Preparing to travel to the USA

Before the trip to the US it is necessary to arrange some formal things and prepare for some informalities. In the following article, we will look at what actions are necessary before going to the US, and what is appropriate and what to prepare for.

We traveled to the US in June 2014, so the information is related to this period. Since then, it’s possible that some things have changed, but the foundation should still be the same.

With effect from November 17, 2008, the Czech Republic is included in the Visa Waiver Program. From this date, it is possible to travel to the US without a visa or to use a valid visa already issued.

Visa-free contact

The Visa Waiver Program applies only to short-term tourist or business trips within 90 days. Study, work or exchange stays are still subject to the visa regime, and applicants must still apply for a visa at the nearest embassy or US consulate. To travel to the USA without a visa, every passenger, including minors, must complete the ESTA registration form (https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov) and have their own valid ePas (passport with machine-readable data and data carrier with biometric data, issued in the Czech Republic since September 1, 2006).

It is recommended to register at ESTA (Electronic System of Travel Authorization) for at least 72 hours before boarding. ESTA registration must be done exclusively on the US Department of Homeland Security website https://esta.cbp.dhs.gov. The result of the registration is the issuance of a preliminary approval for a trip valid for two years or until the date of change of the applicant’s data (eg change of travel document or change of name). Prior consent is for repeated journeys during its term. It is recommended that you print out the ESTA-generated consent number after your registration and issue this document during check-in on all trips to the USA during the validity of your consent.

ESTA registration is charged $14 USD by credit card through the www.pay.gov site during registration. Debit cards can also be used for which a PIN is not entered when paying.

Visas

A visa can be obtained at the US Embassy or Consulate abroad. We welcome Czech citizens to arrange for a visa well in advance at the US Embassy in Prague. A visa may be obtained on the basis of a properly justified purpose of the journey. A personal visit to the embassy is required, which must be arranged in advance via the embassy’s website www.usembassy.cz.

The B-2 visa application fee (vacation, hiking, therapeutic stay) was $160. This type of visa is issued usually with a validity period of up to 10 years. When granting a visa on a Czech passport, it is advisable to take into account that the passport must be handed over to the competent authorities of the Czech Republic after its expiration, even if a valid US visa is in place. Subsequently, you need to apply for a new US visa.

Access to US territory

The main US authorities responsible for border protection include the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection, see www.cbp.gov).

Access to the territory under the visa-free program – ESTA

Passengers to the United States of America under the Visa Waiver Program are required to have an agreed ESTA electronic travel registration before boarding a plane or boat to travel to the United States.

The US Department of Homeland Security canceled the obligation to fill in the arrival / departure form (I-94W Non-Immigration Visa Waiver Arrival / Departure Record) for passengers as part of the Visa Waiver Program, which includes Czech citizens. It is still a requirement for all passengers heading to the US to fill in the form of the Customs Declaration (CBP form 6059B) that will be received by the passengers from the airplane or on board.

Obtaining permission to travel to the USA through the ESTA is not a guarantee of US entry.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel at the point of entry into the United States are always deciding on the US entry permit. Indeed, it is rare that passengers are not admitted to the US for immigration and return to their homes by return. It happened to one of our friends in July 2014, who after a multi-hour interrogation from an immigration official and a thorough inspection of all personal items including a laptop and a mobile phone at Chicago Airport (Chicago O’Hare International Airport) was not admitted to US territory and returned back to Europe.

Entry into the United States on the basis of a visa issued

Immigration check at border crossing points when entering the US is subject to a completed Immigration Card I-94 (Visa Only) and completed Customs Declaration 6059B. Forms will be received by passengers on board the aircraft or directly at the border crossing. It is important that the papers are completed in English, in all the sections and correctly. Incorrect or false form filling can cause complications when deciding to enter the US territory and may result in refusal of entry.

