screening test by documents and interview. The citizen of VWP (Visa Waiver program) participating nations requesting for the stay in the U.S. over 90days are required to obtain non-immigrant visa suited for the purpose of his/her visit.
VWP (Visa Waiver Program)
The person who is judged as ineligible for the entry to the U.S. through pre-screening test is not allowed for the issue of visa so as entry. Also, fairly infrequently but there were cases reported that the entry to the country at the immigration were not allowed at the arrival airport even obtaining visa. There are other cases as taking over a month from the visa application to approval and then till it is issued. It may take about a year if emigrating to the U.S. by marrying to the US citizen and applying for a permanent residency. Apply for visa early enough if you wish to stay in the U.S. for long period. Visas have variety and condition for acquisition depending on the destination, purpose, and staying period. For more information of visa acquisition, contact US Embassy or Immigration and Naturalization.

What is ESTA?

ESTA (Electric System for Travel Authorization) is a travel authorization system introduced by DHS (Department of Homeland Security). It started in January 2009, and its official name is “Electronic System for Travel Authorization”. Although a visa is required for foreign national to travel to the U.S. in general, only the citizen of participating nations of the U.S. government established VWP (Visa Waiver Program) are exempted from visa acquisition, and permitted to stay in the U.S. for up to 90 days by ESTA application only. However, the purpose of the visit needs to be sightseeing or short-term business trip if staying in the U.S. by ESTA. The person who is planning on staying there for over 90 days or being employed is not subjected for ESTA application therefore make sure to apply for visa. ESTA application is required for the one transiting at the airport in the U.S. as well. Be sure to apply for ESTA if visiting some countries via U.S. As of 2023, 41 nations are participating for, check “About VWP (Visa Waiver Program)“.


  • The citizen of VWP participating nations with criminal record by serious negligence and infections disease may not be subjected for ESTA application. In that case, traveling to the U.S. by ESTA would not be permitted therefore consider applying for visa.
  • Once authorized ESTA is valid for 2 years however, if your passport is expiring within 2 years, ESTA will expire in the same day with passport’s expiration date. Also the cases of reissuing passport for marriage and/or change of the family name, ESTA will be expired then. If you plan on traveling to the U.S. in the future, apply for ESTA again with new passport.

Variety of Visa

Citizen of VWP (Visa Waiver Program) participating nations are allowed to travel to the U.S. by only ESTA application without obtaining visa. However, the purpose of the visit is limited to sightseeing or short-term business trip, and permitted staying period is up to 90 days the longest. Traveling by ESTA is permitted if it is a general sightseeing though if a person plans to stay over 90 days, being employed or being an exchange student is not subjected to ESTA application but required for visa. Visas have varieties depending on the purpose. Here are commonly required visas when staying in the U.S.

What is U.S. major “Immigration visa” “Non-immigration visa” “Fiance visa”?

What is Immigration visa? (Visa for migration,Permanent residence in the U.S.)

All citizens of foreign nationals who wish to emigrate to the U.S. are required to submit the petition authorized by USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) before applying for immigration visa. The petition is required to submit to USCIS by family members or employer who satisfy certain conditions. An application qualification for an immigration visa or non-immigration visa is approved when a petition is authorized and being able to be proceeded.

What is non-immigration visa? (A visa for temporary stay for sightseeing,business,studying abroad)

It is allowed to apply for non-immigration visa when a foreign national without U.S. permanent residency wish to enter or stay in the U.S. for temporary. There are many kinds and different types of non-immigrant visa in the U.S. Which visa to obtain is specified based on the U.S. immigration law by examining for an applicant’s purpose of visit and all conditions. Contact US Embassy or Immigration and Naturalization for more information of non-immigration visa.

What is fiance visa? (A visa for the person who engaged and decided to marry to U.S. national)

A person who engages to U.S. citizen and wishes for permanent residence in the U.S. after marriage is required to have K-1 visa (Fiance visa). Followings are conditions for K-1 visa applications.

Conditions for applying for a K-1 visa

  • Either one of the couple must be a U.S. national
  • Couple must be in the situation to be able to marry by law, and both need to be currently singles
  • A couple must have seeing each other, have dating history, and both need to be agreeing to marry
  • Must plan to marry within 90days from the date of U.S. entry once fiance acquired K-1 visa

Non-immigration visa in common

A person who received the notice of “Travel authorization declined” as a result of ESTA application, consider apply for a visa. A common B-visa (non-immigration visa) is recommended for general sightseeing or short-term business trip purpose. A passport presentation is required for visa application. Be sure to carry your passport when going through the procedure at US embassy or Immigration and Naturalization.

Major visas for different purposes to U.S. visit

The cases of U.S. visit by B-visa (Business / Sightseeing)

Athletes, Amateurs and Professionals (Attending the games with prize money only)
Servant・House maid・Babysitter (Must be a employment for no value of the wage)
Visit for sightseeing・Pleasure

B-visa is the most common non-immigration visa. In case of travel authorization declined from ESTA screening, consider apply for B-visa.

