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What Documents Are Needed At A U.S. Port Of Entry


Modified: December 28, 2023

by Letty Atherton



When traveling to the United States, it is important to be prepared with the necessary documents to smoothly navigate through the port of entry. Whether you are visiting for leisure, business, or study, having the correct documentation in order is crucial to avoid delays or even entry denial. Understanding the required documents for entry can help ensure a hassle-free experience and allow you to enjoy your time in the United States.


Each traveler’s specific situation may vary depending on their nationality, visa category, and purpose of travel. However, there are a few essential documents that are universally required for entry into the United States. These documents include a valid passport, visa documentation, an Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94), and a completed Customs Declaration Form (CBP Form 6059B). In addition to these core documents, there may be additional requirements based on your visa category or specific circumstances.


Preparing and organizing the necessary documents well in advance of your trip can save you from unnecessary stress and potential complications. It is advisable to familiarize yourself with the requirements and gather all the necessary paperwork well ahead of your departure date.


In this guide, we will discuss the key documents required at a U.S. port of entry. From passports and visas to customs forms and supporting documentation, we will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of what is needed to successfully navigate through immigration and customs when arriving in the United States.


Note that the information provided in this guide serves as a general overview of the required documents. It is always recommended to consult with the United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or your designated U.S. embassy or consulate for the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding entry requirements.



Your passport is the most essential document when traveling to the United States. It serves as your official identification and proof of citizenship or legal status in your home country. Without a valid passport, you will not be able to enter the United States.


To meet the entry requirements, your passport must satisfy the following criteria:

  • Validity: Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States. It is important to check your passport’s expiration date well in advance and renew it if necessary.
  • Condition: Your passport should be in good condition, with no significant damage to the pages or cover. Any alterations or tampering may result in refusal of entry into the United States.
  • Biographical Information: Your passport should contain accurate and up-to-date personal information, including your full name, date of birth, and a recent photograph.

It is crucial to remember that passport requirements may vary depending on your nationality. Certain countries may have specific agreements or visa waiver programs with the United States, allowing travelers to enter with alternative travel documents. It is always recommended to consult your country’s embassy or consulate for precise passport requirements before your journey.


It is also advisable to make a copy of your passport’s bio page and store it separately from your actual passport. In case of loss or theft, having a copy can expedite the replacement process.


Always ensure that your passport is kept secure during your travel. Avoid giving it to unauthorized individuals, and be cautious when providing it for necessary purposes, such as airline check-in or hotel registration.


Remember, your passport is your key to the United States. Keep it safe, ensure its validity, and make it the first item on your checklist when traveling to the United States.


Visa Documentation

If you are not a citizen of a visa-exempt country or traveling under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you will typically need a visa to enter the United States. The visa documentation is an essential requirement for entry into the country.


The type of visa you need will depend on the purpose of your visit, such as tourism, business, education, or employment. The specific visa category will determine the application process, requirements, and duration of stay allowed in the United States.


Here are some key points to consider regarding visa documentation:

  • Visa Application: Before traveling to the United States, you must apply for a visa at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country. The application process usually involves completing an online form, paying the required fees, and attending an interview at the embassy or consulate.
  • Visa Validity: Your visa will have an expiration date that indicates the last day you can use it to enter the United States. It is important to check the validity dates on your visa to ensure it is still valid for your intended travel dates.
  • Visa Category: Each visa category has specific requirements and limitations. For example, a B-1 visa is for temporary business visitors, while an F-1 visa is for students. Make sure you have applied for the correct visa category that aligns with your travel purpose.
  • Multiple Entry vs. Single Entry: Some visas allow for multiple entries, which means you can enter and exit the United States multiple times within the visa’s validity period. Others may only permit a single entry, allowing you to enter the United States once and remain for the duration specified on your visa.

It is important to note that having a valid visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. The final decision rests with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry. They will assess your admissibility based on various factors, including the purpose of your visit, ties to your home country, and compliance with U.S. immigration laws.


Keep in mind that some travelers may be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program, which allows citizens of certain countries to enter the United States for tourism or business purposes without a visa. However, even under the VWP, you still need to complete the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) application before boarding a flight to the United States.


Always ensure that you have the necessary visa documentation before your trip and double-check the requirements specific to your visa category. Being well-prepared with the correct visa will help facilitate a smooth entry into the United States.


Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94)

The Arrival-Departure Record, also known as Form I-94, is an important document that records the arrival and departure of non-U.S. citizens when they enter or depart the United States. It serves as evidence of legal entry and status while in the country.


