Visiting the inside of the U.S. Capitol and the White House is not straightforward and needs a reservation to be made at least 3 months in advance. Although I was able to book my spot for the U.S. Capitol tour, I was a bit late to book the White House tour and couldn’t reserve my spot there. And this is what I do not want for you. I mean who doesn’t want to bump into the President while at the White House or get a peek of the great Oval Office?
1. Securing a reservation: You have to secure a spot for your visits by submitting a tour request through the offices of any of your representatives or the senators in the U.S. Capitol. Well, if you’re a foreigner I know exactly what you’re thinking but hold on, you can submit the request too. I contacted Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton by submitting my request here. You can select the tours you want out of the U.S. Capitol, Bureau of Engraving and Printing, FBI Headquarters* and the White House**. You will get a reply within two days (from each of the offices) and most likely with a reservation if you book well in advance.
*If you’re a foreign citizen, you will not be allowed to take the FBI Headquarters tour as it is open only to the U.S. citizens and permanent citizens (such a bummer!)
**Getting into the White House is a bit tricky and it is suggested that you submit the request at least 3-4 months in advance.
2. Prohibited items: Here is a list of items you shouldn’t carry to the U.S. Capitol.
- Liquid, including water
- Food or beverage of any kind, including fruit and unopened packaged food
- Non-aerosol sprays (Prescriptions for medical needs are permitted.)
- Any bag larger than 18” wide x 14” high x 8.5” deep
- Knives of any size
- Aerosol containers
- Any pointed object, e.g., knitting needles and letter openers. (Pens and pencils are permitted.)
- Electric stun guns, martial arts weapons or devices
- Guns, replica guns, ammunition and fireworks
- Mace and pepper spray
- Razors and box cutters
3. Visiting the Galleries of the House of Senate and the House of Representatives inside the U.S. Capitol: This is an extra tour where you can buy the passes once you’re inside the Capitol building. You will get access to the gallery to visit any ongoing sessions at the House of Senate and the House of Representatives. If you’re a foreign citizen, make sure you carry your passport as it is required to get these passes. I got the opportunity to visit an ongoing session in the House of Representatives and it was a great experience!
4. Visitor timing and duration of the tour at the U.S. Capitol: Once you arrive at the Capitol Hill, you need to head to the Capitol Visitor Center where you can get your badge (by showing your reservation) and be accompanied by a tour guide. This tour includes a 45-minute guided walking tour as well as a 13-minute orientation film. The tour is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday. It is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, Presidential Inauguration Days, and Sundays.