5 rules for entering the USA

Every year, thousands of travelers are denied entry at the US border due to avoidable mistakes. To ensure this doesn't happen to you, we gathered the most important rules for entering the United States and give you helpful tips for crossing the border.

Entry control at the border with the USA

ESTA travelers enjoy a number of advantages over visa travelers. These include faster, easier, and significantly less expensive travel authorization, as well as the opportunity for expedited passport inspection and, therefore, faster entry into the United States.

However, these ESTA benefits come with conditions: you must be a citizen of one of the 41 Visa Waiver countries, you may not work or study in the United States, and your stay is limited to 90 days at a time.

Upon arrival, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials will want to determine whether you will adhere to these strict ESTA restrictions during your time in the United States and whether you may pose a threat to US homeland security.

1. Prepare for the border interview

To avoid problems at the entry interview, be prepared for possible questions from the U.S. Border Patrol agents. These may include the purpose and duration of your stay in the United States, your travel itinerary, or the people you will be visiting in the United States. Be truthful and brief in your answers.

Also, have your complete travel documents ready in case officials ask for additional proof of your statements. A complete border-crossing document kit includes your return or onward flight tickets and proof of ties to your home country, which may also support your desire to return.

It is essential to be courteous and cooperative during the interview and to provide all documents and information requested. This may include the contents of electronic devices. Therefore, make sure that there is no problematic content on your laptop or cell phone, such as illegal photos, videos, or sensitive documents.


  • You can show a lease or employment contract as proof of your ties to your home country.
  • U.S. Border Patrol agents may also look at your social media profiles, so ensure you are not associated with any content that might cause concern. However, you are under no obligation to disclose your passwords.

2. Check the validity of your documents

It's surprising how many travelers get turned away at the US border because they show up with an expired ESTA. Nevertheless, there is a practical way to avoid this standard entry error: take advantage of the convenient online ESTA reminder service. Shortly before your 1- or 2-year ESTA validity expires (depending on your citizenship), you will receive a notification with the appropriate recommended actions.

The validity of your passport also plays an important role when entering the United States. You can only complete your ESTA application with a valid e-passport (biometric electronic passport). And there are even differences in the minimum validity:

  • For Six Month Club countries, your passport only needs to be valid until the end of your trip.
  • For non-Six Month Club countries, passport validity must be 6 months beyond the date of departure from the United States.

Insider tip: enter the USA with a Green Card

If you want to avoid both the bureaucratic hurdles of applying for an ESTA and the lines at immigration and passport control, get a Green Card!

The US Immigrant Visa allows you unlimited entry and permanent residence in the United States for life. You can enjoy almost all the benefits of being a US citizen and even work in the US.

The easiest way to get a Green Card is through the US government's annual Green Card Lottery, where 55,000 US immigrant visas are raffled off to participants from all over the world.

Click here to register for the Green Card Lottery!

3. Pack wisely

When packing for a trip to the United States, you need to know what items, goods, and substances are prohibited from entering. Be sure to check the current import regulations for the US and follow the maximum limits for carry-on items.

Baggage check at US airport

Certain documents are not recommended to carry. These include employment references or other documents that may raise suspicion of illegal employment, immigration, or criminal intent in the eyes of US Border Patrol agents.


  • Before traveling, check again to see if there are any new import regulations for the USA.
  • Also check regulations for stopovers, such as in the United Kingdom!
  • To prevent damage to your luggage, use TSA-approved luggage locks that can be opened with a master key.
  • If you would like a little relief from the security checkpoints and carry-on baggage requirements, you can take advantage of a Trusted Traveler Program.

4. Get in touch with your doctor

During the ESTA application process, you will be asked about contagious and difficult-to-treat diseases that could pose a risk to other travelers. You will also be asked if you are addicted to drugs. In addition, US border officials will closely monitor your behavior as you enter the country and check any medications you are carrying.


  • To avoid misunderstandings, carry a prescription for each medication and a letter from your doctor stating the date, reason for taking the medication, and the recommended daily dosage.
  • Bring only the medications you need for your stay in the United States.
  • If you are traveling to the US for medical treatment, bring documentation to support this fact (e.g., letters from the hospital on official letterhead and notification of your surgery date).

5. Plan for delays

International travel is experiencing more and more delays due to understaffed airports, tour operators cutting corners, and increasingly frequent storms. But that's just the end of a chain of travel planning hurdles. Even when applying for your travel authorization, unforeseen events can occur.

For example, if you have to switch to a visa because of problems with your ESTA application, you must plan for a few more weeks. Therefore, submit your ESTA application several weeks before your departure and always with the help of an expert.

In addition, current decisions by the US government may affect the requirements for entry into the United States. Examples from the past include the sudden implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination requirement, the exclusion of certain nationals from the ESTA program, or the temporary suspension of entry for travelers who have previously visited certain countries.

Travel Tip

  • Make a reading list of the most important websites and monitor travel news. Good sources for up-to-date travel advisories include the US embassy websites, the CDC website, and the news section of ESTA-application.com.
  • Monitor news and traffic conditions at your airport.
  • Check the status of your flight before you leave for the airport. Many airlines offer real-time updates on their websites or mobile apps.

If you follow our rules for entering the United States, you will avoid common traveler mistakes and enjoy a carefree stay in the USA! However, be prepared to adjust your plans in case of an emergency and to react to unexpected delays or changes in regulations. We wish you a joyful journey!

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