Official advice:
Exercise normal safety precautions

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United States of America overall, exercise normal safety precautions ↓

Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.

Conditions can change suddenly

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Latest advice, 24 Feb 2016

This advice contains updated information for travellers to the USA who have been to Libya, Somalia or Yemen since 1 March 2011. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in the United States of America, including Alaska and the Hawaiian Islands.

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in the United States. You should exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for information on local travelling conditions.
  • Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. We assess there is currently a heightened threat of terrorist attack in the United States caused by those motivated by the rhetoric of extremists involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. See Safety and security.
  • The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues alerts for terrorism threats within the United States that can be accessed online through its National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS).
  • The ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii is experiencing an increase in dengue fever. Local authorities have implemented measures to prevent an outbreak however you should take extra precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes. See Health.
  • The United States has more violent crime than Australia, although it rarely involves tourists. Mass shootings continue to occur in public places in the US. See Safety and security.
  • Before boarding a United States-bound aircraft or vessel, all Australian passport-holders eligible to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) must apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) through the official ESTA website. See Entry and exit.
  • Australians who are dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, or any Australians who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since 1 March 2011, should be aware that from 21 January 2016 the United States Government is implementing changes to its entry requirements that will mean that these Australians will no longer be eligible to apply for an ESTA to enter the United States under the VWP. See Entry and exit.
  • Australians who have travelled to Libya, Somalia or Yemen since 1 March 2011 will also be no longer eligible to apply for an ESTA to enter the United States under the VWP. The implementation date for these further changes will be announced in coming months. See Entry and exit.
  • The United States introduced heightened security screening for passengers from some countries in July 2014. If you have a direct flight to the US, you should allow extra time for extended screenings and luggage checks at your airport of departure, and make sure electronic devices, including mobile phones, can be powered on. Powerless devices will not be permitted on board aircraft.
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:

Entry and exit

The United States administers a strict entry regime and you may be refused entry if you do not comply with its entry requirements, even if you have already obtained travel authorisation under the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA).

If you are visiting the United States for business or pleasure, you may be eligible to be admitted for up to 90 days on an ESTA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) (more information below). If you wish to work, study, or stay for more than 90 days, you are not eligible for entry on an ESTA under the VWP and you must obtain a visa before travelling. This includes the E-3 visa, which is available for Australian professionals seeking to work in the United States.

New entry requirements from 21 January

Australians who are dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan, or any Australians who have travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since 1 March 2011, should be aware that from 21 January the United States Government is implementing changes to its entry requirements that will mean that these Australians will no longer be eligible to apply for an ESTA to enter the United States under the VWP. Any of these Australians who have previously been issued an ESTA are likely to have the ESTA revoked. Exceptions may be made for Australians who are not dual citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan and who have only travelled to Iran, Iraq, Syria or Sudan since 1 March 2011 on official Australian Defence Force or Australian Government business.

The US Government further announced on 18 February that, in coming months (exact date still to be determined), individuals who have travelled to Libya, Somalia and Yemen since 1 March 2011 will also no longer be eligible to apply for an ESTA to enter the United States under the VWP. Dual citizens of these countries will not be affected at this time. If you are affected by these changes and wish to travel to the United States, you will need to apply for a non-immigrant visa at a US Embassy or Consulate.

For further information regarding the changes, visit the Embassy of the United States of America in Australia, and visit the United States Department of State Visa Information or speak to your nearest US Embassy or consulate for further assistance on visa applications.

If you need to apply for a non-immigrant visa, the United States Visa Information Service for Australia encourages applicants to apply at least three months in advance of the intended date of travel.

Other Entry and Exit information

Australians with a criminal record (regardless of how minor or how long ago the offence took place) should ensure they seek advice from their nearest United States Embassy or Consulate about their visa requirements for entering or transiting the United States.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice, you should contact the nearest Embassy or consulate of the United States for the most up to date information.

For up-to-date visa information, you can also visit the following United States Government websites:

Most visitors to the United States, including those seeking entry under the VWP, are required to have their fingerprints scanned and digital photographs taken on arrival.

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

The eligibility requirements for the ESTA have changed from 21 January. See above.
All Australian passport holders seeking to visit or transit in the United States under the VWP must apply for an ESTA. The cost is US$14 and is payable online by credit card.

ESTA is a web-based system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the VWP. Travellers who do not have a valid ESTA before travelling may be denied boarding, experience delayed processing or be denied admission at a United States’ port of entry.

