Form I-94: Documents for Visiting the U.S.

Posted by Frank Gogol

Are you planning a trip to the U.S. soon? Or do you need to provide some documents for your immigration attempts? In both of these cases, you need to know about a critical document.

Form I-94 is paramount to the success of your trip or immigration attempts. Let’s take a look at how it works and how you can get it.

What is Form I-94?

Form I-94 is called an Arrival/Departure Form and is an official document issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Since May 2019 it is actually no longer required to be a physical document. The CBP keeps track of these with an electronic system. You can request a physical copy but it is not required.

The CBP issues you a unique alphanumeric I-94 number that consists of 11 characters. The first 9 characters are digits, the 10th character is a letter, and the last is a digit. Any previous issued I-94 numbers in the old format will remain valid until they reach their expiry date (called an Admit Until Date). Keep an eye on the CBP website for I-94 related information.

Difference Between Form I-94 and Form I-94W

Previously the government required any travelers from countries part of the Visa Waiver Program to complete a Form I-94W upon arrival. These people did not get a Form I-94 but a Form I-94W. It also used to be a physical form like the I-94 but it’s only issued to travelers part of a visa waiver program (typically, people arriving by land from Canada). However, that being said, the Form I-94W is no longer in use.

How Form I-94 Works

Form I-94 is no longer a physical document. The U.S. government keeps your travel authorization records in an electronic system. It’s called the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). You don’t have to complete a physical form upon your arrival/departure. Your travel details are captured on the system and recorded for reference purposes.

The initial issuing of your Form I-94 is dependent on your visa during that time. Some visas (like a tourist visa) may allow multiple entries and exits for a specific period. But the Admit Until Date could end before your visa validity. That does not mean you may not enter again in the future, but it does require you to exit the U.S. and reenter at a later stage.

A Form I-94 also does not replace a visa. It has a different purpose. It records your entries and departures at U.S. borders. You need both a visa and an I-94 to be on U.S. territory. It’s also not a physical form, although you can use the I-94 website to see your latest visitor status.

How to Apply for Form I-94

So how do you get this form? What do you need to do and where can you apply for it? This is how it works.

Get Your Visa

You can’t enter the U.S. without a visa. Determine the purpose of your visit and apply for a visa accordingly. Ask the help of a U.S. immigration attorney if you are unsure about the best visa for your needs. Apply and follow the procedures required by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).

People from countries included in the Visa Waiver Program don’t need a visa because their passports grant them entry at a U.S. border. They may not need a visa but they do need a passport from a country included in the visa waiver program.

Apply Online and Pay

Apply online for your Form I-94 up to 7 days before your arrival. This step helps to expedite the process. You’ll save some time at the border crossing. Also, pay the fee online to save more time and effort when the CBP processes your information on arrival.

Please note, this step is merely a preliminary step to save time when your details are processed at a U.S. border crossing. This does not guarantee an I-94, it only helps to eliminate the required administrative processes when you arrive. You still need to get your I-94 when you arrive.

Travel to the U.S.

Travel to the U.S. in your preferred method whether it is by airplane, boat, or motor vehicle. Enter through a recognized U.S. border crossing for the required processing.

Get Your I-94

Once you are at a U.S. border the CBP officials will process your details and determine whether you are eligible for a Form I-94. You typically need the following documents for an I-94:

  • Passport
  • Valid visa
  • Ticket confirming your method of travel

You could be required to produce more types of evidence. Ask an immigration attorney about the documents you’ll need. It depends on your visa and the conditions that apply to it. Once the processing is complete the CBP officials upload your details into the ESTA system and your digital I-94 is created. You don’t receive an actual copy of it, but you can request proof of your status as mentioned earlier. The CBP officer will stamp your passport to confirm admission. The stamp indicates your admission date as well as your Admitted Until Date.

Form I-94 Cost

You don’t have to wait until you get to the border crossing. You can pay your Form I-94 fee online up to 7 days before you enter the U.S. Simply go online and follow the promptings to pay your Form I-94. The fee is $6.

Form I-94 Processing Time

As mentioned earlier, you don’t get a physical copy of your I-94 when you arrive. So, you don’t have to for a physical copy to enter the U.S. A CBP officer grants you entry to the U.S. The CBP has said that individuals will be able to get their I-94s online within 2 days.

Form I-94 Frequently Asked Questions

Are you still wondering about a few things? Do you perhaps have some more questions? Here are some answers to the more frequently asked questions regarding Form I-94.

How will the new I-94 automation impact international travelers’ entry to the U.S.?

This new automation will not affect the traveler’s ability to enter the U.S. The CBP still creates a unique I-94 record for every traveler. The I-94 form is simply stored digitally. Travelers can request proof of an I-94 upon request.

Will CBP provide a traveler with any documentation or evidence showing status and time allowed in the U.S.?

Even though there aren’t any physical documentation created, the CBP provides a stamp in the passport of every traveler confirming details such as admission class, admission date, and admitted until date.

How does a traveler revalidate a visa without their I-94?

People who meet the conditions can revalidate a visa at the border crossing. The CBP confirms the I-94 in their systems since the whole procedure can be done electronically.

However, travelers need to provide a physical paper if entry happened before the automation of the system took place.

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You may come to the U.S. for many reasons. Maybe you came for business or perhaps for a holiday trip. Whatever the reason may be, you need a Form I-94 once you arrive. The system has been automated and you won’t get a physical copy of the form. You will, however, receive a stamp in your passport confirming the details contained in your I-94.

You can also request physical proof of your arrival/departure records on the I-94 website. Apply today to confirm your status.

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