So you have decided you would like to visit the USA but now wondering if there are any visa requirements? Well there are many types of non-immigrant visa categories however I am only going to mention those that are available either solely for travel purposes or involve a cultural exchange of some sort.
VISA WAIVER PROGRAM
The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens from most countries to visit the USA for a period no longer than 90 days. You must obtain a valid Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval before arrival. This is pretty easy to obtain online and costs around $15. Be aware though that you must have an outbound ticket on arrival. Under no circumstances are you allowed to change your visa status while on the Visa Waiver Program.
B2 TOURIST VISA
The B1/B2 Tourist Visa category is for tourism purposes only. You are not allowed to study or gain employment of any sort. On this visa type you can stay for 6 months and are able to extend for up to another 6 months. You may also change status whilst on this visa category. To apply you must start the process online and schedule an interview with a U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you. The fee varies depending on the country you are coming from.
12 MONTH WORK & TRAVEL PROGRAM
If you are lucky enough to be from Australia, New Zealand or Ireland and are either currently studying at university or have recently graduated from university (you must apply within one year of graduation) there is a 12 month work and travel program that you may be eligible for. You will first need to find a sponsor. There are a handful of companies that I know of that are based in Australia and New Zealand and quite a few in the U.S. I will mention that this program is not cheap costing somewhere between $1100 - $2000 depending on which company you go with. The good thing is that at least health insurance is included in the cost of the program.
After you find a sponsor you will need to schedule an interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate nearest you to have your paperwork approved and to obtain a visa. This program is great as you are able to work in most fields and travel as much or as little as you like.
J1 SUMMER WORK & TRAVEL
The J1 Summer Work & Travel Program provides current university students the opportunity to work and travel during their summer vacation. Employment opportunities must be either seasonal or temporary, for example working at a ski resort or at a summer camp. The maximum length of this visa type is four months so you could choose to work for three months and travel for one month. With this visa category you will need to find a sponsor. You can opt for the sponsor to find employment for you or you may seek your own. After finding a sponsor you will need to schedule an interview with your nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
SUMMER CAMP COUNSELORS
The Camp Counselor program allows you to work at a summer camp as a camp counselor for approximately four months starting around May or June. You are paid a wage and usually your housing and food costs are covered. You are allowed to enter the country one month prior to beginning work and must leave thirty days after ending employment so you have about two months of travel time. Again you will need to find a sponsor who will arrange employment for you after which you will need to schedule an interview at a U.S. embassy to obtain your J1 visa. Some sponsor agencies state that you must be a current student whilst others do not require you to be a student at all, however most sponsor company's do have age restrictions.
The Au Pair Visa category as the name suggests is a live in nanny position. Participants are placed with a suitable family for a period up to 12 months and may be extended for either six, nine, or twelve months. The requirements of this visa category state that you must be between the ages of 18-26 and must be able to commit to a period of at least twelve months. You will need to find a sponsor company and then apply for your J1 visa at your nearest U.S. embassy.
The Internship Visa category is designed to allow university students or recent graduates to come to the United States to gain exposure to American culture and to receive hands-on experience in their chosen occupational field. The internship you apply for must be directly related to the field in which you are studying/have studied. You may find your own internship or have your sponsor company find an internship for you. There are no age restrictions however you must be a current university student or apply within one year of graduating. The J1 Intern visa is restricted to twelve months and is not able to be extended.
The Trainee Visa category is designed to allow foreign professionals to come to the USA to gain exposure to American culture and to receive training in U.S. business practices in their chosen occupational field. You must have a degree or professional certificate from a foreign post-secondary academic institution and at least one year of prior related work experience in your occupational field outside the USA or at least five years work experience in the occupational field in which you are seeking training. It is important to remember that with this visa category there is a two year at home residency rule which means after your employment has ceased you must return to you country for a period of two year before being admitted back to the USA.
UNIVERSITY STUDENT PROGRAM
The University Student Program allows you to complete full or partial study at a U.S. college or university. You must first be accepted by the school of your choosing. Once accepted the school will send you a document called an 1-20 form. Once you receive this you will need to schedule an interview with your nearest U.S embassy and apply for either a F1 or M1 visa. An F1 visa is for academic study and an M1 visa is for vocational study. It is important to remember that you are not permitted to work on this visa category. Your partner and dependents may accompany you but are also not permitted to work.