Granting a visa means only the possibility of arriving at the US border, an interview with the official is the second level of control. The immigration officer has wide decision-making powers and may decide not to let a passenger in the US. No passengers are entitled to enter US territory. During the interview it is necessary to answer the questions asked and at the same time to be active and vigorously defend your position. In case of doubt about the correctness of the procedure, the presence of a supervisor can be requested at any time. The citizen of the Czech Republic has the right to contact the embassy or consulate of the Czech Republic at any time during the interview. If an immigration official refuses entry to the US for a visa-free passenger, there is no appeal and is returned to the destination from which he arrived. If he refuses to enter the US for a visa, the passenger can either voluntarily leave the nearest route to the Czech Republic (in this case he signs a declaration of willingness to return or waives the right to apply for entry to the US) or to request a hearing before the immigration Judge. In the latter case, however, it may be held in custody until the hearing date, which may take several weeks after arrival. In the event of a negative decision by the immigration judge, the deportation and cancellation of the visa are followed.

Upon admission, the Immigration Officer attaches the I-94 card to the passenger’s passport and indicates the length of time he can legally reside in the US. We add that the so-called Visa (Visa Date – for tourist visas up to 10 years) must be distinguished from the period of residence (the date given on Form I-94). Exceeding the period of residence is a violation of immigration regulations with far-reaching consequences.

The maximum length of stay for which the visa holder (B-2) may be admitted is 6 months. Visa for a B-2 visa can be extended for a maximum of a further 6 months only if the alien demonstrates that he or she is prevented by unforeseeable circumstances (eg hospitalization) while at the same time proving that he / she has sufficient funds for the extended stay.

Driving licenses

For the driving of motor vehicles in the United States by an alien, an international driving license issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Transport is required. Please note that only the international driving license issued under the 1949 Geneva Convention and not the most common international driving license under the Vienna Convention of 1968 is accepted in the USA. The validity of an international driving license is limited to 1 year. Issuing is possible at the office where they issue common driving licenses. The fee is 50 CZK. Issue is on hold. This is a paper booklet.

Insurance

US-based insurance is not mandatory, however, it is strongly recommended to take into account the financial complications that might arise if you need to find medical care during your stay in the USA, for example in an accident, car accident, etc. Insurance can be arranged at Czech insurance companies. We strongly recommend that you enter into high-quality insurance with the highest and widest coverage possible. Prices for seemingly simple interventions (dentist, etc.) are VERY high, in the order of many thousands to tens of thousands of dollars.

Payments

Travel credit cards are a useful aid when traveling in the USA. Their main advantage is in addition to their own payments as well as arranging reservations and facilitating borrowing of vehicles, sports equipment, rental of accommodation capacities, etc. Recognized and most commonly used credit cards in the USA are Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover.

If you plan to rent anything (most often about cars), it is absolutely essential to have a credit card.

If you plan to rent anything (most often about cars), it is absolutely essential to have a credit card, not debit cards, which are the basic type of payment cards in the Czech Republic. Ask your bank to issue a credit card in good time because you can not borrow anything on a classic debit card in the US, and you will have great problems to deal with.

Regarding regular payments, it is occasionally a lottery bet. We had two debit cards, one MasterCard and the other Maestro with us, and somewhere they took one and the other one. In general, I used more MasterCard but mainly at petrol stations I often had a payment problem and had to use Maestro.

Calling

US calls are very expensive for us. There is no EU regulation of prices, so it is good to check the roaming prices (and of course, to activate roaming) beforehand. For calling within the US, it is best to get a SIM card from a local operator. The most widespread is AT&T or Verizon, who also have the best coverage. For example, T-Mobile is cheaper, but coverage in the US (Nevada, Nebraska, Iowa) is really lousy to zero.

For us to call from the US to the Czech Republic, Skype has proven to be the most successful. After purchasing Skype credit, you can call for very low prices on mobile phones and landlines in the Czech Republic. The minute of the call comes at 2.1 cents per minute + 3.6 cents connection fee for fixed lines and from 10.8 cents + 6.6 cents connection fee for mobile phones. SMS stands at 8.9 cents per message.

Important phone numbers

Firefighters, police and rescue services have a uniform number throughout the US – 911.

Prefix numbers 888 or 800 (in American format 1-888 or 1-800) are for free.

Source: Ministerstvo zahraničních věcí České republiky

 

Do you want more tips about traveling in the US? Check out our blog.

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