We’ve all heard it a million times–applying for a US Tourist Visa is one of the most horrific experiences a Filipino can go through in this lifetime. And it truly is. Well, it depends.
My experience and observation may not speak for everyone’s US tourist visa applications as a lot of us that have actually tried applying for one, have different stories to tell. The US Embassy and its consuls have been very inconsistent throughout the years, so it’s very difficult to see patterns or predict the factors that are bases of visa denials or grants. So please take this guide with much thought and preparation. This DOES NOT at all, guarantee the success of your application.
I had previously traveled to the US in 2004 and hadn’t renewed my visa. In all those years, we as a family, also kept dismissing the idea of applying for one until we actually have a real reason to fly to the US. But in December 2017, we decided to just go for it. Still, with no actual reason to do so! HAHA And we got it. 10-year multiple entry US tourist visas!! I guess it’s better that way. You can rid yourself of the pressure and disappointment should you get denied, when you actually have a legit reason to go to the US. But of course, I DO NOT suggest that. 😀
Before I tell you the 2 most important things, let me walk you through the whole visa application process first and the experience, in their respective segments.
**To keep updated with the process, please refer here: www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-visaapply.asp
STEP 1: Pay The Visa Fee
- Go to http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-paymentinfo.asp
- Scroll down to fee payment options and select Deposit Slip $160 MRV Fee.
— Print the ‘deposit slip.’ Bring this with you at BPI (Bank of The Philippine Islands). It has a unique RECEIPT NUMBER for every applicant so a separate deposit slip is required for each one. You can only schedule your appointment 4 hours after payment.
— $160 is the amount to be paid for business and/or tourist visa applications (B1/B2).
— At the time of our application, $160 was 8,320php.
— The deposit slip is valid for only 24 hours. If you fail to make the payment within that period, download another deposit slip.
The online payment option was too complicated for us, so we chose to do it at the bank.
Step 2: Fill Out Your Online DS-160 Form
- Go to https://ceac.state.gov/GenNIV/Default.aspx
- Supply the necessary information, and then START AN APPLICATION.
On the next page, you will need you to provide a security question, which you will be asked the next time you open your saved, unfinished form. It’s a great feature to be able to save your unfinished form and just get right back to it when you have enough time to complete it.
- Fill out the form with all HONESTY. Emphasis on honesty.
- Upload a digital (NOT SCANNED) copy of your US visa standard 2×2 photo after the last page of the form.
**TIP: Before submitting your application form (DS-160), download and print the whole thing first so you can have a reviewer of the information you supplied because you will no longer be able to access your application form after submission. You don’t need to, but I suggest you do it.
**Since you’ve already submitted it online, it will already be in the embassy’s system during your interview.
- You will then be directed to your CONFIRMATION PAGE.
- PRINT the confirmation page. You will need to BRING this to your interview. The embassy staff at the gates will have to see it first before checking you in.
Step 3: Schedule Your Appointment
- Go back to http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-appointmentschedule.asp and select Schedule My Appointment under More Actions.
- You will be directed to a page to make a new account before the website can allow you to make an appointment.
- After you make such account, select New Application/Schedule Appointment. This will allow you to supply information pertinent to your booking.
- You can only schedule your appointment after payment has been made and after application form has been submitted.
- Remember the RECEIPT NUMBER on your deposit slip? This is where it’s needed. Type down the combination in the space provided.
- Select the schedule that’s most convenient for you. Then you’re good to go!
Unlike other embassies and visa applications, you’re actually not required to bring any of the standard visa application documents like ITR, Certificate of Employment, Bank Certificates, supporting documents, etc., as these will not be checked at all. But just in case the consul asks for anything, it would be great to have something to show. So, we brought EVERYTHING. I brought my BIR Certificate of Registration, business receipts, ITR, financial documents, and photos of my performances (my nature of work). I even brought a ton of my business contracts to prove economic ties and that I have a reason to come back home! We also brought all our old passports. Literally everything! But not a single piece of paper was checked. We may have looked really funny, but it is what it is. 😀
So all you really need are:
- 2×2 photo (hard copy)
- Passport with at least 6 months validity from the intended date of travel
- Appointment Confirmation (just also bring the bank customer’s copy)
THE EXPERIENCE (with interview dialogue)
Apparently, applying for a US visa is quite harrowing and taxing for us Cebuanos and others living outside Metro Manila. We are subject to the most effort and expense as we still have to travel all the way to Manila to apply (talk about airfare, hotel, food, etc.). Add to that the very steep visa fee–all non-refundable. So if you get denied, your loss is way much more.
