The United States of America has always been a dream destination for me. Since I’ve fallen in love with travel and road trips, one of the items on my bucket list was to drive from the east to the west coast in the US. The first step — acquire a US visa.
However, from what I’ve heard from friends and family who have tried, getting a US visa is as difficult as passing through the eye of a needle. Some pay the hefty, non-refundable application fee (worth $160, which was P8,320 at the time I applied) and wait for hours to get interviewed by the consul then only be denied a visa. It was terrifying.
Today, I had the first-hand experience of applying for a US visa (and getting one, yay!) in under 30 minutes. It’s not that difficult after all, at least in my experience. It blew my mind that after bringing all documents that can prove my ties to the Philippines and that I will return home if ever I decide to go to the US, all they checked from me was the application confirmation and my current passport (they didn’t even look at my old passport).
Now, I want to share with you my experience. However, this doesn’t guarantee that you’ll have the same experience as I, but at least, it will give you an idea how to do it (and hopefully, you get approved too).
Steps when applying for a US visa
Here’s the step-by-step procedure of how I applied for a US visa. It may not be similar to how others did it, but it worked.
I would like to emphasize that there are different types of US visa but the one I applied for is the non-immigrant Type B1/B2, which they issue as a joint visa. Type B1 is for business and B2 is for tourism and visit.
Step 1: Fill out the DS-160 form online
The DS-160 (which you can find here) is a long application form that you need to fill out online and submit electronically. This is used by the consul to assess whether they will give you a US visa or not. Since I’m easily confused and I found filling out the DS-160 tedious, I wanted to do it first just to make sure I do it right.
Don’t worry, you don’t need to fill it out in one seating. You can save it for later and continue just in case you get stuck on something. Make sure to write down your reference number in case you need to retrieve your form later.
Step 2: Sign-up at the Consular Affairs website
You will need this account to set-up an interview with the US embassy, which is one of the most crucial steps in acquiring a visa.
Step 3: Pay the non-refundable application fee worth $160
There are two ways to pay for the application fee – in person at the bank and online.
Of course, to avoid falling in line at the bank and save time, I chose to pay online. You can easily do so through BPI Online. If you have an online account with BPI, you simply need to register the reference number for your application, which is auto-generated here.
Once you’ve enrolled the reference number, you can pay for it directly through your BPI account online (if you’re using your account to pay bills online, it’s just similar to that). You need to type the amount you have to pay though. During my application, $160 was P8,320.
You need to pay the application fee before you can schedule an interview with the embassy.
Since I didn’t have a deposit slip, I just printed the payment confirmation from BPI in case they look for my proof of payment. Yet, they didn’t check it when I went to the embassy, but just to be sure, print it out.
There is a processing time for the payment so you might not be able to schedule an appointment immediately. For me, I waited four hours before I can finally schedule an appointment. Check other payment details here.
Step 4: Schedule an interview
Once you’ve submitted your DS-160 form electronically and paid the application fee, you can already schedule an interview. You can do this via your account on the Consular Affairs website here.
In the past, they recommend that you process your visa application at least 3 months before your actual flight. I heard that schedules are often booked and finding an available one immediately is virtually impossible. This wasn’t the case for me. I submitted my DS-160 form and paid the application fee on September 20. When I tried scheduling an interview, September 22 was available but since I had prior engagements, I opted for September 26. It took me less than a week from accomplishing the DS-160 form, paying the application fee, to getting an interview.
Still, it pays to be ready so if you want to be sure, process your US visa in advance to avoid any mishaps or delays.
That’s it, you just need to show up for the interview and you’ll find out soon if you will get a US visa or have to try again next time!
1. Bring the basic requirements, prepare supporting documents
What do you need to bring during the US visa interview? The basics include:
- Unexpired passport
- Appointment confirmation
- DS-160 confirmation
- 2 x 2 photos
- Payment proof
Although these are the basic requirements, they only checked my appointment confirmation to enter the US embassy. Then, at every step (there were just 3 steps), they only looked at my unexpired passport. I still brought with me the DS-160 confirmation, 2 x 2 photos, and payment proof though they didn’t check any of it. Bring yours just to be sure. Some get asked for new photos during the pre-screening. However, if you don’t have any or the ones you brought with you are not accepted, there is a photo booth inside the embassy where you can get new photos taken.
Other documents I brought with me:
- Expired, used passport
- Certificate of employment
- Bank certificate
- Birth certificate
- Car registration
- Loan for land title
None of these were checked but I brought them with me for good measure. The consul didn’t even check my old passport.
2. Not too early but not late for the interview
When do you need to come for the interview?
