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United States of America

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in the United States. Use common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for information on local travel conditions.
  • Reconsider your need to travel to the US Virgin Islands and the US territory of Puerto Rico. Buildings and infrastructure are severely damaged following Hurricane Maria. See Additional information.

  • Enhanced security screening measures are in place for all commercial flights to the United States. See Entry and exit.
  • United States authorities actively pursue, detain and deport people who are in the US illegally. See Entry and exit.

  • The United States has more violent crime than Australia, although it rarely involves tourists. Shootings, including mass shootings, can occur in public places. See Safety and security.
  • Most Australian passport holders are eligible for a visa waiver for tourism and business stays up to 90 days. If you're eligible under the United States' Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you must apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization before you travel. See Entry and exit.

  • Many parts of the United States are subject to natural hazards. Monitor media reports and plan accordingly. Follow the instructions of local authorities. See Additional information.

  • See Travel smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit

Visas

The United States administers a strict entry regime that also applies to transit passengers. You'll be refused entry if you don't comply with its entry requirements. You won't be allowed to board a plane bound for the United States if you don't have a visa waiver or entry visa. 

If you're visiting the United States for business or pleasure for 90 days or less, you may be eligible to enter without a visa, under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Advice on accessing the VWP is below.

In all other circumstances, you'll need to get a visa before you travel.

You'll also need to get a visa before you travel if:

  • your ESTA application is denied
  • you are travelling on an Emergency Passport, Document of Identity or Provisional Travel Document
  • you are a national of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen, or
  • you have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since 1 March 2011.

If you have a criminal record (regardless of how minor the offence or how long ago it took place), get advice from an Embassy or Consulate of the United States on visa requirements for entering or transiting the United States.

Get your entry documentation organised early. The United States Visa Information Service for Australia encourages applicants to apply at least three months in advance of the intended date of travel.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of the United States for up-to-date information.

Australians travelling on their Australian passport aren't affected by the Presidential Proclamation of 24 September 2017, which is intended to suspend or limit the entry into the United States of nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela, Yemen and Somalia.

More information:

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) and the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

If you're eligible for a visa waiver, you'll need to apply online for an electronic travel authorisation through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The cost is US$14, payable online by credit card.

You'll need to compete an ESTA application for each VWP traveller, including accompanied or unaccompanied children. A third party, such as a relative or travel agent, can submit an ESTA application for you.

If your ESTA application is accepted, you can travel to the United States without getting a visa. When checking in for your flight or cruise, or on arrival at a US port, you'll need to produce an onward or return ticket and you'll need to provide an address in the United States where you'll stay, including a five-digit zip code (postcode).

If your ESTA application is rejected, you'll need to apply for a visa through an Embassy or Consulate of the United States. There is no appeals process if an ESTA is denied.

If there is a discrepancy between the ESTA, your ticket information and/or passport details, you could be denied entry or referred for secondary inspection by an immigration official. This process can take several hours. If you have a new passport and you've not updated your frequent flyer account with the new passport number, you could also be referred for secondary inspection.

  • Apply for an ESTA well in advance of travel so that you have time to apply for a visa if your ESTA application is denied.
  • Consider waiting until your receive your ESTA or visa before booking your travel.
  • If you get a new passport after getting or applying for an ESTA, apply for a new ESTA using the new passport number.
  • Make sure you provide accurate passport and other travel document details to your airline or cruise line prior to travel.
  • If you'll be leaving the United States by a different method than you arrived by, such as by motor vehicle, contact the United States Customs and Border Protection for information on how to manage the requirement to show an onward or return ticket on arrival.

Admission (I-94) Record Number

Every traveller entering the United States is issued an electronic or hard copy I-94 Record Number.

The I-94 is your proof of legal status. If you stay beyond the date of expiry of your I-94, you can be arrested, deported and barred from re-entering the United States in future. Check your I-94 details each time you enter the United States to ensure the I-94 information is consistent with your passport and visa information. You can check your I-94 record on the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. To correct an I-94 error, contact and visit a CBP Deferred Inspection Site.

You can't renew your I-94 entry by travelling to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands in North America. If you enter the United States under the VWP, travel to another country in North America, then try to re-enter the United States, you won't be issued a new I-94 entry. Your second entry into the United States will be linked to your first I-94 entry so you'll still need to leave the United States by the expiry date of the first I-94 entry.