Prior to April 2013, a physical I-94 card was issued to travelers upon arrival in the United States. However, the process has now transitioned to an electronic system, and most travelers no longer receive a physical card. Instead, the details of your admission, including the date of entry, visa status, and authorized period of stay, are now accessible online.


Here are a few key points about the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94):

  • Online Retrieval: You can access your electronic I-94 record by visiting the official U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website. Enter your passport information, visa details, and other required information to retrieve your I-94 admission record.
  • Authorized Stay: The Form I-94 specifies the duration for which you are permitted to legally stay in the United States. It is essential to adhere to the authorized period and depart the country before the expiration date. If you need to extend your stay, you must apply for an extension with the appropriate U.S. immigration authority.
  • Proof of Legal Status: The I-94 record serves as proof of legal entry and status in the United States. It is crucial to keep a copy of your I-94 record for your records, as it may be required for various purposes, such as employment verification or future immigration applications.
  • I-94 Automation: The transition to the electronic I-94 record has streamlined the process and reduced paperwork. However, it is still important to review your electronic record for accuracy and report any discrepancies to the appropriate authorities.

It is vital to understand that the Form I-94 is separate from your visa and passport. Even if your visa is still valid, your authorized period of stay in the United States may differ based on the information provided on your I-94 record.


Upon departure from the United States, your departure is recorded electronically, and there is no need to surrender the physical I-94 card. It is recommended to keep a record of your departure, such as boarding passes or travel itineraries, as supporting documentation.


Ensure that you access and review your electronic Form I-94 after your arrival in the United States to confirm the accuracy of the information provided. Being aware of your authorized stay and maintaining proof of legal entry will help you stay in compliance with U.S. immigration laws during your time in the country.


Customs Declaration Form (CBP Form 6059B)

When entering the United States, all travelers, including U.S. citizens, are required to complete a Customs Declaration Form, also known as CBP Form 6059B. This form provides vital information to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) about the goods you are bringing into the country.


Here are some key points to consider regarding the Customs Declaration Form:

  • Familiarize Yourself with the Form: Before your arrival in the United States, it is helpful to familiarize yourself with the CBP Form 6059B. The form is readily available on airline carriers, at airports, and on the CBP website. You can even complete the form in advance to save time at the port of entry.
  • Declaration of Goods: The form requires you to declare the items you are bringing into the United States, including merchandise, currency, firearms, food, and agricultural products. Be honest and complete the form accurately.
  • Accurate Valuation: When declaring items, provide accurate valuations to ensure compliance with customs regulations. Underestimating or failing to declare valuable items can lead to penalties or confiscation.
  • Exempt Items: Certain items may be exempt from declaration, such as personal effects, clothing, and items intended for personal use during your trip. There are also specific exemptions for gifts, medications, and certain types of food. Check the CBP website for detailed information on exemptions.
  • Prohibited and Restricted Items: Be aware of items that are prohibited or have restrictions on entry into the United States. Examples include illegal drugs, counterfeit goods, certain agricultural products, and endangered species. It is crucial to understand and comply with these regulations.
  • Nexus and Trusted Traveler Programs: If you are a member of a trusted traveler program, such as Global Entry or NEXUS, you may have expedited clearance upon arrival. However, even with these programs, you still need to complete a truncated version of the CBP Form 6059B.

Once you have completed the Customs Declaration Form, submit it to the CBP officer when you reach the inspection area at the port of entry. They may ask specific questions about the items you declared or conduct further inspections, depending on the information provided.


It is crucial to note that providing false or incomplete information on the Customs Declaration Form can lead to severe consequences, including fines and even criminal charges. Therefore, it is essential to be truthful and transparent when completing the form.


By properly declaring your items and following customs regulations, you can help ensure a smooth transition through the port of entry and avoid any unnecessary delays or issues with customs authorities.


Travel Itinerary and Confirmation

When arriving at a U.S. port of entry, it is beneficial to have your travel itinerary and confirmation readily available. These documents provide essential information about your trip and can assist in the immigration and customs process.


Here are some key points to consider regarding your travel itinerary and confirmation:

  • Flight Details: Have a copy of your flight itinerary, including the airline, flight number, and arrival and departure times. This information helps immigration officers verify your travel plans and ensure that your duration of stay aligns with your arrival and departure dates.
  • Accommodation Details: Keep a record of your hotel reservations, including the name, address, and contact information of your accommodations in the United States. This is valuable information for immigration officers to validate your intended stay and destination while in the country.
  • Purpose of Travel: Be prepared to provide information about the purpose of your visit, such as tourism, business meetings, conferences, or educational programs. Immigration officers may ask about your travel intentions to ensure they align with the visa category you are traveling under.
  • Proof of Return: Carry evidence of your return or onward journey, such as a confirmed flight booking or bus ticket. This demonstrates to immigration officers that you have plans to leave the United States within the authorized period of stay.
  • Additional Supporting Documents: Depending on the nature of your trip, you may need additional supporting documents. For example, if you are attending a conference, carry the conference registration confirmation. If you have a meeting or business-related activities, have any relevant documentation prepared. These additional documents can help support the purpose of your visit.

