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The USA Travel Checklist

Travelling to the USA means travelling to one of the largest and most diverse countries in the world. There is an infinite amount of things to discover here! People, nature and culture are surprisingly rich in variety and ensure that there is always something new to discover, even after countless visits. The diversity that the USA has to offer also means that one should prepare for a trip accordingly. The ideal travel luggage depends heavily on where the journey takes you. From beach holidays on the always warm west coast to trekking holidays in the far north on the border to Canada, everything is possible in the USA, and luggage is accordingly different. Creating your personal USA Travel Checklist can help dealing with the preparations but it is not only the cultural diversity and varied nature that make good preparation necessary.

The USA is the centre of world politics and is of global importance both militarily and economically. These and other reasons have led to a different security policy being applied in the United States than in many other countries. With the help of various measures, official authorities in the USA are trying to determine exactly which persons are entering their country and with which intentions. Such measures have also led to the creation of the Visa Waiver Program in its current form. By carefully selecting certain states, only those citizens who are considered safe and reliable in the eyes of the United States are granted access to a simplified visa procedure. While nationals of non-VWP (Visa Waiver Program) countries have to spend significantly more time and effort to apply for a visa, Visa Waiver Program members can complete an ESTA application online quickly and conveniently. Checking your visa requirements and caring about the visa itself should get high priority on your USA Travel Checklist.

Nevertheless, there are also helpful hints for citizens of VWP countries to prepare for a USA vacation and the visa application. In the following we have listed some information to help you to forget nothing relevant for the planned USA trip:

Things to do before entering the USA – start creating your USA Travel Checklist!

Before entering the United States, make sure that you are allowed to do so. Any traveller who is not a US or Canadian citizen needs a visa to enter the United States of America. Which visa is required, a US ESTA or other visa, depends on nationality and personal circumstances. For example, a German national may be admitted to the Visa Waiver Program in principle, but may be disqualified from participating in the ESTA due to past criminal offences or illnesses.

Therefore, the most important preparatory measure is to clarify what type of entry permit is required. In order to answer this question correctly, there are several points to consider.

What is the reason for your visit to the USA?

If it has touristic or business reasons, an application for a USA ESTA is possible. If you want to look for a permanent job or study, you will need an immigration visa in any case. The application and the entire process up to approval or rejection takes considerably longer, is costly and requires some administrative procedures. If an ESTA is considered, the next step would be to determine whether or not the country for which you have citizenship is participating in the Visa Waiver Program.

Do I have the citizenship of a VWP country?

The quickest way to answer this question is to look at the following table. It shows all countries that participate in the Visa Waiver Program and whose nationals can apply for an ESTA. If you are a national of one of the countries, it is also necessary to check whether there are other criteria that argue against participation in the ESTA procedure.

Andorra Estonia Italy Monaco Slovenia
Australia Finland Japan Netherlands Spain
Austria France Republic of Korea New Zealand Sweden
Belgium Germany Latvia Norway Switzerland
Brunei Greece Liechtenstein Portugal Taiwan**
Chile Hungary Lithuania San Marino United Kingdom*
Czech Republic Iceland Luxembourg Singapore
Denmark Ireland Malta Slovakia

Can I apply for USA ESTA?

This depends, among other things, on your personal past. Have you committed crimes in the past and have you been convicted of them? Then your chances of obtaining ESTA approval are comparatively poor. You can also be excluded from participating in the ESTA due to some diseases. This includes particularly contagious and serious diseases.

If you have been able to clarify which visa is the right one for you, you should apply for the USA visa in good time. In any case, you should take into account at least 72 hours for applying for a fast ESTA. It should be noted that in the event of an ESTA rejection, there would no longer be enough time to apply for a completely different US visa if the remaining time until departure is 72 hours. So you should start thinking about the USA visa at the earliest stage of your travel planning and take all necessary measures. The best time to care about the visa issue is to start with it as first point on your USA Travel Checklist.

Important: Of course, any US visa application requires that you have valid travel documents (passport). The application and issuing of an electronic passport usually takes several weeks. So make sure you have enough time for this step!

Once the question of the US entry permit has been resolved, you have completed the most important and elementary preparations. Now all the other things are on the line, for example:

  • Hotel bookings

  • Flight bookings

  • Applying for a foreign health insurance / travel insurance for the USA

  • Planning the travel route

  • Signing of rental contracts for rental cars

  • Acquisition of information material about the target areas

  • Information about cultural and legal particularities of the target areas (particularly important!)

