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Where and how do I obtain a visa for the USA?

If you are staying for up to 90 days: You may enter through the “Visa Waiver” Program. To do so, you must obtain an entry permit via ESTA:

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA)

  • Since 12th January 2009, all travellers entering the USA via the “Visa Waiver” Programme (VWP) must obtain an electronic entry permit before they travel (Electronic System for Travel Authorization” – ESTA).
    It is possible to apply for one via a third party (e.g. a travel agency). Once you receive your entry permit, it is valid for any number of trips within a period of two years. The US authorities recommend that, if possible, you make your ESTA application at least 72 hours before you travel.
  • Since 8th September 2010, there is a fee of $ 14 for the ESTA application. It can be paid online by debit/credit card (MasterCard, VISA, American Express, Discover). Alternatively, the payment can be made by a third party (e.g. a travel agency).
  • The website with the electronic application form is available in German and 20 other languages. Usually the applicant receives a response quickly. You are advised to print out your entry permit and take it with you as you travel. If you are refused by ESTA you cannot undertake your journey immediately. In this case, you must apply to the US authorities for a visa.

If you are staying for longer than 90 days:

As a participant in a DAAD exchange programme you will need a J1 visa. This can be obtained from the US embassy.

Prerequisites for a J1 visa

  • A permanent address outside the USA, as well as commitments that will oblige you to return after your visit.
  • Proof from a specific, reliable source of sufficient financial means to cover your expenses during the entirety of your visit to the USA. This proof could also be in the form of a guarantee, or an overdraft facility available for the period in question. For Harvard, you must show that you have $ 2500 per month available.
  • Proof of knowledge of English (TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge Certificate).
  • Form DS-2019 (Harvard University will supply you with this).

Documents necessary for the visa application

(Please confirm in consultation with Harvard University that your details have been entered into the SEVIS system correctly. In addition to the visa application fee you must pay a separate SEVIS fee. For non-immigrant students with form DS-2019 the SEVIS fee is $ 180.)
(Source: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/de_de/de-niv-visafeeinfo.asp)