Enjoy Very Long Exposures With Will Cheung And MPB

Can I Use An ESTA For Photography Work In The USA?

As a photographer heading to the USA, make sure you have the write forms filled out before you get on your plane to avoid headaches once you reach the USA boarder.

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Can I Use An ESTA For Photography Work In The USA?: Camera and map


Currently, there is a higher demand for travel that has been putting quite a bit of stress and strain on the tourism industry. There are stories of long airport lines, people missing flights, and suitcases going missing... yet, most travellers are happy to get back out there it would seem. If you're one of these people and you're planning a trip to the USA, remember you will have a few extra forms to fill out and one of the questions many professional photographers have when entering the USA is if they'll need a Visa or if just an ESTA form will be enough. Get this right before your travel and it's one less thing you'll have to worry about.

Any average photographer travelling on holiday will only need an ESTA. There might be a chance that you are questioned about having such expensive equipment with you, but it will be easy to see that you are simply going on holiday. For professional photographers, there are differing opinions on whether you can travel to the USA without obtaining a work visa There is a small chance that if you are carrying expensive equipment with you that no one will blink an eye and whether you have a business visa or an ESTA won’t really matter. 

Whether or not you need a visa to do on-site shoots is a point of contention between professional photographers. Many photographers think that it is not necessary to get a business visa and that a simple ESTA will suffice. They might be absolutely right in some scenarios. For example, if both the photographer and the client are from the UK, then technically the payment is not from a US company. In this case, the argument for simply applying for an ESTA works. However, if the client is from the USA, then the argument gets a bit trickier. 


Can I Use An ESTA For Photography Work In The USA?: Camera in the landscape


An ESTA is a quicker, faster travel authorisation that doesn’t require interviews or appointments at embassies. Technically, with an ESTA some business can be done. For example, meetings, attending a conference and small jobs paid by your employer or a client from outside the USA all technically count as possible under the ESTA. For those who plan to do several professional, paid shoots by clients that are American, then this becomes a bit more of a blurry area.

There is a huge chance that nothing will happen. However, if you come across the wrong border patrol officer, then it could mean being denied entry. If denied entry even just once, it will affect future travel, not just in the USA, but possibly in other countries. For some photographers, this has never been an issue. For others, being a bit cautious is worth not being worried while travelling. 

If you intend to go to the USA for a paid photoshoot, but also plan on doing a bit of sightseeing, then your best option is to apply for a B1/B2 visa instead of just an ESTA. This visa is for both a combination of travel and business. Allowing you to do any shoots necessary, then take a break, go sightseeing, or do any recreational activity. These types of visas are valid for up to 6 months, which is handy to know when booking other activities or trying to combine photo shoots. If needed, it is usually possible to extend this visa by another 6 months if necessary.

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thewilliam2 Avatar
thewilliam2 6 1.7k United Kingdom
22 Aug 2022 2:00PM
A few years back, a fellow delegate at a photographic workshop had been denied entry to the USA because she had expensive cameras and cheap clothes. The final nail in the coffin was when Customs found a portfolio album in her luggage.

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