How to Acquire that Elusive US Visa
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
A handful of friends have recently nudged me and asked to write about how I acquired one of the most elusive visas ever: the US Visa!
Disclaimer: The contents published in this article are meant to provide helpful information on how to secure the visa. I am in no way connected or is representing any agency nor the official Embassy of the United States of America.
So where, how, and when did I start? I know you have a lot of questions in mind, and of course, I too, had those mind boggling queries. Let me tell you a secret, this should be the very first thing that you have to do if you want to apply for that visa, or any visa for that matter: research. Yes, you have to. By researching, I was able to learn a lot of things especially on what type of visa should I apply for, where should I begin, and how to ace that very crucial part of the process: the interview! Here's a very helpful website for the visa application process: US Travel Docs.
Know your Purpose
To start off, you have to first identify your purpose for visiting the US. I will mainly focus on how to secure the US B-2 Visa, or simply, the tourist visa. If you are looking into migration, this might not be the right article for you.
Once you're able to establish the purpose of your trip, the next thing you have to do is to make an estimate on when do you plan to travel. I for one, have allotted six (6) months prior to our trip (e.g., I applied last June when our trip is in December). However, this is still up to you. You may lengthen or shorten it, depending on your or your family's (as applicable) schedule and your budget, of course.
As soon as you're able to define the two (2) important things above, you're now off to secure the requirements for the visa.
Requirements gathering is pretty tricky. Because you wouldn't know if the documents you'll be securing will be needed during the interview or not. But just the same, it's better to come prepared than not, right? So here are the documents that I gathered. These are listed in the US Travel Docs website I mentioned above:
1. Duly accomplished Non-Immigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) Form
2. Valid passport (but of course!)
3. Photo (refer to info below under "Accomplishing DS-160 Form" section for the photo standard requirements)
4. Receipt of Visa Payment
Apart from the items above, there are other supporting documents that you'll need to bring during the interview. Here are some of them:
Current proof of income, tax payments, property or business ownership, or assets
Your travel itinerary and/or other explanation about your planned trip (this one's a must-have I would say, as the Consul Officer asked me during the interview where in the US do I plan to stay and visit)
A letter from your employer detailing your position, salary, how long you have been employed, any authorized vacation, and the business purpose, if any, of your US trip, or simply, a Certificate of Employment (COE)
Payslips for the last three (3) months
And some I secured just in case they will be needed:
Bank Certifications with Statement of Account
NSO or PSA Copy of my Birth Certificate
Reservation ticket for the trip (I secured this through a good friend of mine who owns a travel agency. She reserved a valid roundtrip ticket for me so that I have a tangible proof that I will definitely return home. Again, this is not a requirement but a nice-to-have; the Consul Officer didn't ask for it during the interview)
Original and photocopies of my current and old passports
Proof of previous visa applications approval (it's a plus if you have these as they will increase your credibility and prove that you always return home after a trip. In my case, I have previously approved Australian Visa, Korean Visa, and Italian Schengen Visa)
Photocopy of Company-Issued ID
Once you're able to secure the above documents, you're now ready for the next important step.
Accomplishing the DS-160 Form
You may visit this link to accomplish the DS-160 form. I used Internet Explorer in visiting this site, though it was noted in their browser requirements that you may also use Google Chrome, as long as it's in the version indicated. For some reason, when I tried to use Google Chrome, I had to use the incognito mode so I can proceed, as I always encountered the "Session Timed Out" error. Note that it will not work in Safari.
Read through the instructions posted in the home page as these are helpful and should be taken into consideration prior to accomplishing the form. Basically, there are four (4) things you have to do on this page:
Select your location (where you'd be applying for the visa) through the drop-down list. If you are in the Philippines, select "Philippines, Manila," you may type-in the letters "PH" to easily locate it.
Enter the captcha code as instructed.
Try the "Test Photo" upload. At the end of the application form page, you shall be required to upload a decent photo. Click here for the photo standard requirements. Okay, here's a very important item that you have to take note of when having your photo taken, something I initially didn't understand or perhaps didn't take seriously when I read the "neutral face expression" in the requirements list: "Do not show your teeth!". You may do a Monalisa smile, purse your lips, or simply just look at the camera, but do not show any part of your teeth! Otherwise, you'd experience one of my horror stories in the embassy (oops sorry, maybe not too horror!) during the visa interview process: when I gave my printed photo to the preliminary interviewer, he asked me to have it retaken, yes retaken! I was shocked, because that meant I had to line up at the Kodak kiosk outside the office (but still within the embassy premises), which by the way took me about 40 minutes to complete, hence, it caused unnecessary delay. So, if you do not want to experience what I went through, Just. Don't. Smile. In the photo. Period.
Click the "Start an Application" button. Note that you would need to go back to this page should you wish to retrieve your application or upload it later on.
Once you're done, you're good to accomplish the form. I will not go through the littlest details on how to accomplish the form though, since they're basic and very straight forward enough to be completed. But just to note, you may click the 'Apply a Family Member' selection at the end of the form if you want to include your immediate family members in the application. It's not proven, but I guess, there's a bigger chance that you'll get approved if you apply as a family. Probably because there's lesser possibilities that all of you won't return as scheduled.
