How to obtain a B1/B2 visa to travel to the USA?

If you are not eligible for the ESTA online travel authorisation, you can apply for a B1 or B2 visa to travel to the USA for business or tourism.

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B1/B2 visa for the USA

Indeed, the B visa is one of the many official documents that can be obtained from the American authorities in order to travel to this country. As we will see in this article, this type of visa is aimed more particularly at non-immigrants who simply wish to travel to this country and has the particularity of being valid for 1 to 10 years depending on the case and a maximum authorised stay of 6 months per year which can be renewed for a further 6 months.

B1/B2 visa application for the USA: Key points

  • The B1/B2 visa allows you to travel to the USA for tourism, business or medical treatment.
  • The visa is valid for 6 months, but can be extended.
  • ESTA is a quicker and cheaper alternative to the visa
  • The B1/B2 visa is obtained by applying to the embassy.


The B1/B2 visa and the travel authorisation for the USA

To travel to the United States, you can choose between different types of visas. Indeed, you will have to choose one of these visas depending on whether or not you meet certain criteria.

The choice will depend on the length of your stay in the USA, the reason for your stay and your previous trips. Remember, however, that you are required to have a travel authorisation for any stay in the USA, even if it is only a stopover or a transit on American territory.

Currently, if you wish to stay in the United States for a short period of time, you can choose between two types of residence permits, including :

  • ESTA: This electronic travel authorisation was introduced by the American government to facilitate the procedures for travellers from certain countries who meet certain criteria. It allows tourist or business stays in the country for a maximum of 90 consecutive days. This authorisation does not allow you to work or study in the country.
  • B Visa: Finally, the B visa, which comes in B1, B2 and B1-B2 forms, is a visa that is also reserved for short stays in the United States and is intended for travellers who do not meet the eligibility requirements for the ESTA visa waiver program.

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What is the B1/B2 visa?

Type B visas are visas that are issued directly by the US authorities and immigration services to travellers who wish to travel to the United States for a limited period of time and for tourism or business purposes.

The B visa is in the category of visas for non-immigrants as it does not allow for work, study or permanent residence in the country, as does the ESTA.

As with the ESTA, the B visa only allows for tourist or business travel and should be preferred if you do not meet the eligibility requirements for the ESTA program. It should also be remembered that travellers who meet these conditions but have previously travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia or Syria must apply for a B visa.


What are the differences between the B1 and B2 visas?

In reality, there are not two but three versions of the B visa with varying degrees of difference in their characteristics.

The B1 visa is a visa for business travellers. If you are not eligible for the ESTA and you wish to travel to the United States for business reasons, you should apply for this visa. The B1 visa allows you to conduct market research, invest or finalise investments, prospect, negotiate contracts, represent a company or take orders. You can also use it if you need to attend conferences, seminars, meetings, exhibitions or conventions, or if you wish to meet business associates or if you are simply an employee of an American company. The B1 visa does not, however, allow you to work in the USA as such. The visa that allows you to work in the USA is the H1B visa. The B1 visa also does not allow you to receive money from an American company during your stay.

The B2 visa is a visa for tourist or medical stays in the USA. You will need to apply for this visa if you wish to visit the United States or attend an event there. But you can also use it to travel to the United States for medical reasons or simply to visit a relative. With this type of visa, you will be able to visit monuments or sites, visit family or friends, attend cultural and sporting events or participate as an amateur and receive medical treatment. However, this B2 visa will not allow you to work in the United States or receive remuneration from an American company during your stay.

Finally, the B1-B2 visa is a visa that combines the two previous visas into a single visa. It is indeed possible to combine the B1 visa and the B2 visa depending on the criteria and circumstances of the applicant's trip. Thus, this visa makes it possible to combine the conditions of these two visas in a single document.


How much does a B1 or B2 visa cost?

The price of a B1 or B2 visa for the USA is of course higher than the price of an ESTA. Indeed, if you apply for this type of visa at the American embassy, the fee will be 120€ and you will have to pay it on the day of the application.

The ESTA application will cost much less and has the advantage of being very quick.

It is therefore advisable to apply for a B visa only when necessary, i.e. when you do not meet the ESTA eligibility requirements.


How do I get a B1 or B2 visa for the USA?

The procedure for obtaining a B visa is much more time-consuming and restrictive than the online ESTA application.

First, you will need to gather evidence to show that you do not intend to settle permanently and illegally in the United States. For example, before you apply, you will need to prepare any documents that link you to your country of residence, such as a family record book, marriage certificate, birth certificate of a child, property deed or employment contract.

