Travel Resources

international travel

Note: If you have submitted an abstract for an upcoming meeting or workshop, please request your invitation letter as soon as possible so that you have enough time for the visa application process. MRS does not recommend waiting for abstract status notification before requesting an invitation letter. Learn more about requesting a letter.

Electronic System for Travel Authorization

Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), introduced in January 2009, requires all international travelers from Visa Waiver Program* (VWP) countries to register in an online database. The online travel authorization is easy to use and available in more than 16 languages. Applications may be submitted at any time prior to travel; however, DHS recommends that applications be submitted no less than 72 hours prior to travel.

Inbound travelers to the United States from VWP countries may be denied boarding by the airlines if they haven’t complied with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Electronic System for Travel Authorization program. All nationals or citizens of VWP countries who plan to travel to the United States for temporary business or pleasure under the VWP need to receive an electronic travel authorization prior to boarding a U.S.-bound airplane or cruise ship.

Effective September 8, 2010, all ESTA registration applications or renewals will require a $14.00 fee payment by credit or debit card. Existing ESTA registrations remain valid through their expiration date. For more information, please visit the ESTA page on the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection website.

According to the ESTA website, “VWP travelers who have not received an ESTA approval … may be denied boarding. CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection] will handle emergencies on a case-by-case basis.” Airlines risk fines if they allow travelers to board without the proper documentation.

International travelers to the United States can go to the ESTA website to fill out an application before entering the country by air or sea. If approved, the authorization is good for two years and can be renewed. Travelers no longer have to fill out an I-94W form before each trip. U.S. officials say ESTA will speed up the process for travelers, enable customs officials to screen passengers in advance and improve security.

Travelers unable to access a U.S. government website may register through travel agents or airline websites.

The ESTA requirement does not affect U.S. citizens returning from overseas, people from VWP countries traveling on a valid U.S. visa or travelers from non-VWP nations.

*The United States Visa Waiver Program countries include Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Chile, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.

Learn more about ESTA.

Invitation Letter

International attendees of MRS meetings often need a letter of invitation from MRS in order to obtain a visa to visit the US.

Because of increased scrutiny of visa applicants, many potential attendees of scientific meetings in the United States have experienced unusual delays in obtaining travel visas.

If you need a letter of invitation from MRS and have not yet requested it, please contact Paula Mahar, and she will forward it as soon as possible.

In order to compose and send your letter, she will need:

  • Control ID number (the number assigned to your abstract when you submitted it)

  • Email address

  • Complete mailing address

Applying for a Nonimmigrant Visa

From the U.S. Embassy in Moscow:

The U.S. Embassy Moscow's Consular Section reminds applicants that additional administrative processing is often required for individuals involved in scientific or technical fields of work or study. The possibility that your visa may be subject to additional processing is not regarded as an emergency for the purpose of granting expedited business appointments.

From the U.S. Embassy in China:

The U.S. Embassies in China recommend that business travelers and tourists make their appointment early and interview as far in advance of their planned travel as possible. Applying several months in advance will ensure that the embassy has the necessary time to conduct the interview, review the application, and determine whether a visa can be issued. The majority of visas can be processed in several days; however, some visa applications require additional administrative processing. Administrative processing for business and tourist visas is currently taking about 16 weeks.

The average visa processing wait time is the number of working days after a consular officer decides to issue a visa, for the passport and visa to be returned to the applicant. The majority of visas in Beijing are processed and returned to the applicant within several days.

Average visa processing wait time DOES NOT include the time required for administrative processing. These procedures require additional time. When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on individual circumstances of each case. Visa processing wait times can change.

Administrative processing for student and exchange visitor visas is currently taking approximately six to eight weeks.

Administrative processing for other classes of visas is currently taking approximately 14-16 weeks.

Other International Travel Resources

    As of January 5, 2004, the US-VISIT program is in effect. Most foreign visitors to the U.S. will now have their two index fingers scanned, and a digital photograph will be taken at your port of entry.

  • Visa Waiver Program—Complete Information
    The Visa Waiver Program could dramatically affect your ability to enter the U.S., and we highly recommend that you learn more about the program now. The Visa Waiver Program enables nationals of certain countries to travel to the United States for tourism or business for stays of 90 days or less without obtaining a visa. Currently, 37 countries participate in the Visa Waiver Program.

  • Voluntary Applications for Visa Waiver Program
    Complete information regarding Electronic System Travel Authorization (ESTA)

  • National Academies International Visitor Office
    The National Academies International Visitor Office has resolved more than 93% of visa processing problems that were brought to their attention. If you have applied for your visa and are having difficulties, please contact The National Academies International Visitors Office and complete a questionnaire to request assistance.

  • U.S. State Department  

  • TSA Secure Flight Program
    Secure Flight is a behind-the-scenes program that enhances the security of domestic and international commercial air travel through the use of improved watch list matching. Collecting additional passenger data improves the travel experience for all airline passengers, including those who have been misidentified in the past.When passengers travel, they are required to provide the following Secure Flight Passenger Data (SFPD) to the airline:

    • Name (as it appears on government-issued ID the passenger plans to use when traveling)

    • Date of Birth

    • Gender

    • Redress Number (if applicable)