I have had the privilege of getting to tour the White House twice–once when I was 11 on an epic family road trip in a minivan from Oklahoma to Washington and again this week.
Both times it was my mother, a lover of all things American history, who put in the ticket applications. Since I started putting photos up on Instagram from my trip, I’ve gotten questions about how you get to go, so I figured it might be helpful to go over the tour and how you can get tickets from the perspective of having just done it. Also check out the official White House Tour and Events Page for more information.
White House Tour Overview
Time: 1-2 hours
What You’ll See: rooms on the first floor of the White House, including the famous East Room, State Dining Room, and Blue Room, complete with famous American artwork including portraits of Presidents and First Ladies, modern American art, and decorative art and furniture purchased over the past two centuries.
How to Get Tickets: For American citizens, you contact your member of Congress (both House and Senate members can put in your request for you). Go to their websites, and they will have either an online form of assistance or you can email them. They can also assist with tickets for the US Capitol, Library of Congress, as well as events you may be interested in.
For non-US Citizens, you apply through your country’s embassy.
You can submit your request up to six months in advance, but don’t wait too late as they don’t take requests if your visit is closer than 3 weeks. Allow a few days of emailing back and forth with your representative’s staff to submit the documentation needed. You’ll submit the names of the people going, along with some basic information that the Secret Service will use to perform background checks. Please note that you cannot change who is going once you’ve submitted. My mother ended up being unable to come out to DC, and I couldn’t bring anyone else instead. We were also told the following by Senator Lankford’s office when we applied:
Due to the high number of requests received by the White House for tours, confirmation of this tour is not guaranteed, as they receive many more requests than they are able to accommodate. Tours are confirmed or denied at least two weeks before the scheduled visit.
When You’ll Find Out the Status of Your Request: You will receive notification from your representative’s office about two weeks or more from when you’re scheduled to go. If you listed a range of dates, they’ll also tell you what day and time you are scheduled to go. To my knowledge, there’s no way to find out ahead of this. Because tickets are free and security needs are always changing, there is a chance that your tour may be canceled last minute. To plan around this, I suggest doing one of two things based on your travel style:
- Plan lots of other activities during your time in DC and that way a White House Tour is a bonus
- Or, don’t plan much at all (including accommodations, travel, etc) until you get your ticket confirmation
What to Take (and Not Take) on the Tour Day: Take your photo id, a copy of your email confirmation (printed or on your smartphone), and a smartphone or camera that follows the rules below. Basically, the only other items you can have with you are your keys, your wallet, sunglasses, and an umbrella if it’s raining. That’s it. Leave everything else in your car/hotel room.
It’s awesome that you can now take pictures during your tour; however, please note the following items are prohibited:
- Video Recorders
- Handbags, book bags, backpacks or purses
- Food or beverages, tobacco products, personal grooming items (i.e. makeup, lotion, etc.)
- Any pointed objects
- Aerosol containers
- Guns, ammunition, fireworks, electric stun guns, mace, martial arts weapons/devices, or knives of any size
- Cameras with lenses longer than three inches
- Cameras with detachable lenses (not listed on the website, but was listed as prohibited in our email confirmation)
- Tripods, monopods, and selfie sticks
According to their website, “individuals who arrive with prohibited items will not be permitted to enter the White House.” Or I guess you can throw it away.
Other Logistics: There are no bathrooms during your visit, FYI. Arrive at least fifteen minutes prior to your tour time to be processed through security. Some people need to be re-cleared (I was one of them). Don’t freak if you get put “in the pen.” Give the Secret Service agents time to sort things out.
If you have any other tips, please post in the comments!