Visa Information for Inernational PCT Hikers

Overview

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) is a destination for hikers from all over the world. I have seen estimates saying as many as 1/4 PCT thru-hikers are foreign citizens. It’s incredibly challenging to plan logistics for a PCT hike and even more so for international hikers.

International hikers have the added stress of navigating the highly regulated waters of US visa’s. On this page we’ve put together a lot of information about visas to help answer questions for international hikers. Keep in mind, we aren’t representatives of the US Government or Pacific Crest Trail Association so can’t make any guarantees about the constantly changing regulations. We’re just a resource with the hope of making it easier for you to come to the US and have an awesome experience on the PCT.

Facebook group for international PCT hikers!

We created a facebook group exclusively for international hikers interested in the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). The group consists of experienced PCT finishers as well as people just beginning to plan a trip. It’s a place for you to get answers to your questions from your peers and be there for fellow hikers.

Visas

If you’re coming the US for any amount of time as a foreign citizen chances are you will need to obtain a visa from the US Department of State. There are many different types of visas and even different rules depending on which country you’re a citizen of and how long you expect to say.

We have the information below split into the following categories:

Coming to the US for longer than 90 days.

Citizen of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating country and visiting the US for less than 90 days.

Citizen of Canada or Bermuda and visiting the US for less than 6 months.

Coming to the US for longer than 90 days

Most PCT thru-hikers fall into this category. The other common exceptions are listed below on this page so make sure to check those out as well but you will likely fall into this category. There’s different types of Visas that you can read about on this page of the US Department of State’s website. PCT hikers are coming to the US fall into the category of “tourism, pleasure or visiting” which means you’re going to be needing a B2 visa. 

What is a B2 Visa?

A B2 is a type of Visa that the US Department of State requires non-immigrant non-citizens to obtain to visit the US for the purpose of tourism. It’s quite the long process to obtain a B2 visa so make sure that you are on top of this once you get your permit approved.

B2 visas have a validity of 10 years and are good for a 6 month visit. One of the advantages to obtaining this visa is you can freely travel back to the United States any time within that 10 year period (for no longer than 6 months in any 12 month period). The only alternative to getting this type of Visa is if you are going to be in the US for less than 90 days and are a citizen of a Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participating country. There’s more information about that further down on this page.

How do i get a B2 visa?

The process of getting a B2 visa can be different depending your local US Embassy. Before getting started you should check the website of your local Embassy review their specific process for applying for a visa.

The likely next step you’ll have to take is filling out the online nonimmigrant Visa Application. The application is called Form DS-160 which you can learn more about by going to this website. Form DS-160 takes a few hours to complete usually so make sure to set aside enough time.

The next steps are to pay the $160 application fee and to schedule and attend your visa interview. You should definitely go to this website and review the payment and interview information. Keep in mind in your interview that the interviewer might not be aware of what the PCT is or that people go hiking for months at a time. Be prepared to explain that to them.

Make sure that you take these things to your interview: 1. Passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond what your expected stay in the US is. 2. Form DS160 confirmation page 3. Receipt of application fee payment. 4. A printed photo of you. Follow these photo requirements. You’ll need to upload one when filling out your application.

Remember, these steps change depending on your origin country so make sure to check with them first. Also, we are in no way an official representative or affiliated with the US Government and they’re regulations may change.

Can I extend my stay?

It is possible but not guaranteed. To do this you need to deal with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The form you need to submit is called the Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status referred to as Form I-539. It’s important you submit this before your authorized stay expires which will be on your Form I-94.

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) participants cannot apply for an extension.

It is recommended that you apply for the extension at least 6 weeks before the date on your I-94. Check out this webpage for more information on extending the stay on your B2 visa.

Citizen of VWP country and in the us for less than 90 days

Visa Waiver Program (VWP) Participating Countries

AndorraLiechtenstein
AustraliaLithuania
AustriaLithuania
BelgiumLuxembourg
BruneiMalta
ChileMonaco
Czech RepublicNetherlands
DenmarkNew Zealand
EstoniaNorway
FinlandPortugal
FranceSan Marino
GermanySingapore
GreeceSlovakia
HungarySlovenia
IcelandSouth Korea
IrelandSpain
ItalySweden
JapanTaiwan
LatviaUnited Kingdom

This is only applicable if you’re going to be in the US for less than 90 total days and a citizen of a VWP participating country! 

How do I know if I am a citizen of a VWP participating country? Look in the table on this page! 

If you are a citizen of a VWP participating country then you are most likely eligible to come to the US for up to 90 days without applying for a Visa. Obviously, this isn’t enough time for you to hike the entire trail (unless you’re going after the record) so won’t be an option for thru-hikers even if you’re a citizen of a VWP participating country. This option is excellent for hikers that are coming to the US to hike sections of the trail.

You still must meet the following requirements:

  • Have Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) approval. ESTA is an automated online system put together by the US government to determine your eligibility to travel using the VWP. To get approved go to the ESTA website.
  • Even if you are a citizen of a VWP participating country, you cannot be a national of Syria, Iraq, Iran or Sudan.
  • Have not traveled to Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen since 2011.
  • Have a valid passport that is valid for at least 6 months after you plan to leave the US.
  • You must have an e-passport.
  • If you are a British citizen, according to the US Department of State “British citizens must have the unrestricted right of permanent abode in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.”

It’s important to know that if you enter the US using this program you cannot extend your stay. Also, if for whatever reason you are a citizen of a VWP participant country but didn’t meet one of the other requirements then you are still able to apply for a B2 visa, discussed elsewhere on this page.

If you’re coming from a VWP participating country but intend on being in the US for longer than 90 days then see the section above with information on B2 visas.

Citizen of Canada or Bermuda here for less than 6 months

For the most part, If you’re a citizen of Canada or Bermuda, you do not need to apply for a Visa when coming to the US as a tourist for less than 6 months. There are exceptions to this rules but chances are if you meet one of those exceptions (such as being a NATO official……..) then you’re already aware of those exceptions. This isn’t to say that you won’t have to do some explaining to the Border Patrol officer that has never heard of people hiking in the middle of nowhere for months at a time. But hopefully you won’t look as homeless at the beginning of your trip (you definitely will at the end). 

Are you planning a PCT hike?

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