Once you have taken care of everything, nothing stands in the way of your USA trip. Remember to keep the most important documents with you at all times. You must be able to identify yourself during your trip to the USA. You should also have enough cash or international credit cards. One last piece of advice from us: If you can arrange it, do not travel alone. In case of illness, when problems arise, but also in enjoying the beautiful impressions and moments, it is best to be in the USA as a couple or in a group so maybe you should add some good friends or familiy members to your USA Travel Checklist. We wish you a lot of fun in the USA!

Documents needed for travelling to the US

In any case, you will need a valid electronic passport with a minimum expiry date of 6 months, you can add the expiry date to your USA Travel Checklist. In case of a postponed trip, you will still remember to check if the validity is sufficient or not. You should also have a driver’s license if you intend to rent a car in the USA. If you are travelling with children, it is essential that you have documents with you that document the parents and guardianship of the children. If you accompany the children of other persons, make sure that you carry documents with you that prove the permission and contact details of the legal guardian. Other documents are not required for traveling to the USA. A printout of the approved ESTA is also not necessary, since the ESTA approval is linked to your passport number. This means that it is sufficient to carry your passport with you to provide proof of a valid USA ESTA to the border authorities and airport staff. At the same time this means that the passport is most crucial for your trip to the USA, therefore give it a  high priority on your USA Travel Checklist.

Health insurance during your trip to the US

For stays in the USA, foreign health insurance / travel insurance should be taken into account. In the USA, health services are comparatively expensive and there is no basic health care (especially not for foreign travellers) as we know them from some other countries. Many hospitals and doctors will only treat you if you can prove a certain creditworthiness or financial capacity. It is up to the health care institutions to reject any person who cannot afford to pay for a treatment. At the same time, expensive fees and treatment costs quickly lead to a cost explosion and your planned travel budget will be blown away in the event of illness and the necessary treatment. So keep in mind to put that health insurance on to your USA Travel Checklist.

Some providers of foreign health insurance have specialised in the distribution of travel insurance for the USA. Compare suppliers and prices and make sure you have adequate health insurance before entering the United States. It is certain that nobody knows when an illness will occur, we strongly advise against speculating on a good state of health during the trip.

Carrying money with you on your trip to the US

The price level in the United States varies widely. While there are comparatively cheap states in which you can get very far even with little money, most of the states with a high demand for tourism are quite expensive. A particularly important point to consider is the supply of food. While restaurants and takeaways in most countries are more expensive than preparing your own food, the situation in the USA is usually reversed. Comparatively cheap food is only available in fast food takeaways and other restaurants. If you want to cook yourself, you should plan for a higher budget. However, as already mentioned, this applies only to certain states and not to all of them however, think about increasing the budget on your USA Travel Checklist.

Important: Depending on the state and city in which you are staying, there is generally increased crime and especially due to the comparatively loose weapons laws, a high readiness for violence is to be expected in case of attacks. Make sure you never carry large amounts of cash with you at any time. In most cases, you can pay by credit card in the USA. Try to reduce cash holdings to a minimum, a credit card is blocked quickly in case of fraud or theft. This is why a credit card should be on your USA Travel Checklist in all cases

Return ticket for trip to the USA

As a matter of fact, you don’t have to show your return ticket when entering the USA. It is to be assumed, however, that you will be addressed very quickly in a survey conducted by the US authorities. The ESTA issued under the Visa Waiver Program entitles you to temporary stays. Whoever enters the USA without a return flight ticket within the scope of this visa justifiably arouses mistrust. You should therefore always arrive with a return flight ticket so that you can prove that you intend to leave the United States.

How long am I allowed to stay?

This depends on the type of visa you have. Making sure to apply for the right type of visa is one of the things that should have the highest priority on your USA Travel Checklist. If you travel with a US ESTA, you can stay up to 90 days at a time in the USA. Violations of this maximum duration will be punished and it is possible that a future entry into the USA will be refused. If you have a B1/B2 visa, you can stay up to 180 days at a time in the USA. It is therefore important to take into account the length of your stay in order to avoid misunderstandings and penalties when choosing your visa.

USA Travel Checklist recommendation

  • (Small quantities) Cash

  • Credit card

  • Cell phone

  • Cell phone charging cable

  • USA travel guide (optimal way especially for the states to be visited)

  • At least two sets of clothing for different weather conditions

  • Sun lotion (at any time of the year)

  • Camera

  • (If the luggage volume permits it) an extra piece of luggage, which is empty on arrival (the USA are perfect for shopping!)

  • A note with telephone numbers of contact persons who can be contacted in an emergency.

  • Health insurance card