Flying from Europe to the United States is not as easy as it may sound. The entry requirements to the United States are pretty harsh – and are diligently checked at every airport. Flying into an US airport is not as easy as it used to be before 9/11. If you are traveling to the US via airplane for the first time, the procedure can be quite confusing. Since me and my husband have gone back and forth between Europe and the US plenty of times, I can guide you through the procedure. Learn everything you need to know about flying from Europe to the US in this post – and your journey will be a breeze!
1. You need a Visa or ESTA to travel to the US
The US Visa Waiver Program, also known as Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), allows citizens of 39 different countries enter the US. You can visit for up to 90 days without a visa, if you fulfill the requirements of the ESTA. This is a quick, easy and cheap way to gain entry to the United States. But there are a few things you need to know about the ESTA before traveling.
The first time I tried to go to the US and apply for an ESTA online, I had a hard time finding the official website. There are hundreds of websites out there helping to process your ESTA, and only one of them does it without making a profit. The correct and official website of the US customs and border protection will only charge you a small fee of USD 21. Every provider charging more, is a fake.
Make sure to apply for your ESTA in time, because it can take a couple of days to process it. Once you got your ESTA approved, make sure to print a copy and bring it to the airport in case there is a glitch in the system. Better safe than sorry!
Your ESTA is valid for two years. The 90 day period starts, once you set foot on US territory (including Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean if you traveled through the US). Travelers from the European Union are permitted to travel to the USA under the ESTA program.
If you, for some reason, do not fall under the requirements of the ESTA program, you need to apply for a tourist Visa. The main tourist Visa is called B-2. This Visa is not valid if you wish to travel for business purposes. This Visa costs about USD 160 – USD 180. The entry requirements are different from country to country, so you need to check them beforehand. Refer to the official government website for more information. You can also talk to your local US embassy.
There are certain things you need to be able to prove before heading to the US on a tourist visa. You have to show that you are only planning on staying for a specific time period (e.g. have a return ticket) and have enough funds for the time of your trip. They will also check if you have a permanent address somewhere else and what ties you to your home country.
2. You need a valid passport
Your passport must be valid for 6 more months AFTER the date of your travel. It must also be valid for the entire duration of your trip. So, if your trip takes more than 6 months, it must be valid for the entire period until you leave the US.
3. Brace yourself for airport security
American airport security is a whole different level from what we are used to in Europe. They will ask you a couple of questions, check your Visa or ESTA and scan your fingerprint. Be serious and compliant in this process, otherwise, they are allowed to hold you for further interrogation. Try to have all your documents at hand, so you don’t hold up the lines.
If you have connecting flights, there are some things you need to be aware of. Because of Americas strict international travel rules, they cannot directly rout your luggage to your final destination. You need to pick it up upon arrival, re-check it and then go through another security scanner.
Many people traveling from Europe do not know this and don’t plan enough time for their layover. I have previously been stranded at Denver airport because I underestimated, how much time this whole process takes. For me, this is the most important tip anyone needs to know that is traveling to America on an airplane.
4. Check for COVID-19 regulations
Currently, you do not need to present a PCR test result at the time of your entry. However, proof of vaccination is still needed (20.01.2023). Make sure to check ahead of time what documents you need to present upon arrival.
5. Do not use your phone in the line at immigration
I know it is tempting to take out your phone and scroll the internet while you wait in line for immigration. In most airports, however, this is not allowed. Check the signs and make sure phone use is permitted in this area. Disobeying can result in serious charges.
6. Do not form groups in the corridor of the airplane
Another great tip you need to know before flying to America is to never form groups in an airplane. In my opinion, people should never do this in an airplane in the first place. Do not stand together with other travelers to chat. It is prohibited on flights to and in America to form groups anywhere inside the airplane. Air hostesses will be very strict on this one.
7. Bring a credit card
While in Europe we still use cash or debit cards in our daily lives, America is greatly depending on credit cards. If you want to buy something at the airport or get a rental car, I suggest bringing a credit card. Also, make sure to enable the geographic location beforehand, otherwise, you might get in trouble if the card gets blocked.
8. Don’t put a random lock on your suitcase
The American border patrol is allowed to check your luggage. If there is a random lock on it, they will be forced to break it open. You can buy locks with TSA-approval, so they can easily open it with a master key. If they do open your suitcase, you will receive a note.
9. Make sure to have health and travel insurance
Having a health emergency in the United States is probably the biggest nightmare you can have. Not only does it suck, but they will also make you pay for it – big time. The US is a state with one of the most expensive healthcare systems in the world. This tip can prove very useful when flying to America.
10. Know the Import/Export rules
There are plenty of rules on what can and cannot be in your luggage when flying to America. Check the rules on import and export to the United States before you travel, to make sure you are not bringing anything illegal in or out of the country. They probably biggest mistake people make is trying to bring animal products (such as meat) into the United States.
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