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United States of America

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in the United States (US). 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 Natural disasters
  • Enhanced security screening measures are in place for all commercial flights to the US. Contact your airline or check the US Department of Homeland Security and Transportation Security Administration websites for further information. See Entry and exit
  • The US administers a strict entry regime and 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
  • Medical treatment in the US is expensive. Get comprehensive travel insurance to cover medical costs before you depart. See Health
  • Australians visiting the US for less than 90 days may be eligible to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and enter under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). See Entry and exit
  • Natural disasters can occur. Hurricane season is June to November. Monitor media reports and plan accordingly. Follow the instructions of local authorities. See Natural disasters

Entry and exit

Every country or territory decides who can enter or exit through its borders. The Australian Government cannot intervene on your behalf if you do not meet your destination’s entry or exit requirements. 

Visas

The US administers a strict entry regime that also applies to transit passengers. You'll be refused entry if you don't comply with US entry requirements. 

If you're visiting the US for less than 90 days, you may be eligible to apply for an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) and enter under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). See below.

In all other circumstances, you'll need to get a visa before you travel. US authorities recommend you apply for an ESTA or visa as soon as you know you’ll be travelling to the US.

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.

More information:

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

Australians visiting the US (including the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico) for less than 90 days may be able to travel under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP).

You can’t enter under the VWP if you have:

  • been previously denied entry under the VWP or been denied a US visa
  • an Emergency Passport, Document of Identity or Provisional Travel Document
  • a criminal record or have been arrested, even if it didn’t result in a conviction
  • dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Sudan or Syria or 
  • travelled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since 1 March 2011 (with limited exceptions).

Before travelling under the VWP, you must apply and be pre-approved for the VWP via the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The cost is USD14, payable online by credit card. US authorities recommend that you apply for the ESTA as soon as you know you will be travelling to the US. ESTA approvals can take up to 72 hours.

Approved ESTAs are valid for two years and multiple entries. If you renew your passport within the two-year period you’ll need to apply for a new ESTA. Discrepancies between the ESTA, passport or ticket information could lead to you being denied entry or referred for secondary inspection (see below).
You also need to reapply for an ESTA if the circumstances relating to any of the VWP eligibility criteria change.

If your ESTA application is denied, you’ll need to apply for a visa from a US Embassy or Consulate (see below). US authorities generally won’t disclose why an ESTA application is rejected and there is no scope for appeal. If you provide false or incorrect information on an ESTA you may be permanently ineligible for travel to the US.

More information:  United States Customs and Border Protection

US Visas

If you’re ineligible to travel under the VWP or your ESTA application is denied, you’ll need to obtain a US visa.

Visitors to the US can apply for tourist or business visitor visas (B-1/B-2 visas), but there are visa categories for every purpose of travel. Contact a US Embassy or Consulate for further information.

More information:

Admission (I-94) Record Number

The date until which you can legally remain in the US is determined by authorities at the port of entry.
This may not be the same date as the expiry date of your ESTA or visa.

Upon entry, US authorities will stamp your passport and usually write the date on the stamp by which you must leave the US. You will also be issued an electronic (or hardcopy) Form I-94 Entry / Departure Record. Your I-94 is evidence of your legal status in the US and also indicates the date by which you must depart the country.

You can check your I-94 on the US Customs and Border Protection website each time you enter the US. If you stay beyond your I-94 expiry date, you can be detained, deported and barred from re-entering the US in future.

You cannot extend or renew your I-94 by traveling to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean for a short period of time (30 days or less) and then re-entering the US.

If you have an unexpired I-94 when you travel from the US to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean you will only be re-admitted to the US for the balance of time remaining on your original I-94.

If you have a recently expired I-94 and US authorities suspect that the purpose of your trip outside the US was simply to extend your stay in the US, you can be refused entry and held until arrangements can be made for your removal.

If you are issued with a hard copy I-94 on arrival, you should give it to the airline, cruise line or US Customs and Border Patrol when you leave the US. Visit the US Customs and Border Protection website for further information.

Entry into the US

ESTA approval or obtaining a visa does not guarantee entry into the US. It simply allows you to board a US-bound aircraft or vessel. Your admissibility into the US is determined at the port of entry.