Having your travel itinerary and confirmation easily accessible allows for a smoother process at the port of entry. Immigration officers may request these documents, especially if they need to further verify the details of your visit.


It is important to note that while presenting your travel itinerary and confirmation can be helpful, these documents do not guarantee entry into the United States. The final decision rests with the immigration officer, who will consider various factors related to your admissibility.


By organizing and carrying your travel itinerary and confirmation, you can provide the necessary information promptly and demonstrate your preparedness to comply with U.S. immigration requirements.


Supporting Documents for Visa Category

Depending on your visa category, you may be required to present additional supporting documents at the U.S. port of entry. These documents provide evidence and further validate the purpose of your visit, ensuring compliance with the specific requirements of your visa category.


Here are some examples of supporting documents that may be required based on different visa categories:

  • Tourism/Visitor Visa (B-1/B-2): If you are visiting the United States for tourism or leisure, you may be asked for proof of hotel reservations, tour itineraries, or tickets to specific attractions or events you plan to attend during your stay.
  • Student Visa (F-1/M-1): Students entering the United States may need to present their Form I-20, which is issued by their educational institution, along with acceptance letters, financial support documents, and evidence of payment for tuition and fees.
  • Work Visa (H-1B, L-1, etc.): Employees entering the United States for work purposes would typically need to provide their employment offer letters, contract agreements, and supporting documents related to their position and employer.
  • Exchange Visitor Visa (J-1): Participants in exchange visitor programs may need to present their DS-2019 form, which is provided by their designated program sponsor. This document outlines the details of their program and duration of stay in the United States.
  • Investor Visa (E-2): Investors and business owners entering the United States under the E-2 visa category may be asked for documentation proving their investment, business plan, and financial viability.

It is important to note that the specific supporting documents required can vary depending on the visa category and individual circumstances. It is crucial to consult the U.S. embassy or consulate or refer to the official websites of the relevant U.S. government agencies for accurate and up-to-date information regarding your visa category.


Gathering and organizing the necessary supporting documents in advance can help streamline the immigration process and demonstrate your eligibility and compliance with U.S. immigration regulations.


Remember, supporting documents are meant to provide evidence and strengthen your case for entry into the United States. Being prepared and having the appropriate documentation readily available will contribute to a smoother experience at the port of entry.


Prescribed Fees

When entering the United States, there are certain fees that you may be required to pay. These fees cover various services and processes related to immigration, customs, and entry into the country. It is important to be aware of these prescribed fees and be prepared to pay them when necessary.


Here are some key points regarding the prescribed fees:

  • Visa Application Fees: When applying for a nonimmigrant visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, there is typically a visa application fee that must be paid. The fee varies depending on the visa category and is non-refundable, even if the visa is not granted.
  • Visa Issuance Fees: In addition to the visa application fee, certain individuals may be subject to visa issuance fees. These fees apply to specific visa categories and nationalities and are collected upon visa approval.
  • Immigration and Customs Fees: Depending on your immigration status or purpose of entry, there may be additional fees for certain processes or services. For example, if you are adjusting your status to become a permanent resident, there are government filing fees associated with the application.
  • TSA Security Fee: If you are traveling by air, a Transportation Security Administration (TSA) security fee is included in your ticket price. This fee helps fund aviation security measures across U.S. airports.
  • Customs Fees: At certain ports of entry, there may be customs fees for specific items brought into the United States. These fees vary based on the type of goods being imported and may require payment upon arrival.

It is important to note that fees can change periodically, so it is crucial to check the official U.S. government websites or consult with the appropriate authorities for the most up-to-date fee information.


Ensure that you have sufficient funds or payment methods, such as credit cards or cash, to cover the prescribed fees when you arrive at the U.S. port of entry. It is advisable to have the exact amount or acceptable forms of payment to avoid any delays or complications.


Being aware of the prescribed fees and having the necessary funds ready will help streamline your entry process and ensure that you are in compliance with the immigration and customs regulations of the United States.


Biometrics and Interviews

As part of the entry process into the United States, certain travelers may be required to undergo biometric collection and interviews at the port of entry. These measures play a crucial role in ensuring the security and integrity of the immigration system.


