United States of America

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Friday, 19 December 2014.   This advice contains new information under Entry and exit (Visa Waiver Program travellers cannot renew their I-94 entry by travelling to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands in North America). The overall level of the advice has not changed. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in the United States of America, including the Hawaiian Islands.

United States of America overall

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, and monitor the media and other sources for information on local travelling conditions.
  • 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).
  • 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 must apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA) through the official ESTA website. 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 onboard aircraft. See Safety and security.
  • See also our general advice for business travellers.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
click on image to expand

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 under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) on an ESTA (more information below). If you wish to work, study, or stay for more than 90 days, you are not eligible for entry under the VWP on an ESTA and you must obtain a visa before travelling.

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. We strongly recommend you contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the United States of America about your specific circumstances, well in advance of travel, including if you only plan to transit in the United States.

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 by an inkless device and to have digital photographs taken on arrival.

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

Before travelling to the United States, all Australian passport holders visiting or transiting in the United States under the VWP must apply for an ESTA, preferably at least 72 hours prior to travel. The cost is USD14 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 this 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 if issued prior to 26 October 2005;
  • 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.

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 and carry copies with you, as well as a recent passport photo, in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

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 will be put in place at JFK International, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta airports. Passengers with 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. For more information on the outbreak and other travel restrictions and preventative measures, see the Ebola outbreak in west Africa travel bulletin.

Safety and security

Terrorism

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 onboard the aircraft. The traveller may also undergo additional screening. For further details on enhanced electronics screening measures, see the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) website.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Crime

Tourists are often targeted for petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and theft, particularly on public transport.

The United States has a generally higher incidence of violent crime, including incidences where a firearm (gun) is involved, compared to Australia, but there are significant variations between and within regions and cities.

Check specialist travel guides and/or seek local advice for information on districts you should avoid due to high crime levels.

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. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe and prepared abroad.

Local travel

The United States 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. 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

When you are in the United States of America, local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we cannot get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research local laws before travelling.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

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 still 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.

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.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of 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

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. 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 can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and in their publication Health Information for Travelers to the United States.

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 will be put in place at JFK International, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago O’Hare and Atlanta airports. Passengers with 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.

Australians are reminded that EVD is not highly contagious to the general population, as transmission requires direct contact with the body fluids of an infected person or animal. For more information on the outbreak and other travel restrictions and preventative measures, see the Ebola outbreak in west Africa travel bulletin.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

The national emergency number is 911. You should also 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, see contact details below:

Embassy of Australia, Washington, DC

1601 Massachusetts Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20036-2273
Telephone: 1 202 797 3000
Facsimile: 1 202 797 3331
Consular jurisdiction: Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia.
Website: www.usa.embassy.gov.au
Facebook: www.facebook.com/AustraliaInTheUS

Australian Consulate-General, Chicago

123 North Wacker Drive, Suite 1330
Chicago, Illinois 60606
Telephone: 1 312 419 1480
Facsimile: 1 312 419 1499
Consular jurisdiction: Indiana, Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin.

Australian Consulate-General, Honolulu

Penthouse, 1000 Bishop Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
Telephone: 1 808 529 8100
Facsimile: 1 808 529 8142
Consular jurisdiction: Hawaii.

Australian Consulate-General, Los Angeles

2029 Century Park East, 31st Floor
Los Angeles, California 90067
Telephone: 1 310 229 2300
Facsimile: 1 310 299 2380
Consular jurisdiction: Alaska, Arizona, Southern California, Colorado, New Mexico, southern Nevada and Utah.

Australian Consulate-General, New York

150 East 42nd Street, 34th Floor
New York, New York 10017-5612
Telephone: 1 212 351 6500
Facsimile: 1 212 351 6501
Consular jurisdiction: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands of the United States.
Website: www.newyork.consulate.gov.au/nycg/home

Australian Consulate-General, San Francisco

575 Market Street, Suite 1800
San Francisco, California 94105
Telephone: 1 415 644 3620
Facsimile: 1 415 536 1982
Consular jurisdiction: Northern California, Idaho, Montana, northern Nevada, Oregon, Washington State and Wyoming.
See the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

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 you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre in Canberra on +1 888 239 3501 or +61 2 6261 3305 from the United States or 1300 555 135 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. To see declared disasters by state and to learn what to do before, during and after each of these events, visit the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website. General information on wildfires in the United States is available at the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center website. 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.

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's website. Information is also available from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website. 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.

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.

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.

For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.