USA-Visa-EntryAre these the last days of British bands touring America?

Join the visa campaign here. This just the start of something.

Touring the USA is, of course, going to be expensive. Bu in 2016 it’s become an insane gamble.

And it’s all down to the cost of the visas.

A byzantine system that sees costs spiral up to £3/4/5000 sometimes to get a whole band visas is way out of reach for most bands.

Once you have paid the fees, the agents and the train fares etc to go for the one minute meeting at the American Embassy in London you are already flat broke before playing a note.

Then the wait starts…nearly every band reports to us of delayed visas, rebooked flights, lost gigs. The system is broken and to rub salt in the wound the American bands pay about £50 to come into the UK.


We need the Americans to take notice of this situation that is unfair, unworkable and shambolic.

The Musicians Union are trying to do something but frankly if the costs of applying for visas don’t come down then the situation for most UK bands will not change.


The sheer cost of the visas is prohibitive to most UK and European bands – £5000 per band with most of the money going to the process of getting the visas. The visas then get returned late in a chaotic system so gigs and flights have to be cancelled. Since we started the campaign we have had countless reports of bands of getting their expensive visas back late.


What was once at the heart of rock culture from the Beatles onwards is finally coming to an end because of the prohibitive costs, visa bills and taxes that cripple any touring UK band.

And that is heartbreaking because, of course, we love America.

The people, the culture, the food, the music, the landscape, the myth – the road in America is the bloodline of rock n roll with the endless 14 hour drives which are magical.

The people are fantastic. Their can do belief is inspring and their openess is wonderful. They don’t even know what is going on with the bands they want to see but soon will not be able to. America has always loved British bands – pretty soon they will have to eatch them on youtube only.

American music is totally entwined with ours and we love it.

For decades that cultural ping pong had been at the heart of modern culture.

But those days are about to end.

For British bands touring America has become a nightmare. An expensive battle with authorities who are cranking up what they charge for a band to even get into the USA to tour and hidden taxes which cripple the budget.

For a British band to tour America it costs 7000 dollars to even get into the place and the visas arrive so late so you have to cancel your flights and gigs and rebook everything losing money and gigs before you even get there. It’s an arcane, expensive and ridiculous system fraught with stress and hurdles. It doesn’t really help when you realise that American bands get into the UK for 50 dollars without any hassle – that’s a good thing – that’s how it should be. The Brits have called that one right. Culture should be able to move around the world and it should definitely be a fair and level playing field ina free market zone.

Many bands slip into the USA with holiday visas these days. Under the radar. But many are now getting caught. A quick google check at the airport sees all the tour dates pinging up and the luckless musician getting sent back home or even a ten year ban.

Even when you get here there are the taxes. 30 per cent of your gig fee is taken off you every night. Paying tax in a country you don’t even live in is strange and annoying and cripples the already decimated tour budget. don’t get me wrong – I’m happy to pay tax ina country I live in and vote in but everywhere I go?

In 2016 only the rich survive. Only the stadium bands like Radiohead can afford to tour America. Most British bands we know refuse to go ahead with it now, concentrating on the rest of the world.

These are the last days of British bands touring the USA.

And that’s a sad state of affairs for everyone.

Previous articleSex Pissed Dolls: Parr Hall, Warrington – photo review
Next articleJames Rhodes: St George’s Hall, Bristol – live review
Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. We recently done a small tour of the East Coast. Had holiday visas and nearly didn’t get into the U.S. , was quite nerve racking knowing all the hard work throughout the year to pay for the trip could become undone with one decision. Though we missed our connecting flight .we were fortunate enough to be let in for cultural reasons. The Trip and gigs were a great success and should be made easily accessible for our bands to experience.

  2. I toured the UK for 3 months on a proper Entertainers Visa. I had well over 30% taken out of my pay with plenty going to NHS and my visa said something along the lines of “Not eligible for public health services” When i did need to go to the doctor, although i paid almost 400Quid a month to NHS, i had to pay everything out of pocket. But at least i could use my foreign taxes paid against what i owed back home and pay less US taxes. Its not just the US…

    • This is nonsense. Every visitor is eligible for NHS treatment. More than one visiting foreign musician I know has received it.

      • indeed… what you are not entitled to, is to sign up for a GP.
        but emergency NHS services are entitled to each visitor.

  3. 30% withholding tax can be claimed back when you confirm you are a uk tax payer. involves a us lawyer, takes a bit of time but reasonably simple process.

    • it certainly can, though in my experience (2 years of U.S. touring with an artist visa), the fees charged by U.S. tax lawyers make it either prohibitive or barely profitable for all but the very highest earners to claim back.

