Business and tourism travelers to the US have traditionally had two options when it comes to their visa: B1 and B2. Today, there’s also a third option for many travelers, called ESTA. But what are the features of B1/B2? What are the differences between them? And how are both different from ESTA?
In this article, we will cover:
The B1 and B2 visas are commonly known as “visitor visas,” and are used for business and tourism, respectively. B1/B2 can also be thought of as “traditional Embassy visas” – a.k.a. “sticker visas” or “stamp visas.” That means that in order to apply for B1/B2, the applicant must undergo the full, traditional visa application process, including in-person interviews and document submissions at a US Embassy or Consulate. Not all travelers need B1/B2; see Section 7, below, for information about visa alternatives.
The validity and stay length of B1/B2 visas vary, depending both on the country where the visa is issued and the discretion of US travel authorities. B1/B2 visas can remain valid for 1 month to 10 years. Stay lengths can extend to up to 6 months at maximum. Similarly, the number of exits/entries may vary; travelers granted B1/B2 visas will typically be allowed 1, 2, 3, or multiple entries, depending on the circumstances.
The difference between the B1 and B2 visas is the purpose of travel: B1 visas are granted to business travelers, and B2 visas are granted to tourists. It is also possible to obtain a combination visa for both purposes, called B1/B2.
Please note that many travelers today are able to visit the United States without going through the process of applying for a B1/B2 visa. For more information, please see Section 7 below, “Who doesn’t need a B1/B2 visa?”
Activities not permitted using a B1/B2 visa include:
Travelers wishing to obtain a B1/B2 visa must undertake the traditional application process for an Embassy visa. This includes traveling to the nearest Embassy for interviews and the submission of paperwork. Generally, travelers must prove that:
Do I need a letter of invitation to get a B1/B2 visa?
A letter of invitation is not necessary, and cannot guarantee visa approval even if provided.
How long can I stay in the US on a B1/B2 visa?
Visa validity times and stay lengths vary by country. See Section 2 above, “What are the parameters of a B1/B2 visa?”
These days, many visitors traveling to the US for business or tourism don’t need a B1/B2 visa. Tourists and business travelers whose countries of citizenship participation in the US Visa Waiver Program, and who plan to stay in the US for 90 days or less, may be eligible for the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). ESTA travelers may bypass the Embassy visa process altogether, having received a pre-approved, US-government-issued electronic visa in a streamlined internet application process.
You may be eligible for ESTA if:
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The biggest difference between ESTA and a B1/B2 visa is the application process. Applying for B1/B2, with its trips to the Embassy and longer waiting period, is more costly and time-consuming than applying for ESTA, which can be accomplished from home. While travelers typically enjoy longer validity times and stay lengths on B1/B2 than on ESTA, those times do vary, and may not be necessary for travelers taking short trips for business or pleasure. Generally, tourists and business travelers from eligible countries whose travel in the US will not exceed 90 days are better served by ESTA than by B1/B2.
Looking to obtain ESTA for your upcoming trip? Evisa Express can help you. Our streamlined application process can be completed anywhere with an internet connection. Once the application is started, our team of electronic visa experts is on hand 24/7 to field questions and concerns. Application approval times are typically 72 hours or less. Evisa Express: You take care of your trip; we take care of your visa.