Want to travel to the United States to test your endurance and strength or compete for the big bucks in a fitness competition? If you are not a US green card holder or a US citizen, getting to the States to participate in athletic and fitness competitions will require being proactive about obtaining the requisite immigration documentation in order to enter the country. Whether it is Hawaii’s famous Iron Man competition, the illustrious Boston Marathon or strutting your stuff in a bodybuilding competition, you will need either a US visa or a travel authorization through the Electronic System for Travel Authorization.
The same goes for folks coming to the US to attend these kinds of events as a spectator. This article gives a brief overview of what US immigration law requires for individuals whose purpose of travel to the USA is fitness or health-related.
Why Do I Need a Visa or ESTA Authorization to go to the United States?
United States immigration authorities try to keep tight tabs over who is entering and exiting the country (much more so the former than the latter, actually), and will only allow in persons who qualify under US immigration law for one of the legal statuses outlined therein. If a person does not qualify for one of the visa classifications, they do not get a visa and cannot enter the USA. In other words, one must prove that they meet what is required by one of the visa classifications to get permission to enter the country. Airlines are not supposed to let a person without the proper immigration documentation board a flight for the US (same goes for cruise ships), and individuals who show up at land border crossings without it will be denied entry.
What is the Difference Between a Visa and ESTA Authorization, and Which do I Need?
A visa and a travel authorization issued through ESTA are essentially the same in that they both allow one to “apply for admission” to the US. They are different in the sense that to get a visa one must apply at a US embassy or consulate and go there for an interview, as where the process for getting an ESTA travel authorization is much simpler – one does this online, printing off the form the system generates. If you are coming to the USA for business or pleasure (more on this below) you will need a B1/B2 visa (i.e., a US tourist visa, or a US visitor visa) unless you are from one of the 37 countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program and you meet a few other conditions. In that case, you can travel with an ESTA authorization and do not need a visa. To see if you qualify for the Visa Waiver Program, check out the “visas” section of the US Department of State website.
Which Type of Visa Should I Apply for to go to the USA for Fitness or Health Reasons?
Persons going to the US for fitness or health reasons, including participating in events like races or other such contests (where one is not paid just for showing up – getting prize money for winning or finishing high is fine) should seek a B1/B2 visa. The tourist visa allows one to go to the USA for short trips (actually, one is usually admitted for up to 6 months), including for the purpose of competing in athletic competitions and for other fitness-related activities.
Because this falls within the “business or pleasure” category of reasons for travel to the United States, a person from a Visa Waiver Program country and who otherwise qualifies can travel with an ESTA authorization, as opposed to having to actually get a US tourist visa, to participate in these kinds of events. The same goes for people planning to go to the United States to watch athletic and fitness-related events and competition – the too should seek a B1/B2 visa, or an ESTA travel authorization if they are a passport holder of one of the Visa Waiver Program countries.