US visa information for bands and musicians wanting to tour/ play/ record in the US.

Do I need a visa to go to the US.

If you are a New Zealand citizen then you are permitted to travel to the US in certain circumstances without a visa under the ESTA visa waiver program. The ESTA visa waiver permits travel for certain business or tourism activities for periods of up to 90 days with no option to extend the period granted.  You must leave the US before the 90 day period is complete (the actual permitted time period is dictated by the Border Control Officer on entry so you will need to check the date stamped in your passport to ensure there is no risk of overstaying).  While the ESTA authorisation is valid for 2 years, be aware that if you go to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean at the end of your 90 day period, you may encounter a problem when you attempt to re-enter the US if the CBP Officer thinks you are trying to "reset" the clock by making a short trip out of the U.S. and re-entering for another 90-day period, in which case you can be denied entry. If you are denied entry you will no longer be eligible to use ESTA and will have to obtain a visa for any future travel to the U.S.

Activities that are permitted under ESTA visa waiver.

Activities that are most relevant to musicians that are permitted without a visa under ESTA include :

1.         attending and/ or participating in social events such as conventions and conferences, for example the SXSW convention,( ie you could play a number of official SXSW gigs but not anywhere else,  whether paid a fee for your performance or not);

2.         performing at an amateur event (ie at a wedding or party) if there is no remuneration, though be aware that if claiming you are an “amateur” musician for a visa this time, then it may compromise your position with regards to applying for professional O or P temporary working visa in the near future;

3.         coming to utilise recording facilities in the US, (as long as no public performances will be given, and the recording will be distributed and sold outside the US only);

4.         coming to participate in a cultural program that is sponsored by the sending country, the performance will be before a non-paying audience and all expenses including per diems will be paid by the foreign government.

It is important to remember that the purpose of the ESTA visa waiver is temporary business and / or tourism, and you will need to be ready to prove your intentions are temporary and that you have ties to your residence in NZ, that you have the financial means to carry out your intended activities, and that your activities are within the permitted range of activities if need be.

The process of applying for the ESTA visa waiver is very simple and straightforward, so, if you are certain that your trip is going to be for 90 days or less, you are not otherwise ineligible to use ESTA, and your activities are firmly within the permitted activities listed above, then save your self some time and money and use the ESTA visa waiver, which costs a mere $14 and takes about 10 minutes to complete online. If you have previously been denied a visa or entry into the US, or you are ineligible to use ESTA for some reason (conviction of crime involving moral turpitude, drug charge, more than 1 DUI etc) then you will need to apply for a B visa.  If your activities are beyond those described here then you most likely will need to apply for a temporary working visa.  If you have any questions then please contact us.