My parents as a surprise graduation gift bought me tickets in agreement with my best friend that I could visit her in the USA for 3 weeks in October this year. I only have about £500 as of right now, in my bank, and I’m hoping for nearly 800-1000 when I leave. I applied for and was granted ESTA. I didn’t know you needed proof of supporting yourself. How do I tell them I’m staying with my best friend and their family (they’re picking me up at airport) so don’t need a lot and I don’t really eat out at places. It’s a relaxing trip for me, not a busy sightseeing every day one. Will they send me home? I keep having a panic attack. I’m in my early 30s and was a late finishing student. I’ve been frantically trying to sell stuff I own as became unemployed during lockdown.

I have a panic/anxiety disorder and OCD which makes me over think these things in case anyone was wondering. I don’t mean to be so scared, I just am by nature. I wear a little lanyard that says my hidden disability on it.

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    Cat - just so you know, it's incredibly unlikely they will even ask you anything. You arrive at the airport. There's a "atm"-like device where you scan your passport to save time. You walk over to one of the super-nice officers. They ask if you're having a nice day and why you are visiting. You say you are visiting your friend Name Name in Town, Nebraska. The officer will say "have a nice day". I must have done this 100 times and I've never been asked anything ever, not once. Just so you know!
    – Fattie
    Sep 20, 2022 at 19:05
  • What makes you think you need more than $1000 usd for 3 weeks in Nebraska? Don't drink much out, and budget your money weekly. It is okay to say you can't afford something.
    – AndyMan
    Sep 20, 2022 at 21:13
  • @AndyMan it was because ‘holiday budget sites’ we’re saying it ‘should support themselves on 160 per person a day, ” and I was like, I don’t even spend that much on myself in a month at home can- I figured we could only be rich to go in America 😂 Sep 20, 2022 at 23:10
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    Note that budgeting $160/day for the USA is assuming a hotel and restaurant meals. Staying with your friend you won't incur the former and there will be little if any of the latter--it's a completely unrealistic estimate for your situation. Sep 21, 2022 at 2:54
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    @AnthonyGrist I actually emailed cbp help and they said they’d need a letter to prove my friend is a real person in America and not a trick 😵‍💫 they said they’d “probably “ accept an email as hand written would not get here in time but it’s up to the guy working his shift to decide. So it’s all personal opinion based, it’s crazy. Sep 22, 2022 at 20:49

6 Answers 6


I don’t think the funds you have would be that much of a problem. Make sure you don’t look like a hippie and they probably won’t even ask. Have a letter from your friend explaining that they will host you, and make sure you have their phone number at hand so they can contact them if they want to. But the chances of that happening are quite low.

The slightly bigger problem IMHO is the fact you are unemployed because that makes you less likely to want/need to return to the UK, but the fact that you have a return ticket along with the fact that Nebraska is not quite a magnet for people trying their chance in the US probably help. You already received an ESTA so the chances that you would be refused entry (or even asked anything about that) are again quite low.

Make sure you do NOT have a resume lying around in your bag or anything that could make them think you are looking for a job, answer their questions honestly but without adding anything they didn’t ask for and it should all be quite OK.

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    @PeterM I was thinking the same. But really I doubt it will be a problem. Though perhaps it may depend on the airport -- anecdotally it seems that some are more skeptical than others.
    – phoog
    Sep 18, 2022 at 15:24
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    @PanickedCat in your question you refer to your best friend as "her" and in one of these comments you use "he". Don't do that at border control: pick one and stick to it ;-)
    – Aaron F
    Sep 19, 2022 at 15:16
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    @PanickedCat Nevertheless, using the same pronoun consistently during the interview (if they ask about the friend at all) remains good advice. A perceived inconsistency can attract attention and additional questioning, even if there's a legitimate explanation for it.
    – reirab
    Sep 19, 2022 at 16:44
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    Guys, you are giving @PanickedCat a really false impression. It is INCREDIBLY UNLIKELY they will ask the op ANYTHING. For example it's an interesting theoretical thing to mention the "unemployed" issue but it is INCREDIBLY UNLIKELY that will come up. Vast numbers of unemployed people, students, etc etc, visit the USA on an hourly basis.
    – Fattie
    Sep 20, 2022 at 19:09
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    @Fattie: I'd think more like "unlikely" than "incredibly unlikely". But either way, I would think Panicked Cat wants to be best prepared in the real chance they do, which makes all of this fair. Sep 21, 2022 at 3:12

To jcaron's sensible answer I would add...

My parents as a surprise graduation gift bought me tickets

Presumably, your parents will also be in a position to step in with emergency funds in the (unlikely) event that something goes wrong, for example if you need to buy tickets for some additional unexpected travel or what have you. There's no reason to avoid mentioning that you're traveling with your parents' financial support.