The cases of U.S. visit by A-visa (Government Officials / Public Minister visa)

A-1 Diplomat, Foreign government officials
A-2 Foreign military force and of its person concerned stationing in the U.S. (NATO1-6)

Mainly acquired by diplomats, militaries and government officials.

C-visa (Visa for transit / transfer)

C-1,C-2,C-3 Transit in the U.S.
BCC BCC Border Crossing Card : Mexico

C-visa is a required visa for passing through U.S. as transfer / transit at the airport in the U.S. Obtaining it is required if traveling to some countries via U.S. without ESTA.

D-visa (Crewmember visa)

D Crewmember

A visa for crewmember of overseas ship or aircraft traveling to or transiting in the U.S.

E-visa (Expat visa)

E-1 Treaty trader
E-2 Treaty investor
E-2C Treaty investor limited to Northern Mariana Islands
E-3 Australian worker

A visa required for the one traveling to the U.S. as a trading expat or an investing expat. E-visa is valid for 5 years and it is mainly issued for manager or technical specialist.

F-visa (Student visa)

F-1 Student (Student including language study)
F-1 Family member traveling along with a student
F-2 F-visa holder’s family member traveling along

A visa required for studying abroad to university, graduate school, college, high school and language school located in the U.S. Most students going to the U.S. to study are required to obtain F-visa.

H-visa (work visa)

H-1B  Doctor
H-1B1 Free Trade Agreements (FTA) Specialist: Chili
H-1B1 Free Trade Agreements (FTA) Specialist: Singapore
H-1C Nurse traveling to the areas of medical professionals shortage
H-1B Temporary worker (Agriculture or business associated with agriculture)
H-2A The special skilled work for a field where requires advanced expertise
H-2B Temporary worker (Non-agricultural)
H-3 Participate in training program that does not focused on employment as a main purpose

A visa issued for local employment by various companies and organizations in the U.S. The person applying for H1-visa is required for obtaining bachelor’s degree or license related to the profession.

I-visa (Journalist visa)

Information media representative

A visa issued for the press and the one works as journalist in the U.S.

J-visa (Exchange visitor visa)

J-1 Doctor
J-1 Exchange visitor Au pair (Homestay, Mother’s help)
J-1 Exchange visitor Professor, Scholar, Teacher
J-1 A visa holder’s child (under age 21)
J-2 Spouse

A visa for visiting U.S. for certain periods for the purpose of demonstration or teaching specialized skill by exchange of the family or homestay.

K-visa (Fiance visa)

The person engaged to the U.S. national

A visa for the person who engaged to U.S. citizen, and plans to marry and live as a permanent resident in the U.S.

L-visa (Intra-company transferee visa)

Intra-company transferee

A visa subjected for employee transferring to headquarters, branches, and other related companies in the U.S. for temporary period. It is mainly for professional and manager though it differs with E-visa since it considers as transfer in the corporation.

M-visa (Job trainee visa)

M-1 Student
M-1 Job trainee
M-1 Student’s family member traveling along
M-2 Visa holder’s family member traveling along

A visa issued for student subjected to the one receiving professional training in the U.S. The Family member traveling along with the visa holder is permitted to obtain a visa as well.

G-visa (NATO, International organization visa)

A visa for mainly subjected to staff of NATO and the one belongs to international organization that differ from general non-immigration visa. It is required when visiting the U.S. for international organization’s public service or meeting.

O-visa (Special skill visa)

A visa subjected to foreign national who has the outstanding ability and result on field of science, art, education, business or sports.

P-visa (Sports, art, one with special skill visa)

P-1,P-2,P-3,P-4 A visa subjected to foreign national mainly for athlete, artist, and a person in entertainment with outstanding ability internationally.

Q-visa (International exchange visa)

Q-1 A visa is mainly subjected to the person who is visiting the U.S. as a part of the international cultural exchange.

R-visa (Religious occupation visa)

A visa mainly issued for foreign national who serves for religious activity, and travels to the U.S. on purpose of humanitarian support.

Other related information

How long is it to receive visa since applied?

There are many varieties of visa, and between the period of application and till receive it varies.
If applied for most common B-2 visa, a visa-attached passport will be delivered within 2 weeks after completing an interview at US embassy or Immigration and Naturalization. It is expected to take over a month from visa application to acquisition: for a week to prepare for necessary documents for visa application, for 2 weeks to have interview at US embassy or Immigration and Naturalization, and another 2 weeks from examination to visa to be issued. However, it takes longer if additional procedure is requested due to irregularity on submitted documents. The person wish to obtain visa should make clear of the purpose of the visit to the U.S. and process the application early enough by contacting US embassy or Immigration of Naturalization.

Although a visa is an authorization to permit the stay at the destination, the immigration official at the arrival airport is in charge of a judgment for the entry. Be notified that visa acquisition is not an absolute guarantee of stay in the U.S.
Due to the influence of a pandemic outbreak of COVID-19, Embassy, Consulate general, and Immigration and Naturalization in each country are reducing acceptance duties related to visa currently. Please make sure to check most updated information if you wish to apply for visa since the way of making appointment for interview or application condition may have been changed.

Apply for ESTA here

UPDATE : 2024/07/12