Here are some key points to consider regarding biometrics and interviews:

  • Biometric Collection: Biometrics refers to unique physical characteristics, such as fingerprints and facial features. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) may collect biometric data from travelers, especially non-U.S. citizens, as part of the admission process. This information is used for identity verification and confirmation of immigration status.
  • Fingerprinting: Fingerprints are commonly collected using inkless digital scanners or biometric kiosks at the port of entry. These fingerprints may be cross-checked against various databases to determine admissibility or verify identity.
  • Facial Recognition: Facial recognition technology is increasingly being used at airports and other ports of entry. Cameras capture travelers’ facial images, which are then compared against photos in government databases for verification purposes.
  • Interviews: Immigration officers have the authority to conduct interviews with travelers at the port of entry. These interviews are designed to assess the purpose of travel, validate the provided documentation, and ensure compliance with U.S. immigration laws.
  • Questioning and Documentation Review: During interviews, officers may ask questions about your travel plans, the purpose of your visit, your ties to your home country, and other relevant information. They may also review your passport, visa, supporting documents, and travel itineraries to verify the details provided.
  • Admissibility Determination: Based on the biometric data collected and the information obtained during the interview process, immigration officers make a determination on the admissibility of the traveler. This decision considers factors such as the nature of the visit, compliance with immigration laws, and adherence to visa requirements.

It is important to approach biometric collection and interviews with cooperation and truthfulness. Answer questions honestly and provide relevant information as requested. Being prepared with the necessary documents and understanding the purpose of your visit will help you navigate the interview process more smoothly.


Remember, the purpose of biometrics and interviews is to maintain the security and integrity of the U.S. immigration system. By cooperating and providing accurate information, you contribute to the overall safety and efficiency of the entry process into the United States.


Additional Documents for Specific Circumstances

In certain circumstances, travelers may be required to present additional documents at the U.S. port of entry. These circumstances could be related to specific visa categories, special travel situations, or individual admissibility factors. Understanding these additional document requirements can help ensure a smoother entry process into the United States.


Here are a few examples of specific circumstances that may require additional documentation:

  • Minor Travelers: If a minor is traveling without both parents or legal guardians, there may be additional requirements. These can include a notarized consent letter from the absent parent(s), legal custody documents, or proof of relationship.
  • Visiting Family or Friends: If you are visiting family or friends in the United States, you may be asked to present an invitation letter from the host, along with their contact information and supporting documents demonstrating their status and ability to accommodate you during your stay.
  • Medical Treatment: If you are traveling to the United States for medical treatment, you may need to provide relevant medical records, a letter from your treating physician, and proof of financial support for the treatment and related expenses.
  • Pet Travel: If you are traveling with a pet, you may need to present documentation such as a health certificate issued by a veterinarian and proof of vaccinations. It is important to check the specific requirements for bringing pets into the United States.
  • Criminal Record: Individuals with prior criminal records or certain visa ineligibilities may be required to provide additional documentation. This can include court records, police clearance certificates, and evidence of rehabilitation or waivers, if applicable.

These are just a few examples, and the additional documents required may vary based on individual circumstances. It is crucial to consult the appropriate U.S. government agencies or seek legal advice to understand the specific requirements relevant to your situation.


As each case is unique, having the necessary additional documents readily available when required can help demonstrate your eligibility and provide immigration officers with the information they need to make an informed decision regarding your entry into the United States.



Entering the United States requires careful preparation and understanding of the necessary documents and procedures at the port of entry. By being aware of the key documents needed and adhering to the requirements, you can ensure a smooth and successful entry into the country.


Throughout this guide, we have discussed the essential documents required at a U.S. port of entry. These include a valid passport, appropriate visa documentation, the Arrival-Departure Record (Form I-94), the Customs Declaration Form (CBP Form 6059B), and supporting documents specific to your visa category or circumstances. Additionally, we have highlighted the importance of biometrics and interviews, as well as the prescribed fees that may apply to your travel.


It is essential to familiarize yourself with the specific requirements and ensure that all necessary documents are in order well before your travel date. Keep copies of your important documents, such as your passport and visa, in a secure location separate from the originals.


Remember that even with the necessary documents, final approval for entry is determined by U.S. immigration officers at the port of entry. It is important to interact respectfully, answer their questions truthfully, and provide any requested information or documents promptly.


As immigration regulations and requirements may change over time, it is essential to stay updated with the latest guidance. Visit the official websites of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and your respective U.S. embassy or consulate for the most accurate and current information.


By understanding and fulfilling the document requirements, being well-prepared, and complying with U.S. immigration laws, you can ensure a smooth and efficient entry into the United States, setting the stage for an enjoyable and successful visit, business trip, or study experience.