But we were ready for anything. We simply had it in mind that there should be no reason for us to get denied as we have no ill intent for travel. It has also always been my personal prayer, on major life decisions, “if it’s Your will God, then so be it.” And so we went to our appointment with so much peace in our hearts.
We took the earliest flight out of Cebu to make sure we wouldn’t miss our 7:45am appointment. We landed in Manila past 3am (allowance in case of delays/cancellations) and just waited time out at the airport, before our family friend picked us up at 6am. We did not book a hotel as we would be flying back home on the same day. So we just left our things with our friend as one is not allowed to bring any electronic gadgets into the embassy. You can only bring a small handbag and your documents.
We made it to the embassy around 7:30am, and there was already a large crowd that early. Gladly, with the more efficient process now, you wouldn’t need to line up under the sun anymore (thank God it was gloomy that morning), as there are guards waving appointment time placards, and you just line yourself up according to your time slot. We were already allowed in 15 minutes before our scheduled appointment.
Like I’ve mentioned, our confirmation page was checked by embassy staff. Once inside the doors, we passed through a thorough security check with x-ray. Then we were directed to an al fresco seating area (still in line, but seated) where there’s a comfort room, drinking fountain, photo-booth (I will talk about this later on), snacks and souvenirs stall, and rows of chairs. You will be called into the air-conditioned main hall in batches.
At this point, your confidence begins to leave you. You look at other people smiling, conversing with each other, acting like they got themselves all together, but deep inside they’re shaking, they’re trembling, and they’re crumbling. And you are too! Like a balloon that’s about to pop. The US embassy just gives you anxiety and nerves unlike any other. You may not get so affected should you get denied, but damn, you’ll surely get to thinking, “I spent a lot of money for this!” And so you just breakdown and cry. Just kidding! **Gotta get your head in the game!
Then it was our turn to go in. After another security check, you fall in line along the sides of the thick walls and bullet-proof glass windows of the main hall, on to the 1ST STAGE: Pre-screening.
To help you visualize things, it’s like you’re lining up at the bank, then you approach the tellers (windows) when it’s your turn. The staff is standing behind bullet-proof glass. They speak with microphones and there are loudspeakers on every window so you could literally hear all the interview dialogues going on even from a few meters away, and those beside you. This is where your passports will be checked, by mostly consul-acting Filipinos. I’m not exactly sure what they are, but they ask you very basic questions from your application form in quite an irate manner. They give everyone a good scare. I mean, why can’t we all just be nice? 🙂 Keyword: Pre-screen.
Also, from the reviews/blogs we had read online, never speak when you’re not asked. Never speak together, and don’t give out more information than what is asked. If you’re applying as a group/family, only the head/leader talks, unless a question is directed to a specific person. Point by point. So this was how it went on the 1st stage…
Woman: Place your passports in and push it forward.
**When we didn’t seem to understand what she said…she said it once again in a more irritated tone with a bit of eye-rolling.
Woman: Place your passports and push it forward di ko maabot! (I cannot reach it)
**Woman checks passports, roll-calls everyone in the group application, asks basic questions, while encoding stuff on the computer.
Woman: What’s your purpose of visit?
Dad: *stutters ughh ummmm bi…bisita!
**With so much tension within you, and hostility in the room’s atmosphere, it’s understandable to space out for a moment. Our dad meant VISIT our relatives we haven’t seen for so long. In our minds we were all like, “oh God help us!”
Woman: Sorry, all of you except Althea (my sister), will have to retake your photos. It was not accepted by the system. There’s a photo-booth right outside, bumalik kayo dito pagkatapos. (Come back here afterwards)
**And so we did line up again to get our photos taken for 80php, which was very quick. But the printing/waiting period took around 30 minutes. We then went back to that woman after getting our new photos.
After getting passed 1st stage, you fall in line for the 2ND STAGE: Biometrics.
Here, were mostly white/Caucasian staff taking your biometrics. And they were VERY friendly…
Woman: Hi there Axel Wally! Place (certain fingers) on the scanner. Yes, press it harder. Okay, you’re doing great! That’s perfect!
**See, we can actually be nice! 😀
After 2nd Stage, you fall in line one last time for the 3rd STAGE: Final Interview.
Now here’s your defining moment right in front of you. This is your time to shine! Perform like you’ve rehearsed it all your life! HAHA Like I’ve said, there are loudspeakers on every window. So while in line, you could already hear all the dialogue around which is actually helpful, at least you know which consuls sound strict, you could hear their line of questioning, etc. It can help prepare you while waiting for your turn. This is also where your agony climaxes because you could see the behaviors of so many people, of different ages, from different walks of life. There was even an elderly lady, she was already weeping when she was only approaching the window. The family that went before us in line, also took so long to finish. They were asked so many questions and you can see the consul being quite puzzled by their uncertain answers. All you could do is pray you land on a friendly officer because this is really the make or break situation.