If you were issued a hard copy I-94 in your passport, surrender it to the airline or ship staff when you leave the United States. Information on what to do if you were issued a hard copy but did not hand in your Form I-94 when departing the United States can be found on the United States Customs and Border Protection website.

Entry bans

In September 2017, the United States introduced measures to suspend or limit the entry of nationals of Chad, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen into the United States. If you travel on your Australian passport, you aren't affected by these measures.

Cuba travel restrictions

The United States enforces restrictions on travel to Cuba. Travel to Cuba for tourism is not permitted for US citizens, US permanent residents or any person who is subject to US jurisdiction (which can include Australians who live and/or work in the United States).

If you intend to visit the United States after you have been to Cuba, take supporting documents about the purpose of your trip in case you are questioned by immigration officials at the port of entry.

More information: Cuba sanctions (US Office of Foreign Assets Control)

Other formalities

Most visitors to the United States are required to have their fingerprints scanned and digital photographs taken on arrival.

Children travelling alone, or with one parent/guardian, must carry a notarised letter of consent for travel signed by the non-travelling parent(s) or guardian(s).

More information: United States Customs and Border Protection

The United States has specific requirements regarding locks used on airline baggage. More information: Transportation Security Administration

Passport

Make sure your passport is valid for at least six months from the date you intend to return to Australia.

Your passport is a valuable document and attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Be aware of attempts to obtain access to your passport by deception. If you are forced to hand over your passport, contact the Embassy for advice.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible. You can either:

Money

The official currency is the US dollar (USD). You can exchange Australian dollars for USD at banks and exchange bureaux. Declare all amounts exceeding USD10,000 on arrival and departure. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world but there is a heightened threat of terrorist attack in the United States.

There have been numerous politically motivated attacks in the United States in recent years including:

  • in March 2018, a series of bomb attacks occurred in Austin and San Antonio, Texas, causing 2 deaths and several injuries
  • in October 2017, a vehicle attack near the World Trade Center in New York left 8 people dead and at least 13 injured
  • in September 2016, a bombing in the Chelsea neighbourhood of New York City injured 29 people
  • in September 2016, a knife attack in a mall in Saint Cloud, Minnesota injured 9 people
  • in June 2016, a nightclub attack in Orlando, Florida, killed 49 people and injured 53 others
  • in December 2015, a shooting in San Bernardino, California killed 14 people and injured a further 23.

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS), issues regular terrorism-related updates through its National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) bulletin. The latest bulletin advises that terrorist groups are using the internet to inspire, enable or direct individuals already in the United States to commit terrorist acts and that terrorist groups are urging recruits to adopt easy-to-use tools (such as vehicles, knives, homemade explosives and poisons or toxins) to target public places and events. The Bulletin provides advice and information on United States Government counter-terrorism efforts and on what members of the public can do to help combat the threat of home grown terrorist incidents.

  • Be alert to possible threats, especially in public places.
  • Exercise particular caution around locations known to be possible terrorist targets.
  • Report any suspicious activity or items to police.
  • Monitor the news for any new or emerging threats.
  • Take official warnings seriously and follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • If there is an attack, leave the affected area immediately if it is safe to do so. 

More information:

Crime

The United States has a higher level of violent crime than Australia but violent crime rarely involves tourists. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website has the latest official crime statistics. These statistics show that metropolitan areas and cities tend to have higher crime and murder rates.

Gun crime is possible in all parts of the United States. It is legal in many states for US citizens to openly carry firearms in public. This advice is not updated for individual incidents, such as mass shootings or active shooter events, unless there is a significant risk to Australian travellers.

  • No matter where you intend to travel, research which local areas or suburbs may be less safe – check travel guides and seek local advice such as from your hotel reception or tour guide.
  • If you're living in the United States, familiarise yourself with emergency evacuation and 'active shooter' drills.
  • Read Department of Homeland Security advice on what to do if you are caught in an active shooter incident.
  • If you're affected by violent crime, follow the instructions and advice of local authorities.

Tourists are often targeted for petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and theft, particularly on public transport. Rental cars are easily identifiable and are regularly targeted by thieves.

  • Don't tempt thieves – make sure valuable items are not on public display or left in motor vehicles unattended, including in the boot.
  • Carry only what you need for the day. Leave other valuables in a secure location. 
  • Pay close attention to your personal belongings, particularly on public transport and in crowds.
  • Keep an eye on local sources of information on crime.

