Official advice for New Zealanders living and travelling overseas

Travel tips - travel to the United States

The government of the United States of America (USA) enforces a strict entry regime. New Zealanders are at risk of being denied entry upon arrival if they fail to comply with visa requirements. Intending travellers are urged to contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the United States of America to enquire about their own specific circumstances, well in advance of travel.

As from 4 October 2005 all visitors to the United States of America will be required to provide their full address while in the United States in advance of travel. This information will be collected at check-in by the airline carrier. The address must contain the postal code.

If joining a cruise ship or picking up a rental car on arrival, further information on requirements may be found on US Customs and Border Protection.

The policy of the United States of America with regard to all visa and overstaying violations is one of “zero tolerance”. Even if a visitor stays only one day beyond their visa expiry detention may result. If arrested this could include imprisonment, deportation and prohibited entry to the USA for up to 10 years.

The Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) permits New Zealand citizens to enter the USA for business and tourism purposes for up to 90 days without a visa. Under USA legislation, travellers entering the USA under the visa waiver programme are not eligible to change their visa status. New Zealanders who do not qualify for the VWP (eg, students, journalists) will continue to need visas in order to transit or visit the USA. New Zealanders planning to use the VWP are urged to check that they meet the requirements to do so.

Travellers entering the USA under the VWP and planning to cross a border to a contiguous territory or adjacent island (eg, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean islands, etc) and return directly back to the USA should be aware that this exit time may count toward the 90 day period under which they were originally admitted into the USA under the VWP. Travellers should be aware that re-admission under the visa waiver cannot be guaranteed and decisions are at the discretion of US Immigration Officers.

For people planning to work while in the USA a work visa may be required and you should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the United States of America to confirm entry requirements. If you gain employment while on a visitor visa this will breach the conditions of the visa and there is a high risk of arrest and detention.

The entry requirements have changed for certain international travellers required to make transit stops in the USA, and who do not qualify to enter the USA under the VWP. In some circumstances a transit visa may be required. Well in advance of travel, contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the United States of America to enquire about the specific circumstances that apply.

With effect from 26 October 2004 all travellers entering the USA under the Visa waiver programme must have a machine-readable passport.

New Zealand citizens travelling to, or through, the USA from 26 October 2004 who do not hold a machine-readable passport must either:

  • Obtain a machine-readable passport or,
  • Obtain a US entry visa, which currently costs US$100. In this situation, keep your current non machine-readable passport and apply for a US entry visa, this may require that you attend an interview with at the US Consulate General in Auckland. Further information on how to apply for a US entry visa is provided on the US Embassy in New Zealand website.

ESTA - Electronic System for Travel Authorisation

Nationals of all Visa Waiver Programme (VWP) countries require ESTA authorisation prior to travelling to the United States under VWP. From 8 September 2010 travellers from VWP counties, including New Zealand, are required to pay an operational and travel promotion fee when applying for ESTA. The total cost for a new or renewed ESTA will be US$14.

On 21 January 2016, changes to the US Visa Waiver Programme came into effect and have the potential to affect New Zealanders travelling to the US.  These changes mean that New Zealanders who are also nationals of Iraq, Sudan, Syria and Iran or New Zealanders who have travelled to these four countries on or after 1 March 2011 will no longer be eligible to apply for an ESTA to enter the United States under the Visa Waiver Programme.  New Zealanders who fall under these categories and who have previously been issued an ESTA are likely to have this revoked. If you are affected by this change and wish to travel to the United States, you will need to apply for a visa at a US Embassy or Consulate.  

US Visit Programme

Effective from 30 September 2004, the Department of Homeland Security has decided all travellers from visa waiver countries, including New Zealanders, will have to go through US-VISIT, the Department’s automatic entry/exit system that is already in place for all travellers from countries that do not have visa waiver agreements. Under US-VISIT, travellers have their two index fingers scanned electronically and a digital photograph taken and this data is matched on their exit from the United States.

Neither the New Zealand Embassy nor the New Zealand Consulates can assist New Zealand Citizens with visa or other US immigration problems. If you have any questions you should contact the United States Embassy in Wellington, or the Consulate General in Auckland before departure.

Once in the USA, contact the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for advice on 1-800-375-5283.

If you are not planning to travel to the USA, you may wish to retain your current non machine-readable passport. You can always apply at a later time if you decide to travel to the USA.

Useful contacts

US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).

New Zealand Department of Internal Affairs - Passports.


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