Furthermore, I would add to his advice:

Don't show up with a huge amount of luggage. In saying this I mean more luggage than you might need for three weeks. A fully packed bag of 23 kilograms is certainly fine.

But a truly unusual amount of luggage might increase their suspicion. The immigration officer processing your arrival will do so before you get your checked bags, but they have access to the data showing the number of checked bags and their weight. I know an American woman who was refused admission to the UK because she claimed to be entering as a tourist but had too much luggage (and yes, jcaron, she also had resumes). The officers did not believe that she was intending to leave after whatever short period she claimed she would be staying (and indeed, she was not telling the truth).

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – Rory Alsop
    Sep 20, 2022 at 16:12
  • The luggage thing is a perfect tip, good thinking.
    – Fattie
    Sep 20, 2022 at 19:12
  1. You will be visiting your best friend and their family who will be hosting you; ensure they can be contacted and will verify that statement.

  2. Your parents paid for your RETURN ticket as a gift; ensure they can be contacted and will verify that statement.

Best to have their #'s on paper so you can keep your device locked and off.

  1. Have proof of sufficient amount of funds on you / access to in the event of of an emergency (£500 is reasonable).

  2. You recently graduated but are presently pandemic-induced unemployed.

At Immigration, clearly state you wish to visit your friend in Nebraska for 3 weeks. Answer the questions asked honestly and as succinctly as possible. Do not elaborate unless you are asked for more information. Be polite, keep a neutral expression, relax and breathe normally.

None of the above should make them question you further or make you inadmissible.

As others mentioned, don't pack excessively or inappropriately, dress appropriately, don't carry a resume in person or electronically (there's a remote chance your device might searched; evidence of looking for work in resident country: good; internationally: not good).

  • Thank you x me mums making sure I get some cheap travel insurance to cover my 3 weeks too just so she has less to worry about, even if I don’t need it, they never get it for greece but america is a different place. Sep 21, 2022 at 10:53
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    @PanickedCat Travel insurance is a very good idea for America. You're very unlikely to need it, but it gives peace of mind. Sep 21, 2022 at 11:17
  • @StrangerToKindness yes that’s what I thought it would only cover my 3 weeks so it’s not an incentive to have them think I want to stay either and it will protect my iPad Sep 21, 2022 at 12:10
  • @PanickedCat, MEDICAL insurance is really a must have for the US, especially in Covid times (travel insurance may also be worth it if you can); I have coverage through work + Credit Cards but also have topped up separately. You may find it's cheaper to buy a multi-entry whole year if more than a single entry, short duration.
    – Ian W
    Sep 22, 2022 at 2:34

I bet your entire conversation with customs will last about 10 seconds:

Customs: What is your name?

Cat: Panicked Cat

[Pause while he looks at the picture in your passport, and your face. He is thinking, "Are these the same person? What should I have for lunch?"]

Customs: What is the purpose of your trip?

Cat: I'm visiting a friend.

[Pause as he stamps your passport.]

Customs: Have a nice day

Google "anxiety ted talk" for a nice video by Olivia Remes. A trip like this does not require much planning, though it would be good to have your phone when you land, so you can call your friend from the airport. Check if your phone plan covers the USA, and make sure it has charge. And leave all your meds in the original containers. Bring a hostess gift for your friend's parents, something inexpensive like tea or a an English candy bar that suggests the UK. (Yes, $10 of your favorite tea, wrapped is fine.)

You have plenty of money for sightseeing in Nebraska. Make a budget. Live by it. Tell your friend what you can afford.

  • Thank you, I’ll check out the ted talk, my friend has been looking into free stuff we can do and trying to figure out how they can drive us to Ashfall because I really like dinosaurs 😂 Sep 20, 2022 at 22:39
  • The majority of UK phone plans are starting to charge per minute or require additional addons to cover (I believe last I checked, Three was the only one left that US minutes were included). You might be able to manage with wifi (looks like Omaha has free wifi, Lincoln may not) and something like Skype, it's how I got by my first UK trip many years ago. But great advice to keep your phone charged on the plane or turn it off, the first trip I was low on charge, and it was a tight experience. The last two trips, kept the phone charged, and had a better vision in place for mobile usage. Sep 21, 2022 at 3:19
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    @jeopardytempest My friend had said to not bring any food tbh as we will have loads of food, I don’t even like tea myself tbh I was going to take him what I had bought for his birthday gift though, which was a few small things and a blanket he liked but was a U.K. exclusive @ Sep 21, 2022 at 13:37
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    That sounds very nice.
    – AndyMan
    Sep 21, 2022 at 23:23
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    @jcaron generally meat products and fresh fruit/vege are heart of the excluded list. But many groups of things are fine UK to US. Generally had no issues with the types of things I mentioned. If you have a lot of things you love in a place, it's a chance to get things you wouldn't be able to at home and save a bunch of money on the things you can find only in specialty places, and a chance to treat others to something different. But yes, do look into the rules always to verify on what youre bringing. Sep 22, 2022 at 1:31