More information: Global Study on Homicide(murder rates)

Civil unrest and political tension

Since violent protests in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, high-profile police shootings of African Americans continue to spark protests in US cities. While mostly peaceful, these and other protests and demonstrations can turn violent.

  • Avoid locations where protests and demonstrations are taking place.
  • Observe any restrictions on movements or curfews set by local authorities.
  • Monitor the media and other sources for the latest developments.

Local travel

Road travel

Road rules vary from state to state. Check the weather conditions before embarking on a long journey, particularly in mountainous and isolated areas where there is increased likelihood of snowfall, or in dry desert areas where you may need extra water and petrol stations could be scarce. You are almost twice as likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident in the United States as you are in Australia.

  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Drive defensively.
  • Don't drink and drive.

More information: Foreign nationals driving in the US

Driver's licence

If you wish to drive in the US, make sure you obtain an International Driver's Permit before you leave Australia. Some states will allow you to drive on your Australian licence for a limited period.

More information:

Motorcycles

Check with your travel insurer whether your policy covers you when using a motorcycle, quad bike or similar vehicle. Your policy may not cover you for accidents that occur while using these vehicles. Wear, and ensure your passenger wears, a correctly fastened and approved helmet.

Taxis

Taxis are generally a safe mode of transport. Ride sharing options are widely available. Adopt the same safety precautions that you would in Australia and ensure that you alight the taxi with all of your possessions.

Public transport

The US has well-developed and generally reliable rail and bus services.

Sea travel

A large number of international cruise liners are based in the United States.

More information:

Air travel

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in the United States.

More information: Air travel

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular services charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug-related offences are severe and include minimum mandatory sentences.

More information: Carrying or using drugs

It is illegal to possess prescription medications that you don't have a prescription for. Some medications that you can purchase without a prescription in Australia may require a prescription in the United States.

More information: United States Customs and Border Protection

Other laws

US authorities actively pursue, detain and deport persons who are in the United States illegally. It is becoming more common for Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to conduct random checks of travel documents including passports, visas and I-94 entries without warning and on a random basis, including on public transport.

The Federal legal age for purchasing and drinking alcohol in the United States is 21 years old. But some states have different laws. If you're under 21 years of age, check the relevant state laws before drinking alcohol.

Surrogacy laws can be complex. Seek independent legal advice before entering into any commercial surrogacy arrangement.

More information: Overseas birth, adoption and surrogacy

North Carolina and Mississippi have laws that could affect the activities of LGBTI travellers to those States.

More information:

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

The United States recognises dual nationality.

Under United States law, if you are a US dual national, you must:

  • travel with both passports, and
  • use your United States passport to enter and exit the United States and its territories.

More information:

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may even be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take legal prescription medicine with you so you remain in good health. Carry copies of your prescription and a letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Zika virus

Transmission of Zika virus has been reported in southern Florida and Cameron County, Texas. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website provides the latest information regarding affected areas in the United States.

The Australian Department of Health advises pregnant women to discuss any travel plans with their doctor and defer non-essential travel to affected areas. The Department of Health's Zika virus bulletin includes other advice for male and female travellers on how to minimise Zika virus risks. There is no vaccination available for Zika virus.

In warm climates and Zika virus-affected areas, protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing.

More information:

Other infectious diseases and health risks

The latest information on health issues, communicable diseases and preventative measures applicable to the United States is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and their Health Information for Travelers to the United States page.

Medical facilities

The standard of medical facilities and care in the United States is comparable to Australia.

Medical costs in the United States are extremely high. A visit to a doctor for even minor complaints can cost several hundred dollars, excluding laboratory tests or medication costs.

You may need to show proof of adequate insurance or your ability to pay before receiving treatment. If you don't have proof, you'll generally be required to pay up-front.

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to first contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurer. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergencies

  • Firefighting and rescue services: 911
  • Medical emergencies: 911
  • Criminal issues: 911

Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular services charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

For consular assistance, contact the nearest Australian Embassy or Consulate-General. Check the Embassy or relevant Consulate-General website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

Australian Embassy, Washington, DC

If you are in Alabama, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia or West Virginia, contact the Australian Embassy in Washington DC.