You will then receive an email confirmation that your electronic visa application has been submitted. Now, the next step is to pay for the cost of the visa.
Paying for the Visa Cost
The cost of the visa is listed in the US Travel Docs website. To-date, the cost for the tourist visa is $160 or P8,640 if to be converted to our local currency. Here's a more detailed table for your reference. Note that the cost of the visa is non-refundable.
Once you're ready to pay, there are two (2) options for the payment: either via bank transfer or over-the-counter payment. You may refer to this link for the detailed instructions. In my case, I did it via bank transfer. Kindly take note of the cut-off schedule of payments, which you may find in the same link. It was a bit confusing initially because I made a payment on a Friday morning, and it was noted that the payment posting date is by 3:00 PM of the same day, however, it was eventually posted on the following working day.
Schedule your Visa Appointment
You've almost reached the crucial part of the process. Now, you would need to set a schedule for the interview; this is a requirement and must not be bypassed.
To be able to set your appointment, access the US Travel Docs page again and create an account. You will then be directed to this page:
Do the following steps:
Click on the "New Application/Schedule Appointment"
Select "Non-Immigrant Visa"
Select "B2 - Visitor for Pleasure and Medical Treatment"
You will be asked to enter your personal information, then click "Continue"
On the next page, you may add your family members in the appointment.
Select your passport delivery method. Note that the payment for home delivery is already included in the visa payment so there won't be a need to shell out additional payment for courier fee.
You will then be asked to enter your reference number. This is quite confusing at first on where you will get it, but if you did a bank transfer, it is the number that was system-generated from the US Travel Docs website. Also, it was the one you used when you enrolled the US Visa Account in your online BPI account. Note that you will not be able to proceed if the payment you made is not yet posted. You may refer to the cut-off schedule again for reference.
You will now be asked to select the date of your appointment. Availability of the next schedule is usually one (1) or two (2) months later, that's why you have to really allot time for this at the start of your application.
You will receive an email confirmation of your appointment. Print this email as you'll need to show it during the interview day.
Then you're almost there! Just one more step, and you're done. But then again, this is the most important one, so ace that interview!
The Interview Process
You've finally reached the last part of the process. And yes, you really have to prepare for it. There are a lot of articles online which you can read to know how to prepare for the interview, especially during the one-on-one session with the Consul Officer. Here are some of the tips I can give:
Pray. Yes, this is really important, there's no better way to prepare for the interview other than knowing that God has your back no matter what. This will give you more confidence.
Prepare to speak in fluent English. The Consul Officers are US Nationals and they'll definitely speak to you using their language.
Only answer when asked, and answer straight to the point. If the question is answerable by "yes or no", just say yes or no; do not volunteer to share more information that isn't asked.
Be confident. Even though you're very anxious deep inside, do not show it to the Consul. Remember, they're just asking and not investigating. If you don't have anything to hide, why should you be scared?
Arrive at least an hour early at the Embassy. It is noted in the email confirmation of your appointment that you only need to arrive 15 minutes before your interview appointment but I'd say, with the traffic here in Manila, it's better to be early than late. You may just wait outside the Embassy or eat at your favorite restaurant nearby while waiting.
Do not bring any gadget or device with you during the interview. You may leave them in your car, or with your companion who is not an applicant. The Embassy is very, very strict when it comes to devices with on/off functionality. In our experience, my mom brought a Fitbit watch at the Embassy and she was asked to bring it out. Since we didn't have anyone with us on that day, she took chances with the bystanders outside the Embassy who charge a certain amount of money for keeping your valuables while you're inside. We were charged by around P200 just for that watch. Yup, lesson learned!
So, are you ready? Let me share with you some of the questions that the Consul Officer asked me and my mom during the one-on-one interview. By the way, the interview will just be similar to over-the-counter desk transactions in the bank. It's just that there will be a glass in between, and a speaker above you that is loud enough to be heard by the people who are next in line. Quite scary, but nope, you shouldn't be! Remember, you are there just for a 2-3 minute interview. So here goes the questions:
"Why do you want to go to the US?"
"Where are you going to stay and which places are you going to visit?"
"Where do you work and what's your role?" In this question, I had to expand my role description since the Consul is not that familiar with it.
"What countries have you visited already? How was your experience?"
That's basically it and afterwards, we heard the words that we have been waiting for: "Congratulations! Your visas have been approved. Please expect your passports to be delivered to you within the next few days." My mom and I were in tears as soon as we heard those unexpected phrases. And if I were to describe it, it was like there were a lot of bells ringing and a lot of angels singing in the background. It was a success! We were smiling so cheerfully while we were on our way out and eventually shared our good news to our family.
And that's it! I hope I was able to give you enough tips and information on how to get that very elusive visa. It is indeed scary at first, but as they say, just believe that it will be yours and it will be given to you. I wish you nothing but success in this endeavor! But of course, in the event that you do not get approved, remember that you can always re-apply. There's always second, third and so on chances in life, so what more for this visa. Do not fret, you can do it! God will always be with you.
And as for me, see you California in December!!!