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I work as a contractor (freelancer) for a US company. I'll be visiting them (doing some meetings & training) and doing some traveling for a total of 3 weeks. Is it ok to go using ESTA? Thanks!

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    Assuming you're vising the company you're freelancing to, and are being paid by this company directly from US, IMHO this would be a very questionable case. There's a fair chance to be refused entry both on ESTA and B1 visa if CBP questions you, as they are likely to decide that your activity in the US should be considered work. – George Y. Dec 23 '17 at 1:39
  • Yeah, this is potentially a tricky one. Who actually pays your salary/fees? The US entity, or a foreign subsidiary/agent? Do they pay you personally, or a company in your country? – Doc Dec 23 '17 at 7:31
  • The US company pays my fees, no intermediary is involved in the payment process. – Paul Dec 23 '17 at 8:10
  • Something that I forgot to mention, I have a letter from the company stating that I'm going for business training meetings. Should I carry a printed copy of the letter with me? – Paul Dec 23 '17 at 8:17
  • Are you going to attend training (which is fine), or to conduct training (=work)? – jpatokal Dec 23 '17 at 9:42
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This is one of those difficult areas for contractors. The two conditions for being able to visit the US on a business visa are:

  1. You must not be doing any actual work
  2. You must not be receiving money from a US source.

It's established that receiving training, attending meetings to discuss and plan for work, and similar, don't count as work. You don't have a problem there. Likewise if you worked for a non-US company, even if you were the only employee, that would not be a problem. You would receive money from your company (a non-US source) and your employer would receive money from the American company.

If you really are receiving money directly from the US you should consult a lawyer to check that you are eligible. You might want to consider forming your own company if this were a frequent occurrence. Another possible way round it might be to not charge the US company for the time you spend in the US, but to increase your rate for the rest of the work to compensate. I would recommend running that past a lawyer before you do it though.

ASIDE: ESTA is just permission to get on a plane. It is the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) that allows you to visit the US.

SECOND ASIDE: VWP explicitly allows you to do everything you could do with a B1/B2 visa. So if you are not able to use a VWP, then you are going to need to go down the complicated road of getting a work visa or similar.

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