Traveling to the US as a European – especially a first-timer – can be pretty exciting. But before you decide to book that Airbnb and pack your bags, there are a couple of administrative things to take care of.
Yes, those European Instagrammers who shared pics of their US trip first had to go through a process to get into the country. But no worries – the visa and ESTA process for Europeans is pretty straightforward, which I’m going to walk you through below.
Do You Need a Visa to Travel into the US?
As a European citizen, you must confirm whether you need a visa before entering the States. Certain countries are waived, and some are not. To see if the US waives your country check out the Visa Waiver Program.
If you’re an Austrian or German citizen, you don’t need a visa and can skip down to the section about the ESTA.
If you are someone from a country NOT on the Visa Waiver Program list, you’ll have to put in more effort and arrange an appointment at the nearest US Consulate to get a visa.
For example, my Serbian friend said that his appointment at the US Consulate Vienna was fast, and the interviewer was friendly. They asked questions on his marital status, income, and reasons he wanted to visit the States. Hopefully, your interview at the Consulate will be short and sweet, too.
Once you have had your appointment at the Consulate and received your visa, you DO NOT need to apply for the ESTA and can skip the next section below.
ESTA for Traveling to the US as a European
Once you figure out your country was on the Visa Waiver List, you need to do a straightforward thing: Fill out the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization), which should take about 30 minutes.
Even if you’re only transferring your flight or stopping in the States between travel, you still need to apply for the ESTA!
Additionally, for traveling to the US as a European, there are some requirements to apply for the ESTA. The most important are having a valid passport and credit card with you.
As much as you may be excited to see the Big Apple or the Rocky Mountains, you need to wait 72 hours after you submit the form to be approved.
Once approved, your ESTA is valid for two years. You can then make unlimited trips to the US within that period.
My husband Aldin had to fill out the ESTA, which means even if you’re a European married to a US American, you still need to fill out that online application. It can seem a bit daunting to walk through it alone because of some weird, offensive terms (i.e., what foreign alien country are you from?). But if you have an American that can help you with the ESTA process, definitely take advantage of that!
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Dann können Sie hier das ESTA beantragen.
12 Things to Know about the US
Once your visa or ESTA is approved, you can book those flight tickets and purchase that room at the Potato Hotel in Iowa – I’m joking, but that is a real place!
Then, take some time to research the city or places you will be visiting in the US. Connecticut and every other state are different, with special laws and neighborhoods.
Here are 12 points I suggest to be aware of if you’re traveling to the US as a European:
- Know the emergency service line: In any case of an emergency, it’s good to know that dialing 911 is essential. You’ll connect with a dispatcher who will direct you on what to do in the situation.
- Know Your English: If you don’t know English, getting around in the States will be difficult. If you need to have an English translator with you, then, by all means, have one because it will be helpful. If you know Spanish, this will also be helpful since there are a lot of Spanish speakers in the States, due to the country being close to Mexico.
- Tipping is required: At restaurants, it’s suggested to give a 15-20% tip after your meal. You can calculate your tip by multiplying the total of your meal before tax by 0.15 or 0.20 to see how much you owe. That calculator on your phone comes in handy for this! Otherwise, some receipts already show you the recommended tip.
- Pay more than what is displayed: Each state has its own sales tax, some at 0% to 9%, so it’s important to inform yourself on how much you’ll be charged in addition to what you plan to buy. For example, the prices of food you see at the grocery stores may not be what you pay for in the end.
- The US uses the Imperial System: Americans talk about the weather using Fahrenheit. Height in feet and inches. Distance in miles and weight in pounds.
- Credit cards are the preferred mode of payment: The card is king. Of course, places accept cash, but everyone whips out their credit card in the States.
- The US spans six time zones: Make sure you know the correct destination time for flights, airport transfers, meetings, etc.!
- Research safety in specific neighborhoods: There can be a difference between a friendly city and a dangerous city by one block. Please do your research on the areas you will go into!
- Get traveler’s health insurance: Unfortunately, the US has some of the most expensive health care services in the world. Do yourself a favor and invest in good traveler’s insurance.
- Turn Right on Red: If you’re driving, turning right on a red light is legal in all 50 states unless the signs say otherwise (like in NYC).
- Your baggage will most likely be checked and physically inspected: The TSA – Transportation Security Administration – will go through your luggage if they find it suspicious. With their hands. They will remove anything they don’t like. If you have personal privacy issues with people going through your stuff, I’m sorry. The TSA does not care about that.
- Don’t forget your ESTA! Your ESTA is an important paper you need to have with you before you enter the States. I suggest putting the item in a folder or somewhere safe.
Have Fun in the US as a European Traveler
The US is a large, gregarious country. Aldin says Americans are friendly, ‘’bubbly,’’ and talk to strangers as if they are part of the family. We have Walmarts and shops open 24/7—plus thousands of TV entertainment channels for escapism. Most notably, the US has food that will excite your taste buds and put you into comas. But proudly, the US has some of the most beautiful national parks within the whole world.
All in all, there’s a lot the States has to offer. I hope traveling to the US as a European will be a wonderful experience for you!