      • In my (twenty-five years) experience USA tax is not such a problem for a UK citizen. Tax paid in the USA can be offset against UK taxes. You have your USA agent register you with the IRS., get a federal tax i.d., get your accounts prepared and annual tax paid there the same way as in the UK, then hand your USA tax return to your UK accountant to incorporate into your UK tax self-assessment. We use a USA tax year that follows the calendar year, so that USA tax return is available in time for the UK tax year.
        Some states will withold tax at source, but usually if your total income is under their minimum, your agent can claim a refund. There is a dual taxation agreement between the UK and the USA that means you won’t pay tax on income twice. You do have to have this stuff totally together.
        My (solo) visas, otoh, after twenty-five years of two or three year O1.s where application costs could be spread over several tours, have just fallen apart and now have to be per tour. It doesn’t look sustainable to me unless I can do the whole lot in one go, and even then it’s a doubling of cost. I can’t see how it can possibly work for a band.

    • The 30% tax can be reduced or even avoided by applying for a CWA. I’ve been helping foreign bands for years with those and it costs less than the visas.

  4. I managed it earlier this year thanks to someone loaning me the money to get a Visa.

    I say “get”, I mean “apply”, as you pay approx 7K to even open the process, with no guarantee of getting it.

    I’ve got my fingers crossed re reclaiming witholding tax

    Also, Shug, the tax is one thing, but your Visa costs coming this way are a fraction of ours.

  5. Been like this in Australia for a while. About 15% of the tour budget for my next tour (Ruts DC) is immigration and union approval fees.

    The unions set a minimum standard for guarantees and accommodation. You can’t apply for the visas until they have sent a “letter of non-objection” to the tour contract, which of course requires invoices to be paid. Then Immigration need you to demonstrate there will be a “net employment benefit” for Australian residents for the tour to go ahead.

    If the band want to be paid as individuals rather than through a company in the UK I have to employ them and tax them at 45%. If I pay a company all the tax is done in the UK.

  6. Where on earth do they think a band can get 7k from ? I’m lucky that my band has been to the states 6 times in the last 12 years. We travel light, borrow a lot of gear, and go as tourists. It’s really the only way. Just make sure the tour isn’t too long and that you know where you’re staying.

    • PAY your Taxes like everyone else. The DOCTOR that is fixing you pays OVER 50% of his wages in taxes. Moany freeloading musicians. If the road you drove to your gig had a big pothole or there were no police to hunt down the guy that took your new drum kit ???? TAXES…run with it.

      • You are obviously completely uninformed as to the what the current landscape is for musicians.

        Now, if we could just walk into a doctors office or a pharmacy and take what we wanted off the shelf and not pay. Or, maybe walk into a police station and grab a gun or two to take home. How about if the construction workers fixing potholes were told they had to pay up front to get the work and then hope that enough people showed up to show support before they got their money back and anything extra.

        Musicians have to contend with a complete devaluing of their lively hood, having their product stolen, a product they may have spend 10s of thousands of dollars on and years of creative effort in writing and working in the studio. A lot of larger gigs in the major cities have a pay to play policy. Streaming has taken over as the music consumers preferred method of use and the hosts get rich while paying out micro fractions of a penny per play to the actual artists.

        Apply these same principles to your career and see if you don’t think over taxing and prohibiting access via fees and visa approval wouldn’t get you speaking out. This is not simply about paying taxes. It’s about destroying a profession and removing accessibility to markets in an already squeezed and underpaid profession.

      • Free loading moany musicians? Often the glass collector gets more than us in the venues we play at. I rather think, Myles, you are not a musician or artist otherwise you may understand the amount of actual work that goes into preparing the end product you hear at a venue.
        You have the choice to go and do something else unless you support us, I suggest you go and do something else….

  7. Yeah, this really sucks. Especially considering that most of my favorite music has come out of Britain to begin with. American bands deal with the same shit in regard to trying to get into Canada. Played with a couple of acts that gave up trying to tour Canada altogether because of this. We got sick of getting detained and having our vehicle searched. We were pretty much treated like criminals any time we tried to enter the country. Fuck that place. Hope this shit is somehow cleared up. We love British music!

    • Seriously, you think it is a one way street ? Same shit happens to us here in Canada. Quite frankly you need to look at the real culprit, Government !!

    • Or, abolish ALL parasitic artist unions. They claim to be a larger voice for individuals but they are in fact lobbying government regulators to ensure the union gets paid first while justifying useless beuarocrat positions. Stop asking for art to be subsidized and they won’t be able to steal from you.

  8. If you are earning money in a country you have to pay taxes that’s only fair. If we work in the uk you have to pay 60% tax

  9. If you are a US citizen, your income is taxable wherever in the world you earn it. The exemption is if you reside in the US for less than 15 days, you do not have to pay. So the US taxes its own musicians doing a concert in Australia or Europe as if it were in the US. Foreigners working here get taxed on wages earned here (professional athletes from overseas get taxed a lot on their earnings here – nothing different than musicians giving a concert here).

