In our humble opinion, a visit to Iran is well worth all of the red-tape involved – including the formalities you’ll need to go through to visit the US after travelling to Iran. Here’s how to travel to the US if you have an Iranian visa in your passport or have travelled to Iran.
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How to get a US Visa After Travel to Iran
Aside from the not-yet-faded memories of beautiful Iran, one of the less desirable impacts of a trip to Iran post 2011 will be the additional paperwork necessary to enter the USA.
In 2015 the USA changed the guidelines for its Visa Waiver program (WVP), commonly referred to as ESTA (the online application for a visa waiver available to most European, UK and some other nationals) and stipulated that visitors who had been to any of Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen would no longer be eligible for a visa waiver or ESTA under new anti-terrorism principles.
In plain wording from the US Customs and Border Protection:
Under the Act, travelers in the following categories are no longer eligible to travel or be admitted to the United States, without a waiver, under the VWP:
- Nationals of VWP countries who have traveled to or been present in Iraq, Syria, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, or Yemen at any time on or after March 1, 2011 (with limited exceptions); and
- Nationals of VWP countries who are also nationals of Iraq, Syria, Iran, or Sudan.
Which means that anyone who has visited Iran since March 2011 is no longer eligible for an ESTA. Much as a holiday in Somalia might not be on the top of your list, Iran on the other hand is one of the most beautiful and rewarding destinations I’ve visited. So for those of us who have been to one of these countries, but also want to visit the USA again, what to do?
How to Visit the USA after Travelling to Iran
As a visitor to Iran in 2017, my Iranian visa (complete with me in headscarf) proudly occupies a whole central page in my passport. As of 2019, Iran has, reportedly stopped stamping passports, at least for countries who are eligible for a visa on arrival, but this has not been confirmed for countries such as the UK and Canada who need a visa before arriving in Iran.
The solution to visiting the USA is to apply for a B1/B2 visitor visa to the United States. Here’s what you need to know about the visa:
- You can apply for the Visa online via the USA’s State Department website (as of June 2019 the fee was 120 USD) – this fee is paid at time of online application by Credit Card.
- You then need to make an appointment to go to your US consulate to attend an in person interview, whereby you can expect to be quizzed about your jaunt to Iran
- You’ll likely be told on the spot (at your in person interview) if your visa has been approved or not – it’s then around 1 week’s processing time until your passport is posted back to you.
- Visa appointment wait times can be lengthy, so I recommend applying for your visa online and scheduling your appointment at least 3 months before you want to travel to the USA
- You don’t need to have booked flights, accommodation or have definite plans to visit the USA, and the State Dept recommends you do not make firm travel plans until you receive your visa. We said that we were planning a long weekend trip to NYC (but were not asked anything further).
- The B1/B2 Visa lasts for 10 years (normally) – so at least the extra paperwork lasts for a good amount of time!
N.B. You can ONLY APPLY for a USA visa in your home country or in a country where you have proper legal status to be. For example you can’t apply for a USA visa in a country you are just travelling through or have a tourist visa for.
In my specific case, I am a British citizen, living temporarily in Canada on a “working holiday” visa with a work permit. I had to prove at the embassy that I had documents showing that I was a (temporary) resident of Canada and had the right to apply there (a PR Card or Canadian citizenship document would also have been fine) – or I could have gone back to my home country of the UK and apply there.
My Experience During the USA Visa Interview
I was expecting a bit of a grilling from steely USA officials in a private room about my travel habits and my motivation for visiting Iran, but my experience was much more pleasant.
The “interview” process actually consists of standing in line with fellow travellers of many nationalities that never were eligible for ESTA and have to apply for visas to visit the US (most of the world’s population). You have to check in and show your documents, have your biometrics taken, and then you proceed to the interview “counter” which consists of a 5-10 minute conversation with an official.
All in all, the process took about 1.5 hours for me, on a busy summer day in Toronto. The interview itself, conducted by a friendly official at an open counter, was focused around why I had been to Iran, where in Iran I’d been, and had I applied for an ESTA and been denied entry. She also asked about my job, why I was staying in Canada, and a couple of other formalities.
After giving assurance that I had travelled to Iran as part of a tour group, had been to the main touristic points of interest to see historical monuments, museums, gardens etc she seemed happy enough. My advice would be just to make sure you don’t mention lots of friends in Iran, professional or strong personal ties to Iran, anything about nuclear science or splitting atoms… and preferably anything about media or journalism either. Anything that can’t be easily explained is generally a bad idea.
All being well, your visa should be approved on the spot and your passport mailed back to you within about a week (you can choose a collection spot / post office near you to collect it).
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Entering the USA after Iran FAQ
Here are some of the other questions and doubts we had, which will hopefully help you, too!
If I entered Iran on one passport and I now have another one, can I just get an ESTA?
Officially, no. I found myself in this situation as my Iran stamp is in my UK passport and I also have an Irish passport with no stamp. However, the US guidance clearly asks if YOU have been to Iran, not that particular passport. There’s of course a high chance that if you just applied for an ESTA on the passport that no-one would be any the wiser, but you do also have to list all of the countries you have visited during the last 10 years on the ESTA & VISA Immigarion forms. If you were to get found out, you could be barred from the US – not a chance to take lightly – I decided it was not worth risking it.
Will I be able to enter the USA after visiting Iran?
It’s highly unlikely that you’d be denied entry to the US just for going on holiday to Iran – assuming, that is, that officials don’t find your behaviour or profile suspicious. A short one off trip there is unlikely to raise many eyebrows, however staying in Iran longer term or with multiple repeat visits is something you would need to have a good explanation for.
Do I need to apply for a new visa after every visit to Iran?
If you’re visiting Iran multiple times, you won’t need to apply for new visas. Bear in mind though that if immigration officers at the USA border see multiple stamps / visas for Iran they might have a few more questions for you.
What happens after my 10 Year USA Visa Expires?
Assuming you haven’t been back to Iran or any other country on the naughty list, you’ll be able to apply for an ESTA again to enter the US for tourism or business purposes for less than 90 days. Otherwise, you’d need to apply for a new visa.
What happens if I’m a (Dual) USA Citizen?
Well then you don’t need a visa! You can enter the USA again as your home country as usual. You might be asked a few questions about your trip there (especially if you are an Iranian-USA dual national) – I can’t speak to the process from personal experience, but I do know USA (non dual) nationals who have travelled to Iran and been able to return back to the USA just fine.
Have you travelled to the USA after visiting Iran? What was your experience like? Questions – let us know in the comments below!
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