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Know the Difference Between your Visa Expiration Date and your Authorized Length of Stay

When you decide to travel to the United States, whether for business or pleasure, you’ll need both a passport and a visitor visa.

A visa issued by the U.S. consulate or embassy allows you to travel to the United States, but the immigration officer at the port of entry is the person who allows you to enter the country and decides how long you may stay.

Your visa expiration date

Your visa will state how long you are able to travel to the country. This length of time varies by case and depends on the decisions of the consular or embassy officials who process your application.

Note that the expiration date of your visa is not the same as the time you are allowed to remain in the country during each trip. For example, a visa that’s valid for 10 years allows you to travel back and forth to the United States for that period, but doesn’t mean you can stay in the country for the entire time.

Your length of stay in the United States

Upon entering the country you need to complete and submit an immigration I-94 form (which registers arrivals and departures). The forms are available at any air, sea or land port of entry.

The immigration officer will ask you a series of questions about the purpose of your visit. The agent will also stamp your passport with the date of arrival and write on your I-94 the length of time you can stay in the country — for example, 60 days. This length of time indicates your legal presence in the United States and may be extended if necessary.

How to extend your stay

When asking for an extension you need to verify that you haven’t exceeded your authorized stay.  For instance, if you arrived as a tourist but want to become a student, you must submit an application to change your status before your stay expires.

To make your request you must complete an I-539 form. Be sure to do this well in advance.

If you stay in the country beyond the authorized time, your presence will be considered illegal, and you could lose the privilege of returning to the United States or your visa renewal may be denied.

Get more details about how to extend your stay.

What to do if your documents get lost or stolen

If you lose your travel documents, or if they get stolen, follow these suggestions:

Read this post in Spanish.

Is Your U.S. Passport Up to Date?

If you plan to travel outside the United States, be sure to check your passport long before your trip. Routine processing times for passport services are 4-6 weeks (expedited services take approximately 2-3 weeks).

Renew Your Passport - Check your passport’s expiration date. If your passport expires before you plan to return to the United States, then you’ll need to get a new passport before you leave the U.S.

Apply for a Passport - If you are eligible for a U.S. passport and plan to travel abroad, get application instructions.

Change or Correct Your Passport - If you need to makes changes or corrections (due to a name change, for example) or add visa pages to your passport, see which forms you need to submit.

Report Your Lost or Stolen Passport
- If your passport has been lost or stolen, report it as soon as you can. Call 1-877-487-2778 (TTY 1-888-874-7793) in the U.S., or contact the nearest U.S. embassy if you’re overseas. 

Get Additional U.S. Passport Services - Look up passport fees, get the status of your passport application, find information about photo requirements, and more.

You can apply for a passport or renew one without an appointment. Find a local office.

Asked by Anonymous

I plan to travel to the Dominica commonwealth in the Caribbean next month. What information do I need to travel there? I have a current passport.

In addition to a valid passport, you may be asked to present a return or onward ticket when entering Dominica. Find more details about entry and exit requirements when traveling to Dominica.

For international travel, U.S. citizens need to have a passport or other valid documents in order to enter the United States. Caribbean cruises that begin and end in the U.S., called closed loop cruises, do not require you to travel with a passport. However, if you need to leave the cruise ship because of an emergency and you do not have a valid passport, you may have trouble entering or staying in a foreign country. You may also have difficulty re-entering the United States by air because many airlines require a valid passport in order to board the aircraft. Because of these reason, it is strongly recommended that you always travel abroad with a valid passport.

Find international travel requirements for other countries.

If you’re traveling over land or sea this summer, a Passport Card might be right for you. Read the FAQs to find out more.