By:  Clara Diez, Esq.

Your vacation time is around the corner.  Maybe you are looking to expand your horizons.  Could a trip to the United States be in your future?  If so, let me explain the ABCs of visas to the U.S. 

What is a Visa?
A visa is an official endorsement stamp that is issued by a U.S. Consulate on your passport for the purpose of certifying that you are now permitted to travel and seek admission to the U.S. for a specific purpose.  There are basically two (2) types of visas:  non-immigrant and immigrant.  Nonimmigrant visas are for temporary trips and immigrant visas refer to entry as a permanent resident.   A visa simply allows you to seek entry into the U.S.  A visa does not guarantee your entry, since that is a determination made by the officer at the airport, border or point of entry to the U.S.

Nonimmigrant or temporary visas to enter the U.S. are classified with specific letters from A to V, depending on the purpose of your trip.  It is virtually impossible to explain all at one time.  So, we will focus on the first three classifications in the U.S. nonimmigrant visa “alphabet”:  A, B and C visas.

Which is the right visa for me:

A-1 visa:The A-1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa for diplomats and foreign officers of permanent diplomatic missions or consular posts to enter into the U.S. and engage in official activities.  With this visa, you must be traveling to the U.S. on official business from your government. You are allowed to remain for as long as the Secretary of State acknowledges you as a member of the diplomatic community.

A-2 visa:This visa is available for officials of a national government, who are not in diplomat category, who seek to travel to the U.S. to engage in official government activities.

A-3 visa: Personal Employees or attendants of A-1 or A-2 visa holders are eligible for the A-3 visa.  It is required that they be employed in a domestic capacity and must be paid by the principal A-1 or A-2 individual


B-1 [Business visitor visa]:  Are you traveling to negotiate a contract?  Do you have meetings with business associates? Are you attending a scientific, educational, or professional conference?  Are you a lecturer at a seminar?  Are you an athlete coming to try-out for a team?   Are you a businessperson looking for new investment opportunities?  Are you a service technician providing technical support to products sold by your foreign employer to companies in the U.S.? Is your travel due to litigation?  Are you a salesperson coming to finalize a contract for the purchase of foreign goods and services?   If you fall into any of these categories, the B-1 visa is right for you.

A visitor for business cannot receive a salary from a U.S. source for activities related to the trip. In other words,   you cannot receive direct compensation for any work performed during the visit to the U.S.  But, compensation for expenses, travel allowance and payment for other per diem expenses may be allowed. 

B-2 [Visitor for pleasure]: 
If your primary goal in traveling to the U.S. is for a holiday, you are a B-2 visitor.  B-2 visitors come to the U.S. for tours, vacations, family visits, to attend a special event [concert, game, show], or simply to rest and have some fun.

Visitor Visa Facts:
There is a presumption that visitor visa applicants intend to stay permanently as immigrants. Therefore, keep these suggestions in mind when applying for the visa at the Consulate and when actually entering the U.S.

  • That the purpose of the trip is to enter the U.S. the purposes described above [for business or pleasure];

  • That you plan on staying in the U.S. for a specific, limited period of time;

  • That you have proof of funds to cover your expenses;

  • That you have evidence of  your family/financial ties in your country

  • That you have a permanent residence outside of the U.S. to which you will return at the end of the visit.

C-1 Visa: Foreign travelers who need to stop in the U.S. on their trip to another country qualify for the C-1 visa.

C-2 Visa: Foreign nationals traveling to the United Nations or other U.N. officials passing through the U.S. to another country and their immediate family members.

C-3 Visa:Foreign government officials passing through the U.S. to another country and their immediate family members may be issued the C-3 visa.

How to Apply for a Visa:
Do you have a passport?  When does it expire?   Make sure that your passport is valid for at least a minimum of six months past the date you intend to travel.  You don’t want to be disappointed by not having the proper travel documents. 

Now that you have your passport in order, examine the purpose for your trip.  Are you traveling for tourism or to visit friends?  Are you a member of the diplomatic community?  Is it a business trip?  Are you seeking medical treatment? Do your travel plans require a stop-over in the U.S. to change planes on the way to another country?  

If you are traveling to work in the U.S. or if you are you planning to stay in the U.S. to invest money in a business, or if you want to go to a U.S. school, you will need to apply for other visas [H, E or F visas].  The reasons for your trip are directly related to the type of visa you will apply for.

Also, remember that the internet is your friend.  Go online to the website for the U.S. Consulate and check out the information that is provided on their official site.  Among the things that you need to know are the following:

Where is the nearest Consulate?

How to contact the Consulate:

What are the steps to apply for a visa:

Step 1: Gather all required and recommended documentation

Step 2: Pay the application fee

What forms and documents do you need to present?
The basic documents required to apply for a nonimmigrant visa are as follows:

  • A current passport as well as any previous passports containing U.S. visas.

  • A completed DS-160 online electronic application

You may also bring in any documentation that will demonstrate strong ties to your place of residence.  There is no specific list of documents that are needed, but it is highly recommended that you provide evidence to prove the purpose of your trip, your intent to depart the United States after the visit, how your costs of the trip are being paid and that you have family ties, employment and financial responsibilities in your country that will require you to return.

What are the Consular fees?
All nonimmigrant visa applicants, regardless of visa type, must pay the $160 USD non-refundable nonimmigrant visa application fees

How many photos do you need?
One passport sized photo with a white background is required; or you can upload the photo online on the DS-160 application.

What is the waiting time for the visa appointment?
The time for the visa appointment may vary.  So, we highly recommend that you check the website of the U.S. Consulate in your particular country.   You will find all the details and answers to frequently asked questions. 

What happens during the visa interview?
At the time of your scheduled appointment, the Consular Officer might conduct a short interview in order to determine your eligibility for the visa.  This short interview will provide insight into your particular situation and the consular officer will then make a determination.   In many occasions, the decision is might be based on the application alone.  If all goes well and the visa application is approved, courier service arrangements must be made for the delivery of the passport and visa.

If the visa application is denied, you must pay the fee and reapply through the same procedures outlined above. There is no formal appeal system for denials of nonimmigrant visas. Do not reapply unless you believe the officer’s decision was incorrect and you are now able to demonstrate strong ties to overcome the consular’s original decision.  Reapplying quickly without a change in your circumstances might result in the same outcome. 

Make sure you do the research for the visa you wish to apply for. Follow all the instructions on the forms and be truthful and upfront on the application. Prepare for the interview and make sure you have all the documents to demonstrate your qualifications. Never purchase airline tickets or other reservations until the visa is issued and you have all your travel documents in hand. The more you know, the easier the process will be and the less stress and anxiety you will feel. Visas are issued every day in U.S. Consulates around the world. Qualified applicants will be issued visas. You could be one of them. Good luck and safe travels!

Clara Diez, Esq. is an attorney admitted to practice law in Puerto Rico and Florida. She is also a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.  For more information about the author, please see

The suggestions and information provided is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact an attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to any of the links contained in this article do not constitute an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader. The opinions expressed are the opinions of the individual author.