Entry requirements are strict and US authorities have broad powers when it comes to determining your eligibility to enter. Visit the US Customs and Border Protection website for further information.

Be prepared to answer questions about the purpose of your visit, how long and where you intend to stay, and your ties to Australia. Authorities may seek access to your electronic devices, email, text messages or social media accounts. If entering under the VWP or on a visitor visa, you’ll likely need to produce an onward or return ticket and demonstrate that you have enough money to support yourself throughout your stay.

If you provide false information, or can’t satisfy US authorities that the purpose of your visit is valid, you can be refused entry and held until arrangements are made for you to be returned to Australia (or your last country of departure).

If you are refused entry under the VWP, you generally don’t have the right to an attorney or to appeal the decision.

More information: US Customs and Border Protection

Travelling with children

Everyone entering the United States must have their own ESTA approval or visa. This includes all accompanied or unaccompanied children.

When a child is travelling with only one parent or someone who is not a parent or legal guardian, US authorities strongly recommend the accompanying adult carry a notarised letter of consent signed by the non-travelling parent/s or guardian/s.

More information: US Customs and Border Protection

Biometrics

Most travellers to the US must have their fingerprints scanned and digital photographs taken on arrival.

More information: US Customs and Border Protection

Immigration Enforcement

US authorities actively pursue, detain and deport persons who are in the US illegally.

It is becoming more common for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers to conduct random travel document checks, including passports, visas and I-94 entries, including on public transport.

Travel to Cuba

The US enforces restrictions on travel to Cuba. This applies to any person who is subject to US jurisdiction, including Australians who live 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're questioned by immigration officials at the port of entry.

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

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.

Money

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 US.

There have been numerous politically motivated attacks in the US 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 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US. 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 US, 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 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

Protests and political demonstrations occur regularly. While mostly peaceful, they sometimes 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 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 US 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

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. Always wear a helmet. You need a motorcycle licence to operate a motorcycle in the US.

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.

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 US.

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 US.

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

Federal and state laws for drug-related offences, including the possession and recreational use of marijuana, vary. Penalties for drug-related offences can be 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. See Health

More information: United States Customs and Border Protection

Other laws

The Federal legal age for purchasing and drinking alcohol in the US 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 US recognises dual nationality.

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

  • travel with both passports, and
  • use your US passport to enter and exit the US 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

Some medications that you can purchase without a prescription in Australia may require a prescription in the US. 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

Mosquito-borne diseases

Several mosquito-borne and other insect-borne illnesses (including West Nile, Encephalitis, Heartland virus and Zika virus) can occur throughout the US. Research your destination and seek local advice on the situation in the area in which you're travelling.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne illnesses:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including using an appropriate strong 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 US 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 US is comparable to Australia.

Medical costs in the US 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.

Natural disasters

Many parts of the US 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.

Puerto Rico

Reconsider your need to travel to Puerto Rico due to major damage to buildings and infrastructure following Hurricane Maria.

Recovery efforts are still underway following the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria in September 2017. Access to electricity may be limited, particularly in rural areas. Repairs to road infrastructure, such as traffic lights, and buildings is continuing.

Contact your airline or tour operator to check the latest information.

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
  • 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 closely monitor the National Weather Service for information on weather conditions and any weather alerts issued by local authorities.

More information:

Severe weather and hurricanes

Severe hurricanes occur in the Pacific, the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic coastal regions of the US. 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.

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.

Emergency phone numbers

  • 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
Twitter: twitter.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
Facebook: facebook.com/AusCGChicago

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   
Phone: +1 808 529 8100
Fax: +1 808 529 8142
Website: usa.embassy.gov.au/honolulu
Facebook: facebook.com/AustralianConsulateGeneralHNL

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   
Phone: +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   
Phone: +1 310 229 2300
Fax: +1 310 299 2380
Website: losangeles.consulate.gov.au
Facebook: facebook.com/AustralianConsulateGeneralLA
Twitter: twitter.com/AusConsulateLA

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   
Phone: +1 212 351 6500
Fax: +1 212 351 6501
Website: newyork.consulate.gov.au
Facebook: facebook.com/AustralianConsulateGeneralNYC

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   
Phone: +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:

  • +61 2 6261 3305 from any phone, or
  • 1300 555 135 from within Australia.

Additional information