California is the most visited state in the USA. Its global cities, such as Los Angeles, its prominence in the movie industry, its sunny climate and beaches, and its abundance of entertainment and amusement parks bring over 40 million travelers to its shores each year.
What do foreign nationals need to do to go to California? Is a visa required? Who must register with the US ESTA visa waiver program?
This guide has all the information you need to obtain the correct documentation to travel to California.
The documentation required to visit California depends on the traveler’s country of origin. Nationals of certain countries may need a visa, while others must simply register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).
US citizens do not require a visa or any other documentation to go to California.
Citizens of the following countries and territories do not require a visa, but will need a passport or relevant ID to travel to California:
The ESTA is not a visa. It is a travel authorization system that waives the need to obtain a visa. Travelers from the countries listed below must complete an online form, providing information about themselves and their travel plans.
This saves a significant amount of time and effort that would otherwise have been spent traveling to a US embassy and standing in line waiting.
Nationals of the following countries must apply for the US ESTA to visit California:
Nationals from other sovereign states must apply for and obtain a US tourist visa before traveling to California.
Whether traveling with an ESTA or a visa, the visitor is also required to carry a valid passport. In the case of the ESTA, the passport must be machine-readable (an e-passport).
Learn more about the requirements for the US ESTA.
Travelers from eligible countries who wish to visit California can register with the Electronic System for Travel Authorization online from the comfort of their own homes.
To successfully register with ESTA, the applicant will need the following:
The online ESTA application form is quick and simple to complete. The applicant must enter personal information, including the following:
The applicant must also answer questions about their travel plans, such as the dates of their intended arrival in and departure from California.
There are some security questions designed to screen travelers who pose a potential threat to US security. These are related to the following areas (if applicable to the applicant):
The ESTA permits a traveler to stay in California and the United States of America in general for a maximum of 90 days. If the visitor wishes to stay longer than this limit, they must apply for a visa instead of an ESTA.
The ESTA is only for individuals visiting California for business, pleasure, short-term medical treatment, or transit to another destination. If a foreign national wishes to work in California, they must obtain a work visa, work permit, and/or Green Card.
There are various reasons why an ESTA can be denied. The application will be rejected if the applicant:
The information provided is screened against international databases for security purposes. If the applicant is found to have a history of involvement in serious crime, terrorism, or genocide, they will likely be refused entry to California and the rest of the United States.
In most cases, the ESTA application is successful and the majority of travelers have a smooth experience traveling to California.