Obtaining a B1 or B2 visa for the United States

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The United States does not only receive visitors for touristic reasons, it is also a frequent destination for business visitors. If you intend to visit the USA for tourism or business then there is a type of visa that corresponds to these two reasons, the B visa. This type of visa is one of the most requested visas among those issued by the American immigration service thereby authorising people in specific cases to visit the United States. In this article we will examine this type of visa, the B1 and the B2, and how to apply for and obtain each of them. Firstly however it is important to remember that the B type visa for the United States is very different to the ESTA electronic travel authorisation in various ways. These particularly concern the validity period which is for 1 to 10 years depending on the visa whereas an ESTA is valid for a fixed two year period. The visiting period, or length of stay authorised by a B visa is 6 months compared to 90 days for an ESTA and this initial 6 month period can also be extended by a further 6 months.


The B1 visa for business visits to the USA and its particularities:

As summarised briefly in our introduction, there are several different types of B category visas such as the B1 and B2 as well as a visa that combines both, the B1/B2 visa. We will examine each of these B visas, one by one, starting with the B1 visa which is basically a visa for business visits.

So if you need to visit the United States for professional reasons you should complete a B1 visa application. This will enable you to benefit from several possibilities in the USA such as the following:

  • You may notably visit with the intention of completing market research.
  • It is also possible, using this visa, for you to invest or complete investments in this country.
  • Using a B1 visa you can also participate in prospective activities, negotiate contracts, or represent a company for which you may, for example accept orders.
  • With this visa you can also visit the USA to attend conferences, participate in seminars, attend meetings, visit exhibitions or participate in conventions.
  • This visa authorises you to meet associates there, whether you are an employee of a subsidiary American company or the parent company.

There are however certain exceptions to the use of the B1 visa which does not authorise you for example to exercise a professional activity as an employee of an American company. To work on American territory you will need to apply for a specific visa such as the H1B. The B1 visa also does not authorise you to receive payment from an American entity during your visit to the USA.


The B2 visa for a touristic visit or medical visit to the USA with explanations of its particularities:

We will now examine the second visa in the B type category, the B2 visa, which is often issued by the American authorities. This visa is the travel authorisation you will need if you plan to visit the USA for touristic reasons in situations where an ESTA authorisation is not possible or applicable. The B2 visa is also useful if you wish to visit this country to attend a particular event in the USA or for medical reasons. It can also be used by those wishing to visit friends or family who live in the United States.

The B2 visa can therefore authorise you to visit the USA for the following reasons:

  • Travelling in this country on a visit or touristic route visiting monuments, or natural sites as well as engaging in traditional touristic activities.
  • You may also visit one or more friends or family members that reside in the United States using this visa.
  • This B2 visa is also often requested by visitors that wish to attend a specific event taking place in the USA such as a cultural, sporting or musical event. This visa also entitles you to participate in such events on an amateur basis.
  • Finally, the B2 visa is useful if you need to benefit from specific medical treatment in the USA or to visit a medical specialist.

But as with the B1 visa, the B2 visa does have certain limits and can therefore not be used in certain specific cases. This notably concerns the pursuit of a professional activity in the United States as this requires a specific type of visa, the H1B work visa. Using this visa you are also therefore not entitled to receive a payment or remuneration from an American entity during the entirety of your visit.


Explanations concerning the B1/B2 visa which combines both types of B group visas:

Few visitors know however that you do not necessarily have to choose between a B1 and B2 visa, you can opt for a B1/B2 visa which combines the characteristics and specifications of both B types of travel visa. Therefore, for whatever reason you are visiting the country (business, medical, tourism…) you can use this visa without any worries.

Opting for a B1/B2 visa is a good idea if you wish to benefit from the advantages of these two travel authorisations. Of course, the price of this document may however be more expensive.


The procedure for a B1 or B2 visa application and its different steps:

We will now examine more in detail the procedure that enables you to apply for and obtain a B1 or B2 visa, or even a B1/B2 visa.

Firstly, before completing your application you should know that you will need to prepare certain documents and items of proof of residency to support your application. These documents are mainly to prove your attachment to your home country and thereby confirm that you have no intention of emigrating or staying definitively or illegally to the United States. The documents that may assist in proving your ties to your home country may include a marriage certificate, birth certificates of your children, home title deeds, a work contract or other similar documents. To summarise, any official document that proves ties or attachments in your home country and reasons to return there will be useful. Of course, you will also be required to provide documents relating to the reason you have for applying for the particular type of visa application you have chosen.

The application for a B1 or B2 visa can be completed directly online or by using the specific DS-160 form which is available on a number of websites including the visa service provider that we recommend on this page. You will need to carefully complete this application form, answering all questions honestly and clearly. This is the form that will be examined by the American authorities responsible for processing your visa application during your obligatory interview at the American Embassy in your home country. This document should therefore be forwarded to the American Embassy in your home country. Again, we reiterate that this procedure can be completed online but must be completed very carefully as the least error, even a minor spelling mistake, could result in the refusal of your application. It is therefore very important to carefully reread all your answers before submitting your application form.

When you complete the B1 or B2 visa application form online you will also be required to provide an identity photograph. This can be uploaded directly online on the website where you complete your application. It should be noted however that you can also simply take this photograph with you when you attend your visa interview at the Embassy if you are unable to upload it on the website. The photograph you provide must comply with certain standards regarding its size and format. If it does not comply with these criteria then it is probable that it will be unacceptable and your visa application will be refused.

Once you have submitted your completed official B1 or B2 visa application form online you can prepare for the second stage in your visa application by requesting an interview online. The website where you completed and submitted your online visa application should automatically transfer you to the official interview request page following the successful payment procedure. On the interview request page you will find all relevant details for applying for your obligatory interview with a government official at the American Embassy in your home country.

When you receive the information regarding your appointment you will need to visit the Embassy on the date and at the time indicated ensuring that you take all relevant documents and items with you to support your application. These may include your bank information, work contract, three recent salary payment slips or pension statement as appropriate.  As we explained earlier it is best to take all documents that will attest to your permanent residency in your home country so you could also take other documents such as a home rental contract or property title deeds. Apart from these documents you will also of course need to take your passport which should of course be valid and to which your visa, if approved, will be attached. You will also need to provide a self addressed envelope with your home address which will be used to return your passport and visa following your appointment. Finally, you should also take a printed copy of the payment confirmation page from your online visa application as well as proof of payment of the visa application fees.

It is possible that you will not be able to immediately access the response to your visa application as this will be sent to you by post. If your visa application is accepted and approved then your passport, with the visa, will be sent to you within a few days.


The price and payment of the B1 or B2 visa:

To conclude, let us examine how you can pay for the costs of your B1, B2 or B1/B2 visa. In fact, the payment of these fees is obligatory when you submit your application and they can be paid directly online through the website you use to complete your visa application. This payment is best completed using a credit or debit card or by using PayPal depending on the website you use and the payment procedure is completely safe and secure.

Without completing payment of these fees your visa application cannot be transferred to the official authorities and therefore cannot be examined and processed. Of course, you will also not be able to obtain a time and date for your obligatory interview relating to your application. Once you have completed the required payment it is recommended that you save and print the confirmation of payment that will be sent to you in order to show it at your interview if requested so you may obtain your visa.


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 Programme.  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 Programme 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.

This website is not affiliated to the American government, you have the possibility of completing the procedure without supplementary fees on the official website.