United States of America

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Sunday, 12 January 2014.   It has been reviewed and reissued with editorial amendments. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in the United States of America.

United States of America overall

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in the United States.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues alerts for terrorism threats within the United States 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). See under Entry and exit for more information.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

The United States administers a strict entry regime and you may be refused entry on arrival 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.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. 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 boarding a United States-bound aircraft or vessel, 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.

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 http://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 may need to look at alternative travel plans. For more information see the United States Customs and Border Protection website.

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 your being referred for secondary inspection by a United States immigration official. This may take several hours and result in you missing a connection.

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 (post code) 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 up to 90 days or longer, deported and likely barred from re-entering the United States in future. You can check your I-94 record online.

If you have 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 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.

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’ .

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.

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.

Safety and security

Terrorism

We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

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

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Crime

The United States has a generally higher incidence of violent crime compared to Australia, but there are significant variations between and within regions and cities. Tourists are often targeted for petty crimes such as pick-pocketing and theft, particularly on public transport.

Check specialist travel guides and/or seek local advice for information on districts you might choose to avoid due to the high crime levels present in those areas.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work in the United States.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place from the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, do not carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority. 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.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

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

Please refer to our 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.

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

Penalties for drug-related offences, including marijuana use, are severe and provide for minimum mandatory sentences.

In fiscal year 2012 (1 October 2011 to 30 September 2012), the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 429,000 foreign nationals and deported 392,000 foreign nationals. If you are travelling in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona or southern California, expect to have your documents, including passport and visa, inspected by authorities without warning and on a random basis, including on public transport. For further information on the penalties for ‘overstaying’, see the Entry and exit section of this travel advice.

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 use their United States passport to enter and exit the United States and its territories.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

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

Health

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.

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. The Embassy of Australia and Consulates-General cannot assist with medical expenses. 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.

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 that available in 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.

Where to get help

In the United States of America, you can obtain consular assistance from the:

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.

Outside business hours, callers from the United States may contact the Consular Emergency Centre in Australia by dialling 011 61 2 6261 3305 or toll-free by dialling 1 888 239 3501 (you do not need to dial the international prefix, 011, for this call).

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. 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 +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Severe hurricanes occur in 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.

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. Available flights may fill quickly. 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.

Many parts of the United States are subject to different natural hazards, including earthquakes, fires or wildfires, floods, extreme heat, hurricanes, landslides and debris flow (mudslides), thunderstorms and lightning, 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 fires 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.

Australians considering travel to areas often 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, I-94 Admission Record Number (from http://www.cbp.gov/I94 ), photographic identification, 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.

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.

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 parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



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.