The official site for obtaining an ESTA is www.cbp.gov/esta. There have been reports of unauthorised websites charging users to submit ESTA applications, or wrongly claiming to produce a faster approval process. We caution against using links in emails or from other websites to access the official site.

An online ESTA application must be completed for each VWP traveller, including accompanied or unaccompanied children. A third party, such as a relative or travel agent, is permitted to submit an ESTA application on behalf of a VWP traveller.

VWP and passport requirements

To enter the United States under the VWP, your passport must be:

  • machine-readable and have a digital photograph if issued on or after 26 October 2005; or
  • an e-Passport if issued on or after 26 October 2006.

Australian passports without two lines of 44 characters at the bottom of the photo/biodata page are not machine-readable. To confirm whether your passport is machine-readable or an e-Passport, please contact the Australian Passport Information Service on 13 12 32 (within Australia).

Australian citizens travelling on an Emergency Passport, Document of Identity or Provisional Travel Document cannot enter the United States under the VWP. Holders of these documents must obtain a valid United States visa. If a valid United States visa cannot be obtained, such travellers would need to look at alternative travel plans to avoid the United States.

You should ensure that you provide accurate and current travel document details to your airline or cruise line prior to travel. If you obtain a new or replacement passport, you must apply for a new ESTA. Discrepancies between ESTA, ticketing, and passport data will likely result in you being referred for secondary inspection by a United States immigration official, which may take several hours. You can also be referred for secondary inspection and experience delays if you have been issued a new passport and have not updated your frequent flyer account with the new passport number.

VWP additional requirements

Australian citizens travelling to the United States under the VWP must be in possession of an onward or return ticket. If you plan to depart the United States by a different method, such as motor vehicle or cruise ship, you should contact the United States Customs and Border Protection for more information.

You will need to provide full details of a valid address in the United States when you check in for your flight. A five-digit zip code (postcode) is required.

Admission (I-94) Record Number

Every traveller entering the United States is issued an electronic or hard copy Admission (I-94) Record Number and a stamp in their passport.

The I-94 is your proof of legal status in the United States and you can stay in the United States legally until the date of expiry of your I-94. If you remain in the United States beyond the date of your I-94, you can be arrested, detained for 90 days or longer, deported and likely barred from re-entering the United States in future. You can check your I-94 record online.

You cannot 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 will not be issued a new I-94 entry. Your second entry into the United States will be linked to your first I-94 entry and you must still depart the United States by the expiry date of the first I-94 entry.

If you were issued a hard copy of Form I-94 in your passport, you should surrender it to the airline or ship staff when departing 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.

Other entry and exit information

Where children are travelling alone, or with one parent/guardian, we recommend that you carry a notarised letter of consent for travel signed by the non-travelling parent(s) or guardian. For more information on travelling with children in the US, see the United States Customs and Border Protection website.

If you are a United States lawful permanent resident (Greencard holder), you will be asked for your Alien Registration Number and your country of normal residence when you check in for your flight.

Many United States lawful permanent residents believe they can live abroad as long as they return to the United States at least once a year. This is incorrect. Permanent residents who leave the United States for extended periods, or who cannot show their intent to live permanently in the United States, may lose their permanent resident status. Full details are contained in the United States Government's publication Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants.

Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia.

The outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in west Africa is the most serious in recorded history. Following the importation of a case of EVD from west Africa into the United States, on 8 October 2014, authorities announced that health screening would be put in place at JFK International, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta airports. Passengers on flights originating from Ebola-affected west African countries may be asked to complete a health questionnaire and will be screened for symptoms by trained medical staff.

Safety and security

Terrorism

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. We assess there is currently a heightened threat of terrorist attack in the United States caused by those motivated by the rhetoric of extremists involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. There have been numerous politically motivated attacks in the US in recent years, with a range of ideological and religious motivations.

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues detailed alerts through its National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) when it receives information about a specific or credible terrorist threat within the United States.

These alerts include a clear statement that there is an "imminent threat" or "elevated threat", a concise summary of the potential threat, information about actions taken to ensure public safety, and recommended steps that individuals, communities, businesses and governments can take.

Further information on safety and security is available from the following United States government agencies:

The United States introduced heightened security screening for passengers from some countries in July 2014. If you have a direct flight to the United States, you should allow extra time for extended screenings and luggage checks at your airport of departure. As part of the screening security officers may ask that owners power up electronic devices, including mobile phones. Powerless devices will not be permitted on board the aircraft. The traveller may also undergo additional screening.