Australian Embassy
1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036-2273
Telephone: +1 202 797 3000
Fax: +1 202 797 3331
Website: usa.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: facebook.com/AusInTheUS

Australian Consulate-General, Chicago

If you are in Indiana, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota or Wisconsin, contact the Consulate-General in Chicago.

Australian Consulate-General, Chicago

123 North Wacker Drive, Suite 1330
Chicago, Illinois 60606
Telephone: +1 312 419 1480
Facsimile: +1 312 419 1499
Website: chicago.consulate.gov.au

Australian Consulate-General, Honolulu

If you are in Hawaii, contact the Consulate General in Honolulu.
 
Australian Consulate-General, Honolulu
Penthouse, 1000 Bishop Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
Telephone: +1 808 529 8100
Fax: +1 808 529 8142
Website: usa.embassy.gov.au/honolulu

Australian Consulate-General, Houston

If you are in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma or Texas, contact the Consulate-General in Houston.
Australian Consulate-General, Houston
3009 Post Oak Blvd, Suite 1310
Houston, Texas 77056
Telephone: +1 832 962 8420
Fax: +1 832 831 2022
Website: usa.embassy.gov.au/houston

Australian Consulate-General, Los Angeles

If you are in Alaska, Arizona, Southern California, Colorado, New Mexico, southern Nevada or Utah, contact the Consulate-General in Los Angeles.

Australian Consulate-General, Los Angeles
2029 Century Park East, 31st Floor
Los Angeles, California 90067
Telephone: +1 310 229 2300
Fax: +1 310 299 2380
Website: losangeles.consulate.gov.au

Australian Consulate-General, New York

If you are in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands of the United States, contact the Consulate-General in New York City.

Australian Consulate-General, New York
150 East 42nd Street, 34th Floor
New York, New York 10017-5612
Telephone: +1 212 351 6500
Fax: +1 212 351 6501
Website: newyork.consulate.gov.au

Australian Consulate-General, San Francisco

If you are in Northern California, Idaho, Montana, northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington State or Wyoming, contact the Consulate-General in San Francisco.

Australian Consulate-General, San Francisco
575 Market Street, Suite 1800
San Francisco, California 94105
Telephone: +1 415 644 3620
Fax: +1 415 536 1982
Website: usa.embassy.gov.au/san-francisco

If you are unable to contact the Embassy or an Australian Consulate-General in a consular emergency, contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on:

  • +1 888 239 3501 toll-free from a landline within the United States
  • +61 2 6261 3305 from any phone, or
  • 1300 555 135 from within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Many parts of the United States are subject to natural hazards, including earthquakes, wildfires, floods, extreme heat, hurricanes, landslides, tornadoes, tsunamis, volcanoes (Hawaii, Alaska and Pacific Northwest), winter storms (freezing rain, heavy snow and blizzards) and extreme cold.

Information on declared disasters by state, and what to do before, during and after each of these events is available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Television and radio services also provide extensive advice from local, state and federal authorities.

Mandatory evacuation orders are issued on occasion and apply to everyone, including Australians. 

If there is a natural disaster:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag)
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts
  • if you can't contact friends and family, register that you are safe and well at the nearest Australian mission (see Where to get help) or on the Red Cross Safe and Well website
  • closely monitor the media, other local sources and advice from the Federal Emergency Management Agency  
  • follow the instructions and advice of local authorities.

If you are in an area affected by severe weather:

  • secure your important documents (examples: passport, driver licence, airline ticket information, credit and debit cards, traveller's cheques, cash) in a zip-lock bag and carry it on you at all times or keep it in a safe, waterproof location
  • closely monitor the National Weather Service for information on weather conditions and any weather alerts issued by local authorities
  • follow the instructions and advice of local authorities.

More information:

Severe weather and hurricanes

Severe hurricanes occur in the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastal regions of the United States. During the hurricane season (June to November), landslides, mudslides, flooding and disruptions to essential services can occur.

If you are travelling during the hurricane season, monitor the websites of the:

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. Hurricanes can also affect access to sea ports in the region. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe hurricane may not be available to all who choose to stay.

If a hurricane is approaching, follow the advice for all natural disasters above and:

  • identify your local shelter
  • be ready to follow your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans.

After a disaster

Travel to areas affected by natural disasters and severe weather events can be dangerous and inconvenient. If you plan to travel to a region after an event, contact your airline, rail or bus operator to ensure your transport service is still operating. Contact the place where you intend to stay and check other sources for information on local conditions.

Additional resources