Visa for Key West, Florida USA

Published: Sep 01, 2017, Updated: Nov 13, 2022 | Tags: USA Visa, ESTA

Information on visiting Key West and needing a visa for Key West.


Florida’s Key West is one of the most unique places in the US. Famous for its tropical climate and vast landscapes, this small island has been welcoming tourists for two centuries now. Since the earliest days, visitors have been coming to Florida’s Key West to fish, bask in the sun, and rejuvenate. If you and your family are considering visiting Key West this year, look at this guide before booking your trip to the US for important tourism information as well as information on if you will need an ESTA or a visa for Key West.

ESTA or a U.S. visa for Key West?

When traveling, it is crucial to check whether you need a visa for Key West to be admitted into the United States. There are three possible outcomes here: you do not need any kind of visa (e.g. Canadian passport holders), you need a visa (e.g. Chinese passport holders), or you can enter the US using the Visa Waiver Program (e.g. U.K passport holders). To participate in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), you need to be approved before traveling by filling out an ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) form online and awaiting a response from the US authorities. If you are not eligible or denied an ESTA, you will need to apply for a visa to Key West.

A brief guide to ESTA and the Visa Waiver Program

As its name suggests, the Visa Waiver Program authorizes nationals of certain countries to enter the States without a visa, if they fulfil certain criteria. Dozens of countries are included in the VWP and they include Poland, the UK, Australia, Chile and Brunei. To participate in this program, you will need to fill out the online ESTA form to check if you fulfil the relevant criteria. Here, you will be asked various questions about your criminal record, occupation, and reasons for being in the US, amongst other information. Within around 72 hours, you should have a response from the US authorities, either authorising you to enter the US under the VWP, or rejecting you. If you are rejected, you may still be able to travel to Key West with a U.S. visa, and you will thus need to apply for a B2 Tourist Visa.

The key difference between ESTA and visa

ESTA lets you travel visa free for purposes other than work or study. ESTA only applies to nationals of certain countries who are not dual national of Iran, Syria, Sudan or Somalia. A visa, on the other hand, can apply to nationals of any country and can be used for work or study as well as tourism. So, once you have your ESTA or visa sorted for Key West, you can focus on travel plans.

Key West’s history

Key West has an impressive history that dates back to at least six centuries ago. The first settlements on this island were the pre-Columbians who belonged to the Calusa tribe. It wasn’t until 1521 that a Spanish explorer called, Juan Ponce de Leon, discovered and ruled this island. It wasn’t long before the island started to appear on European maps as Cayo Hueso (Bone Key). According to legend, the pre-Columbian settlers were pushed out by stronger tribes from northern part of Florida. The island witnessed a heavy and bloody battle between the two tribes for a number of years. When US went to war with Spain, it gained independence from Spain and returned the corpses of those who had died in the war to a special monument in Florida’s Key West Cemetery.

Top sights to visit

There are many attractions on this popular island, including Mallory Square, which used to be an industrial area. It is now a top location for watching the sunset and enjoying live entertainment. Lots of visitors gather on the dock to watch jugglers, musicians, and other performers put on a carnival-like show. Another interesting and unique sight is Dry Tortugas National Park located around 63 miles southwest of Key West. This national park is home to numerous turtles that can be spotted throughout the year. Another attraction that will appeal to families is the old Key West Aquarium, which was opened in 1934. This is the first open-air aquarium in America and is a must-see.

Local gastronomy

Because Key West is an island, it is natural to see an abundance of fresh seafood as part of Florida’s food culture. Due to its proximity to Cuba, you can find many Cuban restaurants serving spicy food. Along the sandy beaches, there are lots of high-end retro eateries that offer local cuisines as well as international foods. In fact, the gastronomy offer is so varied on this island that it will have every visitor’s mouth-watering. Perhaps one of the most popular foods that everyone should try is the deep-fried conch fritter. There is also hogfish, which tastes like scallop and is served with mushrooms and onions on Cuban bread. As this island is famous for its prawns, no trip is complete until you sample the freshly caught and sweet flavoured pink prawns, which are considered a delicacy by locals.

If you are looking for a relaxing destination in the US, visiting Key West will provide you with the opportunity to explore all of its tourist resorts. Some of this island’s best resorts are facing the Atlantic Ocean and are considered as the most scenic as they offer plenty of sunshine, views, and are close to everything. Beach lovers will be delighted with the fine sandy shores, where they can walk for hours and enjoy the beautiful and dreamy sea views. Florida Keys is one of those holiday destinations that everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Get the right travel authorization for Key West

If you hold a passport from a visa waiver country such as the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand or other Western European Country, you may be eligible to obtain an ESTA for tourist, business, medical or transit purposes. Get started on your application, otherwise, visit the FAQ to learn more about the ESTA

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Apply for ESTA

ESTA is a mandatory travel authorization for eligible travelers entering the United States by land, air, or sea for visits less than 90 days.

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