I have travelled on an ESTA and a British passport to the US (for perfectly valid holidays) and I have twice been asked a lot of questions, and once had my bag searched. I'm guessing the suspicious factors were that I was travelling alone, staying with a friend ("how do you know this person?") rather than in a hotel, and whatever I looked like when I presented at the desk. And the first time I had the additional factor that my friend and I had never met before, having met on the internet.

I second the advice not to carry your resume or an excessive amount of luggage with you, or anything that does not support your holiday story. You've been given some other good advice here too. Try not to worry @Panicked Cat. In spite of the things I mentioned, I have never been denied entry to the United States, and other times I have had the easy experience other people mention. Enjoy your holiday.

  • Thank you, we met on the internet too but we’ve never sent money or anything other than Christmas cards to each other, I think a lot of people do that. We video call so that’s where a lot of our planning and figuring this out has been. When they ask how I know them I just tell them it’s an online thing or will they get mad at that ? Do I need an invite email or letter from him, the UK gov site does not mention that- and Im going to take only carry on luggage my gadgets in my personal and everything else in the other, Im autistic with anxiety too so that will probably get questioned as well :c Sep 22, 2022 at 7:59
  • But no I don’t even have a resume and I wouldn’t take it in the first place if I did 😵‍💫I just have my Halloween costume which is from an anime and my usual bunch of band t-shirts, jeans, a couple of jackets, my anxiety plush and my camera stuff bc wildlife photography is a hobby. My money is all on a tui travel card as of today I have about 1000 and my mum wants me home as my family here are my mental health support network. Also my cat I love my cat so much. Sep 22, 2022 at 8:03
  • @PanickedCat Tell the truth if they ask how you and your friend met, but (as others have said) don’t volunteer other information not asked for. You don’t need a letter from your friend but have their phone number handy just in case. Stay calm. You’re telling the truth so there’s nothing to worry about. By the way I have never been asked the money question but you have what seems to me like a good answer if it comes up.
    – KS15
    Sep 23, 2022 at 0:53

I'm pretty sure all that supporting yourself stuff only matters for people moving here. You're just visiting, the tickets are bought, which means everything is already worked out and everything you're worried about is already settled. It's a normal vacation trip. No one is going to count your money, or search your bags for resumes. Just go home with your return ticket at the end of your stay. Also, as long as you aren't throwing money at everything you see, $1,000 should be plenty for 3 weeks of food and a little fun here. I used to live on that much per month, even with paying rent.

  • thank you the other replies are starting to get me really worried more than help too but it’s all things to consider. My friends more than happy to include me in family meals and so on, but I have a life in the UK that I actually rather like and we calculated that it’s enough to cover things, we’ve been planning for months. I just need to stick with one pronoun too when talking about my friend but he/she is gender fluid so it shifts around 😂🤦🏼‍♀️It’s just habit, I’m autistic so I carry my sunflower lanyard too. It has been worth researching into though as it helps my anxiety. Sep 19, 2022 at 16:30
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    No, that's the opposite of how it works. When you enter as a tourist, they want to be sure that you won't be moving there permanently and taking a job. Having a job back home is evidence of that; having enough money to live on for the length of your stay (during which time you're not allowed to work) is an essential component of that.
    – hobbs
    Sep 19, 2022 at 20:40
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    @PanickedCat The other replies all include useful information intended to help steer you through the immigration process, which can feel pretty intimidating even to a seasoned traveller. You can distil some important advice from them, including having an amount of luggage appropriate to your intended length of stay, not carrying anything that might indicate an intention to work, don’t volunteer information not specifically asked for (eg state you work one day a week and what your income from that is but don’t mention that you’re paid cash in hand unless the Immigration Officer asks directly).
    – Traveller
    Sep 19, 2022 at 20:43
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    The "supporting yourself" stuff is intended to filter out the legitimate tourists from the people who intend to work illegally.
    – arp
    Sep 20, 2022 at 0:25
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    @arp yes that’s what I thought but taking too much or too little of anything apparently flags it so I have no idea 😵‍💫I have absolutely no desire to work or live in the states, the only times I’ve ever thought about it were when I was talking of it as a ‘someday’ dream but like 15 years or so away when I’m in a good paying job here (games company in lemington I keep applying for) and not working one day a week. Sep 20, 2022 at 18:50

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