In order to apply for a B visa for business or tourism, you will first need to fill in the DS-160 form which you can find on the official website of the US government. The information you provide on this form will then be forwarded to the consular services of the US Embassy in your country of residence. You should therefore pay particular attention to the answers you give to the items on this form, which will be used for the mandatory interview. A simple mistake or oversight could influence the final decision and cause you to lose the opportunity to travel to the USA.

As for the other documents you need to bring with you when you apply for a B1 B2 visa, you should also remember to upload a passport photo to be attached to your visa. It is possible to upload this photo online when filling in the application form, but you can also simply take it with you to the interview, checking that it complies with legal standards.

The final stage of your application will be the mandatory interview. Once you have completed the online visa application form, you will need to make an appointment for this interview. This appointment can be made online or by phone. On the day of your interview, you will need to bring a complete file containing a family record book, a bank statement, your employment contract, your last three payslips, your pension certificate, any property titles or proof of rent payment, a valid passport, a Chronopost envelope with your address on the back, a printout of the page confirming the sending of your application form and proof of payment of the visa application fee.


What are the requirements for a B1/B2 visa for the USA?

To obtain a B1/B2 visa, applicants must meet the following conditions:

  • Have a valid passport.
  • have a legitimate reason for travelling to the United States
  • Have sufficient funds to cover the cost of their stay in the United States.
  • Have valid health insurance that covers medical expenses in the United States.


What is the difference between an ESTA and a B2 visa:

As you undoubtedly already know, there is another type of travel authorisation that enables you to visit the United States for tourism or business meetings. This is the ESTA issued through the Visa Waiver Program.  The procedure to obtain this electronic travel authorisation is in fact faster than that for a classic visa but this travel authorisation only applies to certain specific cases and the applicant must fulfil certain conditions as follows:  

  • Firstly you must be a resident of one of the member countries of the Visa Waiver Program to be able to benefit such as the United Kingdom or Ireland. This means that you need to be a permanent resident there with your primary residence in this country as well as hold a passport issued by that country.
  • A biometric or electronic passport will also be necessary to benefit from this type of digital travel authorisation for the USA. It is therefore important to confirm that your passport is applicable.
  • Another important point if you wish to travel to the United States using an ESTA relates to the length of your stay in this country. This type of travel authorisation is only valid for visits of up to 90 days in length. Any visit longer than this will require you to hold a traditional visa such as a B1/B2.
  • The reason for your visit is also important as the ESTA authorisation does not allow you to work in the United States, study there or even visit for medical reasons.

An ESTA application is completed entirely online and the response is given digitally, to your email address. Here there is no need for any documentary proof to support your application. You will simply receive an email indicating if you have been granted an ESTA travel authorisation or not. If the response is positive then your ESTA authorisation is immediately and electronically or digitally linked to your passport. There is no physical document attached to your passport or sent to you, when an agent scans your biometric or electronic passport then the ESTA authorisation will appear automatically on their monitor.

Another major difference between an ESTA and a B1/B2 visa relates to the validity period of this travel authorisation document.  Whereas a B1, B2 or B1/B2 visa can be for a period of between 1 to 10 years depending on the situation, an ESTA is only valid for a two year period from its date of issue and on the condition that no information given on the initial application changes in the meantime.

To summarise, if you do not fulfil the conditions to support your application to obtain an ESTA, whether this is due to your home country, the reason for your visit or the length of your stay then a B1, B2 or B1/B2 visa may enable you to visit the United States legally and without difficulty.

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As a web writer and globetrotter with a passion for travel and tourism, I have acquired in-depth knowledge of the procedures that are essential for travellers. I help travellers to complete all the formalities required for a successful trip, particularly when it comes to obtaining a visa online. With several years' experience in this field, I'd like to offer you some valuable advice to help you discover the world with complete peace of mind.


Frequently asked questions

When to apply for a B1 or B2 visa?

As the B1, B2 visa application procedure is more complex than the ESTA application procedure, you should only use it if you do not meet the eligibility requirements for this program. Remember that this type of visa is only for travellers wishing to visit the USA for tourism, business or medical treatment. Other visas are available for working or studying in the USA.

Can I apply for a B1, B2 visa online?

No! The application procedure for a B1 or B2 visa is only partly done online. You will be able to fill in the questionnaire and send your photo from the official website of the American government, but you will also have to go to an interview. This will take place at the nearest American embassy or consulate in your country of residence.

What is the best alternative to the B1, B2 visa?

If you are a national of one of the permitted nationalities and wish to visit the USA for less than 90 days to visit the country, visit a relative or make a business trip, the best alternative to the B1 or B2 visa is the ESTA electronic authorisation, which is both cheaper and faster.