UPDATED OCTOBER 2022
In early 2016 the US introduced a ruling which makes anyone who has visited Iran, Iraq, Syria, Somalia, Libya, Yemen or Sudan since 1 March 2011 no longer eligible for their visa waiver programme. Since January 2021, Cuba has also been added to this list. So, rather than obtaining an ESTA, if you have one of those country stamps in your passport you will need to apply for a visa at a US embassy or consulate.
Fortunately, acquiring a visa is a relatively simple process, involving twenty minutes completing a form online, and a maximum of a couple of hours at the US Embassy, and once acquired, your visa will be valid for ten years, so you won't need to repeat the process for some time. We feel that this is a small price to pay for the unforgettable experience of visiting Iran (and Sudan).
Marianne from our office has visited Iran a number of times with Wild Frontiers, and this year wanted to visit the US, so she had to go through the whole process. Here she talks through how to go about acquiring a US visa if you have an Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, Syria or Sudan stamp.
Step 1: Completing a DS160 form
This is a form you must complete to start your application. You complete the form here https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/. Be warned though, it is quite a detailed form and takes around 20 minutes. You will need to upload a passport style photo which should be 2 x 2 inches. You will also need your passport details to hand when completing the form, as well as the dates of any previous US visits in the last ten years. Upon submitting the last screen you will be given a confirmation which you need to print out and save.
Step 2: Arranging an interview
You now need to arrange your interview at the US embassy. To do this visit: https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-gb/niv and create an account. The Home Page is a little confusing so if you get lost, just visit: https://ais.usvisa-info.com/en-gb/niv/signup. Here you can book the interview, but you must pay $160 for the visa, and another £18 if you wish your passport to be posted to you once the visa is complete. Finding an available interview slot can take around two weeks.
Step 3: The interview
I arrived for my interview at the US Embassy in Grosvenor Square to find a huge queue. I was waiting outside for an hour before I even got into the Embassy, although luckily it was a sunny day. Once inside, you have to go through security and are then given a number, you will wait to be called to the first window where they take your passport and ask a few questions about your visa, you then wait again to go to a second window where they ask more questions about your visit to Iran. At the end of this which just takes a few minutes you will be told if your visa has been approved and when you will receive your passport. The entire visit took around 2 hours.
Step 4: Your Passport is returned to you with Visa
Usually within 5 working days. Alternatively, you can pick your passport up from the US Embassy.