See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin.

Crime

The United States has a higher level of violent crime than Australia, although violent crime rarely involves tourists.

The latest official crime statistics can be found on the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) website. These statistics show that metropolitan areas and cities tend to have higher crime and murder rates. Based on 2013 FBI data, the states with the highest levels of violent crime (per capita) are the District of Colombia, Alaska, New Mexico and Nevada. They also show that the southern states have seen a slight increase in gun violence in recent years.

While FBI statistics suggest that violent crime in the United States has decreased over the last decade, the incidence of mass shootings are occurring more frequently. An FBI study shows that the incidence of 'active shooter' events had more than doubled between 2000 and 2013. Most of these shootings have occurred in workplaces and educational facilities. Others have occurred in public places, such as shopping malls, restaurants, community centres and places of worship, as well as military and government properties.

You should be vigilant to the possibility of gun crime in all parts of the US. No matter where you intend to travel, you should do some research on 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. For those living in the United States, you should familiarise yourself with emergency evacuation and 'active shooter' drills.

Information and advice provided by United States authorities on what to do if you are caught in an active shooter incident can be found in a Department of Homeland Security pamphlet and an FBI video.

Also, be aware that tourists are often targeted for petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and theft, particularly on public transport. You should ensure that valuable items are not on public display or left in motor vehicles unattended.
Other resources on murder rates can be found on the Global Study on Homicide 2013 .

Civil Unrest

In August 2014, protests, outbreaks of violence and looting followed by a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. There have been similar incidents after police shootings in Cleveland, and in Baltimore after a death in police custody. These events have received significant media attention. Australians should avoid locations where protests and demonstrations are taking place, observe any restrictions on movements or curfews set by local authorities, and monitor the media for the latest developments.

Money and valuables

The United States has specific requirements regarding locks used on airline baggage. See the Transport Security Administration's website for further details.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Local travel

The United States still enforces restrictions on travel to Cuba. The embargo applies to all United States citizens and permanent residents wherever they are located, and all people and organisations physically in the United States, including Australians. If you plan to travel to Cuba, make sure you are familiar with the sanctions and travel restrictions. For further details, see the Office of Foreign Assets Control website.

Airline safety

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

Please also refer to our general air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

You are subject to the local laws of the United States, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards (for example, you can be fined and/or arrested for being in public places such as parks or beaches after dark, or for not crossing roads at traffic lights or pedestrian crossings). 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. Research laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

The Federal legal age for purchasing and drinking alcohol in the United States is 21. However, laws on the minimum drinking age and underage consumption can be determined by individual states and can vary considerably from state to state. Some states prohibit those under the legal age from being present in liquor stores or in bars; some states prohibit underage consumption of alcohol in private settings; other states allow underage consumption in certain circumstances; others have exceptions that allow underage consumption of alcohol in particular locations but only in the presence of parents or legal guardians. Federal law provides some religious and medical exceptions allowing underage consumption. If you are under 21 years of age, you should check the relevant state laws before drinking alcohol.

Penalties for drug-related offences are severe and provide for minimum mandatory sentences. See our Drugs page.

Some medications that can be purchased without a prescription in Australia may require a prescription in the United States and you can be arrested for possessing medications for which you do not have a prescription. Information on prohibited and restricted items, including medications, is available on the United States Customs and Border Protection website. You can also see the Smartraveller Travelling with prescription medications page.

If you overstay your legal entry (I-94) into the United States, you can be arrested, detained for 90 days or longer, deported and likely barred from re-entering the United States in future. If you are travelling in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or southern California, expect to have your documents, including passport, visa and I-94 entry, inspected by authorities without warning and on a random basis, including on public transport.

Australians visiting the United States for the purposes of commissioning commercial surrogacy arrangements should seek independent legal advice before doing so. You should see our Overseas births, adoptions and surrogacies page for further information.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Information for dual nationals

The United States recognises dual nationality. Dual nationals are required by United States law to travel with both passports and to use their United States passport to enter and exit the United States and its territories.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information.

Before travelling overseas, dual Australian/United States citizens should also consult travel information provided for United States citizens on the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs website.

Health

Hawaii Island (also referred to as the ‘Big Island) is experiencing a dengue outbreak with the number of cases exceeding 250 by the end of January 2016, although local authorities have implemented measures to break the cycle of dengue fever infection and transmission. Visitors to the ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii should take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, both during the day and at night. We advise you use insect repellent, wear long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing, and ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof. Please refer to the Hawaii Department of Health dengue fever fact sheet for further information.

