Citizens of most countries don’t need a visa to enter the United States but if you’re from a Visa Waiver Program country, you do need to complete an electronic form (called an ESTA) that pre-approves you to travel.
This ESTA costs $14 U.S. and is provided through an official U.S. government website. You’re generally given 90 days to see the country.
Longer trips will require you to apply for a 6-month visa well in advance of leaving.
Another catch to be aware of is that the U.S. authorities don’t consider you’ve left America until you go to another continent. This can lead to some difficult situations. You can’t exit to Mexico, Canada or the nearby islands and then come back to the United States on a new VWP permit.
This does complicate things (and yes, it applies to multi-entry visas too) so think your route through carefully.
Finally, there’s a form called the I-94. You get it when you arrive and you must hand it in when you leave. However, the U.S. authorities don’t always make it clear where you’re supposed to hand this thing in. Just make sure you do. As Sonya and Ali of Tour.tk say:
“Quite often, you’ll find yourself off American soil, smelling the barbeque chicken and preparing yourself for the entourage of taxi touts, when you realise you are still in possession of this official piece of paper. If in doubt, ask one of the immigration authorities to point you in the right direction. Sometimes handing it in through the wired gate is sufficient to get it into the right hands.”
The only way to get around all this paperwork is to become a Canadian citizen! They more or less waltz right through all of this and get 6 months to see the country on arrival.
Here’s the good news: at least you don’t have to worry about cleaning your bike thoroughly before arrival. U.S. customs inspectors aren’t nearly as strict about soil and seeds as their Australian and New Zealand counterparts. Just don’t bring your supermarket’s entire produce section with you…