Updated: Aug 24, 2023
Florida, the Sunshine State, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the United States. Known for its sunny beaches, world-renowned amusement parks, and a variety of cultural experiences, Florida has something for everyone. Whether you're looking to explore the mysteries of the Everglades, take a walk down South Beach, or embrace the magic of Walt Disney World, planning your trip starts with understanding the entry requirements. For most international travelers, this means obtaining either an Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) or a visa.
The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) permits residents of participating countries (currently 41) to visit Florida without a visa for stays of 90 days or less. Candidates must be eligible for the VWP and have a valid and approved Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) authorization before their departure to the Florida, by air, land or sea. ESTA may be used for tourism, transit, business and medical visits of less than 90 days per visit in a 180 day period. To obtain an ESTA, you must hold a passport from one of the 41 visa waiver countries, complete the application form, pass an eligibility assessment as well as clear the background checks performed across various databases that are shared with Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Decisions on ESTA applications are usually determined within 72 hours.
Applying for an ESTA is relatively straightforward. You'll need to:
Once approved, an ESTA is valid for two years or until your passport expires, whichever comes first. Keep in mind that ESTA approval is generally quicker and cheaper than obtaining a visa, but it's only suitable for short-term visits (up to 90 days) and doesn't allow for activities like working or studying in the U.S.
If you're not eligible for an ESTA or plan to stay longer than 90 days, you'll need to apply for a visa.
If you are not eligible for an ESTA, you may be eligible to apply for a "B" category visa for Florida. The B2 visa is issued for tourism purposes, the B1 visa is issued for business purposes. There is also a B1/B2 visitor visa, which can be used for both business and tourism purposes. Here are the steps to apply for a B category visa:
The visa application process is generally more time-consuming and involves more scrutiny, so it's advisable to start well in advance of your planned travel dates.
Once you've sorted out your entry requirements, it's time to plan your itinerary. Here are some of Florida's must-see attractions:
Located in Orlando, Walt Disney World is one of the most visited tourist destinations globally. Comprising four theme parks—Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios, and Disney's Animal Kingdom—it offers a magical experience for both young and old.
Known for its vibrant nightlife and Art Deco architecture, South Beach is the place to go if you're looking for a lively beach scene.
This coral cay archipelago located at the southernmost tip of Florida offers an idyllic setting for water sports such as scuba diving, snorkeling, and deep-sea fishing.
One of the most unique ecosystems in the U.S., the Everglades National Park offers a close-up look at a variety of wildlife, including alligators, manatees, and a plethora of bird species. Airboat tours are a popular way to explore this natural wonder.
Known as the oldest city in the U.S., St. Augustine offers a unique blend of Spanish colonial architecture, historic sites, and modern-day attractions.
Whether you opt for an ESTA or a visa, understanding the entry requirements is the first step in planning a memorable Florida vacation. From the enchanting allure of Walt Disney World to the serene beauty of the Everglades, the Sunshine State offers an array of experiences that promise to make your trip unforgettable. Just make sure to apply for your ESTA or visa well in advance to avoid any hiccups that could put a damper on your dream vacation.