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart Australia. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you will be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Note that travel insurance companies may not cover you for pre-existing medical conditions so take this into account before travelling as you may be liable for payment of any overseas treatment required for pre-existing medical 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 a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. The Australian Embassy and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities and care throughout the United States is comparable to Australia. Medical costs in the United States are, however, extremely high. A visit to a doctor in the United States for even minor complaints can cost several hundred dollars, excluding laboratory tests or medication costs. In the absence of accepted health insurance (or proof of ability to pay), payment would generally be required up front.

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

Where to get help

Depending on your enquiry, 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.

The national emergency number in the United States is 911. You should always obtain a police report when reporting a crime.

If the matter relates to complaints about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and can’t do to assist Australians overseas. For consular assistance, contact the nearest Australian Embassy or Consulate-General. See details below:

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, you should contact the Australian Embassy in Washington DC:

1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036-2273
Telephone: +1 202 797 3000
Facsimile: +1 202 797 3331

Website: www.usa.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AustraliaInTheUS.

See the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

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:
123 North Wacker Drive, Suite 1330
Chicago, Illinois 60606
Telephone: +1 312 419 1480
Facsimile: +1 312 419 1499

See the Consulate-General webpage for more information.

Australian Consulate-General, Honolulu

If you are in Hawaii, contact the Consulate General in Honolulu:
Penthouse, 1000 Bishop Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
Telephone: +1 808 529 8100
Facsimile: +1 808 529 8142

See the Consulate-General webpage for more information.

Australian Consulate-General, Houston

If you are in Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma or Texas, contact the Consulate-General in Houston:
3009 Post Oak Blvd, Suite 1310
Houston, Texas 77056
Telephone: +1 832 962 8420
Facsimile: +1 832 831 2022

See the Consulate-General webpage for more details.

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:
2029 Century Park East, 31st Floor
Los Angeles, California 90067
Telephone: +1 310 229 2300
Facsimile: +1 310 299 2380

See the Consulate-General webpage for details.

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 and the Virgin Islands of the United States, contact the Consulate-General in New York city:

150 East 42nd Street, 34th Floor
New York, New York 10017-5612
Telephone: +1 212 351 6500
Facsimile: +1 212 351 6501

See the Consulate-General webpage for details.

Australian Consulate-General, San Francisco

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

575 Market Street, Suite 1800
San Francisco, California 94105
Telephone: +1 415 644 3620
Facsimile: +1 415 536 1982

See the Consulate-General webpage for details.

If you are travelling to the United States of America we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate-General. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy or relevant Consulate-General in the United States you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +1 888 239 3501 toll-free within the United States from a land-line or +61 2 6261 3305, or 1300 555 135 from within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Many parts of the United States are subject to different 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. If you are in areas affected by natural hazards, you should monitor media reports and follow the instructions of local authorities. Mandatory evacuation orders are issued on occasion and apply to everyone, including Australians.

Wildfires General information on wildfires in the United States is available at the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center website

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 may also occur. Further information and regular updates on hurricanes can be obtained from the National Hurricane Center. Information is also available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If you are travelling during the hurricane season, you should monitor these websites.

The direction and strength of hurricanes can change with little warning. Television and radio services provide extensive advice from local, state and federal authorities. In the event of an approaching hurricane, you should identify your local shelter. Flights in and out of affected areas could be delayed or suspended. You should contact your airline for the latest flight information. The hurricane could 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 may choose to stay. You should familiarise yourself with your hotel or cruise ship evacuation plans.

Tsunamis All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

General information Australians considering travel to areas that can be affected by natural disasters and severe weather events should give careful thought to the possible dangers and inconveniences should a natural disaster occur. If you are planning on travelling to a region after such an event, you should contact your airline, rail or bus operator to ensure your transport service is still operating. You should also contact the place where you intend to stay for information on local conditions.

If you are in an area affected by severe weather, you should carry your important documents at all times in a zip-lock bag (i.e. passport, driver licence, airline ticket information, credit and debit cards, travellers’ cheques and cash, etc.) or secure them in a safe, waterproof location. We also suggest that you contact friends and family in Australia with updates about your welfare and whereabouts. For further information, see our Severe weather page.

If you are caught in a disaster in the United States you can register that you are safe and well at the nearest Australian mission (see the Where to get help section) or on the Red Cross Safe and Well website so your family and friends may review the site and confirm your safety.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow the advice of local authorities.

Additional Resources

Warnings by area

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