For the interview, you don’t need to be super early for it because there are no priority or “plus points” for showing up early. Be there 15-30 minutes before your schedule. Otherwise, you’ll still have to wait since those who have earlier schedules are prioritized.
I highly recommend that you choose the earliest schedule possible within the day if you can. Why? Because you are fresh and the consul who will be interviewing you isn’t tired yet. I’m not saying this can affect your approval though.
3. Don’t bring any electronics with you
Electronics like smartphones, tablets, USB, and even headsets are not allowed inside the US embassy. I even saw someone trying to throw out her headset because she was denied entry to the embassy. There is no place to leave stuff like this at the embassy so I highly recommend to just leave them. There may be stores (or people) at the front of the embassy who will offer you to leave your stuff there for a fee but do so at your own risk.
For more details of what is not allowed inside the embassy, check it here.
When I went, I just had a clear folder for the basics and a clear plastic envelope for the supporting documents. It was quicker too since they don’t have to check your stuff. There were two points where stuff was checked. I was able to get ahead of the line because most people ahead of me had bags that needed more checking. They called people with no bags to simply enter and fall in line at the pre-screening area.
The actual interview
I will try to share here what I went through during the interview. Hopefully, it can paint a clear picture of what to expect once you decide to apply for a US visa.
My interview schedule was at 7:15 AM. I arrived at the US Embassy at a little over 6 AM. I had some time so I grabbed a quick bite outside the embassy before actually falling in line.
When I entered, the guard checked the time on my application confirmation. There was a line in front of the embassy but the sign at the top said 7:30 AM. I was told to move past the line where another staff checked the time on my application confirmation and was told to fall in line near the gate of the embassy.
At the gate, a staff asked for my interview time and my passport. She put a sticker on my passport and was given a large green card and was told to enter the embassy.
As I entered, there was a guard who scanned my belongings (the folder and envelope). I passed through a scanner and was quickly frisked. Since I was wearing long sleeves, I was asked to put up my sleeves to check if I had a watch or something.
After that, I was at the waiting area. It was a covered area with chairs. There were already people waiting there. The first two rows were full already so I went to the third row. It was a quick wait, maybe 10 minutes then we were told to go inside the building. As we entered the building, there was another bag check here. Since I didn’t have a bag, I was told to go straight to the Pre-Screening Area.
At the Pre-Screening, I was asked for my passport. I was only asked two questions here.
1. What are you going to do in the US?
I was going to visit a friend and travel around.
2. Are you married?
Then, I was told to proceed to the Fingerprinting Area.
At the Pre-Screening Area, some applicants are asked for new photos so in case you might be asked for one, it’s best to have photos with you to avoid delays.
During fingerprinting, I was asked for my passport again. I was also asked to state my name and my birthday. Then, I was instructed to put my fingers (in a certain order) on the scanner.
When I was done, I was told to fall in line for the interview.
This was another 10-15-minute wait because I think the interview windows weren’t open yet. I think I was 10th in line but the line grew quick as more applicants were done with the two steps.
For the interview, I was told to fall in line on a certain window. While waiting for my turn, a family of 3 was having an interview with the consul. Unfortunately, they got denied. When you get denied, they give you back your passport and a long green form (I don’t know what’s in the form though, maybe tips on how to get approved in the future).
Then, it was my turn. I was asked for my passport and the following questions:
What are you going to do in the US?
I will visit a friend and maybe we’ll travel around.
Who is this <insert friend’s name>? How do you know her?
She’s a good friend. We’ve met through blogging.
So, have you met her face to face?
Yes. We met in the Philippines while blogging but she’s in the US now studying.
What is this When in Manila? How long have you been working there?
It’s a huge lifestyle and travel website here in the Philippines. I’ve been working there for more than 3 years.
Is it okay for you to leave work a long time?
Yes. We usually work remotely and we can make certain arrangements for things like this one.
I noticed you have lots of stamps in this passport, where have you been traveling and why?
I travel a lot for personal and work. For this year, I’ve traveled to Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and Malaysia to cover events and for brands that we’re partners with.
For this trip, are you covering an event?
No, this is a personal trip.
After a good minute of typing on his computer, he said, “Expect your visa in 7 days.”
That was it! Now, I just have to wait for my passport to arrive. I’m hoping to get a 10-year, multiple-entry US visa. So, let’s cross fingers for that.
I went out of the US Embassy at around 7:45 AM. So, I was in and out in about 30 minutes. The three processes I went through were fast and efficient, the little wait times in between were tolerable.
Are you ready to apply for your US visa? If you already have one, share with us your experience! What tips do you have for those who will be applying?