Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. Transit (C) visas are nonimmigrant visas for persons traveling in immediate and continuous transit through the United States en route to another country, with few exceptions. Immediate and continuous transit is defined as a reasonably expeditious departure of the traveler in the normal course of travel as the elements permit and assumes a prearranged itinerary without any unreasonable layover privileges. If the traveler seeks layover privileges for purposes other than for transit through the United States, such as to visit friends or engage in sightseeing, the traveler will have to qualify for the type of visa required for that purpose.
If you already have a valid visitor (B) visa, you may be able to use it to transit the United States. If you are a citizen of a participating country, you may be able to transit the United States on the Visa Waiver Program.
Travel purposes which require a Transit (C) Visa - Examples:
- A foreign citizen traveling to another country who will have a brief layover in the United States when the only reason for entering the United States is to transit.
- A passenger embarking from a foreign port on a cruise ship or other vessel which is proceeding to another country, other than the United States, but during the course of the journey, the vessel makes port in the United States with no intention of landing in the United States.
- A crewmember traveling to the United States as a passenger to join a ship or aircraft you will work on, providing services for operation. You will also need a crewmember D visa, most often issued as a combination C-1/D visa. Learn more about Crewmember visas.
- A foreign citizen proceeding in immediate and continuous transit through the United States to or from the United Nations Headquarters District, under provisions of the Headquarters agreement with the United Nations, requires a diplomatic transit (C-2) visa. Travel within the United States will be limited to the immediate New York City vicinity.
Travel purposes not permitted on a Transit (C) Visa - Examples:
- A foreign citizen whose layover in the United States is for a primary purpose other than to transit, for example to visit friends or sightsee, requires a visitor (B) visa.
- A coasting officer seeking to enter the United States generally requires a visitor (B) visa. Coasting officers are employed temporarily when an officer of a foreign ship is granted home leave while the vessel is in U.S. ports, provided the vessel does not remain in U.S. waters for more than 29 days. The coasting officer may then repeat the process with another vessel of the same foreign line.
- A crewmember on a private yacht sailing out of a foreign port which will be cruising in U.S. waters for more than 29 days is generally required to have a visitor (B) visa.
- An officer or employee of a designated international organization assigned to the United States may pass in immediate and continuous transit through the United States on an International Organization (G-4) visa.
You must take several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Please consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you will apply.
- Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 - Learn more about completing the DS-160. You must: 1) complete the online visa application and 2) print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.
- Photo - You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
Schedule an Interview
While interviews are generally not required for applicants of certain ages outlined below, consular officers have the discretion to require an interview of any applicant, regardless of age.
If you are age:
Then an interview is:
13 and younger
Generally not required
Required (some exceptions for renewals)
80 and older
Generally not required
You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview, generally, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You may schedule your interview at any U.S. Embassy orCconsulate, but be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa outside of your place of permanent residence.
Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early. Review the interview wait time for the location where you will apply:
Appointment Wait Time
Prepare for Your Interview
- Fees - Pay the non-refundable visa application fee, if you are required to pay it before your interview. When your visa is approved, you may also pay a visa issuance fee, if applicable to your nationality. Fee information is provided below:
- Review the instructions available on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply to learn more about fee payment.
Gather Required Documentation
Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:
- Passport valid for travel to the United States - Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
- Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page
- Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview
- Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
Additional Documentation May Be Required
Review the instructions for how to apply for a visa on the website of the embassy or consulate where you will apply. Additional documents may be requested to establish if you are qualified. For example, additional requested documents may include evidence that shows:
- Your purpose of entry into the United States is to transit while traveling onward to another country and that you intend to depart the United States;
- Your ability to pay all costs while in the United States; and/or
- Residence in your home country and your intent to return there.
Proof of your onward travel arrangements and/or permission to enter another country after departing the United States may be sufficient evidence that your purpose for entering the United States is transit. Evidence of your employment and/or your family ties may also be sufficient to show the purpose of your entry to the United States is transit only and your intent to return to your home country. If you cannot cover all costs while in the United States, you may show evidence that another person will cover some or all costs of your trip.
Attend Your Visa Interview
During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive a visa, and if so, which visa category is appropriate based on your purpose of travel. You will need to establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive the category of visa for which you are applying.
Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.
After your visa interview, your application may require further administrative processing. You will be informed by the consular officer if further processing is necessary for your application.
When the visa is approved, you may pay a visa issuance fee if applicable to your nationality, and will be informed how your passport with visa will be returned to you. Review the visa processing time, to learn how soon your passport with visa will generally be ready for pick-up or delivery by the courier.
- We cannot guarantee that you will be issued a visa. Do not make final travel plans or buy tickets until you have a visa.
- Unless canceled or revoked, a visa is valid until its expiration date. Therefore, a valid U.S. visa in an expired passport is still valid. If you have a valid visa in your expired passport, do not remove it from your expired passport. You may use your valid visa in your expired passport along with a new valid passport for travel and admission to the United States.
- Learn more about transiting the United States on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
Visa Denial and Ineligibility
Review Visa Denials for detailed information about visa ineligibilities, denials, and waivers.
Whether you are applying for the first time or renewing your visa, you will use the same application process (please review How to Apply, above). Some applicants seeking to renew their visas in certain visa classes may be eligible for the Interview Waiver Program (IWP) which allows qualified individuals to apply for visa renewals without being interviewed in person by a U.S. consular officer. Review the instructions on the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply to determine if the IWP is available and if you qualify.
I was refused a visa under INA section 214(b). May I reapply?
Yes, if you feel circumstances have changed regarding your application. Review Visa Denials to learn more.
Misrepresentation or Fraud
Attempting to obtain a visa by the willful misrepresentation of a material fact, or fraud, may result in the permanent refusal of a visa or denial of entry into the United States.
Citizens of Canada and Bermuda
Additional resources for Canadian transit travelers to the United States can be found on the U.S. Embassy and Consulate websites in Canada.
- A-Z Index
- Lost/Stolen Travel Documents
- Fraud Warning
- Border Security/Safety
- Visa Expiration Date
- Automatic Revalidation
- Nonimmigrants in the United States–Applying for Visas in Canada or Mexico
- Visa Applicants - State Sponsors of Terrorism
- Find a U.S. Embassy or Consulate
- Customer Service Statement