  10. You don’t pay 7k for the Visa process, it’s closer to $1,300 with $90 admin fee per head at the end, but you have to pay for US legal services to open the petition which is likely to be $1,000, plus at the low end $700 per person return flights, amongst a barrage of other costs. Touring is never cheap. The initial VISA process is designed to be prohibitive due to US trade rules, American jobs for Americans, you’re considered to be taking their trade away even if you’re promoting, spending money in the country and taking little home yourself. It’s not broken, but it’s certainly a bit rough round the edges.

  11. Well, I know first hand it is not just British Bands ! Canadian bands as well. My partners band will not name names, just went to Texas, and it took over 6 months, they paid a lot of money, and were 2 days away from their show, before they were finally approved !!

  12. F*ck the Americans then! We’ll keep all of the British artists in the UK, so we’ll get to see them more. All the American bands can keep coming over here at £50-a-go – that’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the sale of the f*kin century! – it’s the Americans that will lose out by these ridiculous red tape bullshit!! It[‘sa hard enough for artists to make a living these days due to the internet completely rinsing any prospect of getting signed or trying to make any money from selling records. The money is all in touring!
    I recall that Pearl Jam boycotted TicketMaster (or the American equivalent) and this is the sort of thing that BIG artists / bands need to work together towards sorting the f*ck out!! Look at how many people, famous people rather, who gave support when Randy Blythe was up on a manslaughter charge – that was saving the livelihood of one dude – what we have here is the livelihood of all musicians – it’s time to take the power back!

    • Yes Pearl Jam had the balls to stand up to Ticketmaster back in the 90s, as a reaction to the soaring price of tickets: httpss://

      They boycotted Ticketmaster and the band appeared before Congress to highlight the anti-competitive nature of the ticketing industry.

      Sadly, other artists at the time didn’t follow PJ’s lead. The band struggled to find decent venues that weren’t affiliated with Ticketmaster (as the ones that were wouldn’t host gigs if they weren’t selling tickets via TM), and eventually the federal investigation into anti-competitive practices was dropped and PJ reverted to using Ticketmaster again in order to “better accommodate concert-goers”.

      Basically, The Man won. Sad.

  13. Yep, sad “state” of affairs…
    We did a tour swap with a US band and had an absolute blast on the UK leg.
    Unfortunately, the 9 date east coast US leg didn’t happen after arriving in Charlotte NC and being detained and interrogated for 6 hours in separate rooms (little tip: If you’re asked by customs officials if you have a police record, DON’T quip “Only message in a bottle mate”)
    We ended up being banned for life (One of us had the ban lifted after paying out $1200 blood money – he still gets questioned every time he steps foot in the US).
    Still… Makes a good chapter for the book I guess.

    • I would have thought that everyone knew that trying to have a laugh with US customs or immigration official was not a wise move. I have been to the US dozens of times and I have yet to meet one with a modicum of humanity much less a sense of humour.

      A more miserable bunch of bastards you will never ever meet

  14. I paid $2,900 for our Visas, for three years, equating to £630 per year. That’s not deadly.

    Our flights alone cost $3,500, but I don’t hear anyone lobbying BA, Virgin or AA for a reduction for bands. Perhaps it’s because airlines are commercial operations, so we don’t expect any favours. If you ever walk into the US Embassy in London, though, you’ll see that around a quarter of the entire building is given over to processing Visas, so it’s clear to see that, for the US Government, Visas are a commercial operation too. It makes them huge amounts of money.

    Moreover, the comparison between UK and US Visas costs is not a fair one.

    UK population 64 million
    US population 319 million
    UK land area 0.245 million
    US land area 9.8 million

    A better comparison would be to compare US and European Visas, if one existed.

    The US is a staggering expensive place to tour, partly because of its size, but so is Europe for North American bands. At least we have the exchange rate in our favour. I think what we might be up in arms about instead is the 30% withholding.


  15. Have you tried this option:

    A friend who has helped foreign touring bands in the US said that it “works for all but the larger bands making a lot of money off of their tours….”

    I really don’t know much about these things myself, but I thought I would just ask to see if anyone has tried it and whether it made any difference.

  16. Like most British musicians we have given up on touring the USA. The visa situation is a joke. Cost us £5000 to get the whole band in last time and we have to go to London for 2 days for the two minute interview at the American embassy which was another cost.
    The whole situation is a scam with visa agents and the US government laking money off bands, delaying the visas, fucking up carefully planned tours and pre booked flights and in the mean time American bands come to the UK for virtually nothing.
    What kind of ‘special relationship’ is that?

  17. I’ve heard of uk bands having to cancel because if Visas not arriving. 7k is expensive for a band. Govts don’t care, they just want $. And I’ve seen a decline in UK bands touring. Such a bummer.

    FYI, USA is going to make all American citizens get passports for domestic flights in 2016. I thought, man, that’s just a way to get $ out of ppl. It’s always about capitalizing off of ppl. Plus that process takes forever too. So u need to shell out $ now for both a driver’s license and a passport to fly. Cost after cost after cost. And don’t even get me started on how they screw ppl w/healthcare.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here