Then it was our turn…Lights, camera, smiles on…action!
**We were assigned to a rather poker-faced officer. He wasn’t the friendliest, but he wasn’t bad either. He had a calming tone, smiled from time to time, but rarely made eye-contact as he was just busy asking questions all while encoding stuff on the computer.
Officer (male): Good morning.
**Roll-calls all the members of the family.
Officer: So Walter, how many years have you been retired?
Dad (Walter): Well, it was a gradual thing. We used to be in the business of … And since our children have already graduated from college, and are earning their own income, that’s when we started to relax.
Officer: Hmmm makes sense.
Dad: We now only accompany our boys, John Walt and Axel, to their events. They perform at weddings, parties, etc.
**Since I was the one right in front of the window, the consul seemingly looked at me for his follow-up question. So I assumed he was asking me.
Officer: Really? So what instruments do you play?
Me: I am a vocalist, and my brother plays the saxophone and the violin. He sings too.
Officer: Althea? How many years have you been working for … ? Tell me about your job.
Althea: I am a … for … I’ve been working there for 5 years now.
Officer: Nenita? Where will be you be staying in the US?
Nenita (mom): We will be staying with my sister in …
Officer: So you have siblings in the US? How many?
Mom: Yes, I have 2 sisters and 2 brothers there.
**Goes on to enumerate their status (if citizen, PR, etc.) and their years of stay.
Officer: So why didn’t you migrate to the US when they did?
Mom: Because we were doing well here. Business was doing good. And I wanted to raise my children here.
Officer: Have you traveled together as a family
**This time, there was too much awkward silence, so we were like, “Screw protocol! Let’s all answer together!”
All: Yes! Always! *with the biggest of smiles 😀
Officer: What are the places you’ve been to?
All: Australia, Korea a few times, and several countries in Southeast Asia for our 25th wedding anniversary.
Dad: I had also been to Europe with my daughter years ago. My wife and my son Axel, have also been to the US before.
Officer: So Nenita and Axel, you’ve been to the US?
Mom and me: Yes.
Officer: Can I have your old passports please, where the old visas are?
**Stamps something on our old visas
**He continues typing while we’re holding on, acting like we still got it together! HAHA
Officer: Well, everything seems in order. Your visas are approved. You will get your passports after 5 business days. Have a good day!
(Without having to retake our photos, the whole appointment would’ve only taken a little over an hour. Our passports arrived after 3 days. Everything was quicker than we expected)
At this point, our joy just drowned out everything he was saying, and our minds just wandered off in relief! We just simply said, “Thank you! God bless!”
The final interview actually took just a little over 5 minutes but it felt like forever! Which now brings me to the 2 most important things in this whole visa application process:
HONESTY & CONFIDENCE
While I don’t think getting approved a visa is by credit, they’re also crucial factors to consider. Based on my experience, without having been asked to show a single piece of document, and after hearing stories from my friends (from well-off families, with a lot of travel history) that still have gotten denied, I think all it really takes is just your honesty and your confidence.
When applying for any visa out there, honesty’s always the way to go. NEVER LIE. You’ll be amazed how they will be so quick to catch it. They were trained for it! And everyday, we Filipinos deal with all this scrutiny because of the precedent set by our overstaying people. And every day, many people still actually try to make fools out of the consuls and go on with their ill intent for travel–illegal employment/undocumented stay. Unbelievable! This is why we can’t have nice things!! We, with the most genuine of intentions suffer, because of that! >.< Also, since your application form was submitted online, they might have already ran a background check on you. I believe that even before you arrive, it has already been decided whether you are approved or denied. Maybe it’s already listed in the system, but still consuls give you the chance to try and redeem yourself, and maybe overturn the verdict. I guess that’s why most final interviews only take 2 minutes on average. Well, that’s just my theory. That’s not necessarily true. HAHA
You know how when you’re so honest, your confidence just has no ceiling? You will give word with so much conviction and you will really stand by it. And the truth, will always be the truth regardless of time, or whoever is asking. While a lie, may be your truth for a certain period, will always be inconsistent. Except maybe, if you’re a really good actor. But still. Your confidence in your truth, will always show. And that’s why I reckon, HONESTY and CONFIDENCE are all it takes, for you to score that sought-after US Tourist Visa.
This whole narrative might have saddened or discouraged you, but believe me, this was actually one of the easiest visa processes we’ve ever gone through, though it can also be very tricky. But I couldn’t further express how it’s way easier and more casual than we all think. Just take a look at the photo below, and be motivated. Go for it!
By the way, DON’T OVERDRESS. We’ve seen people in a suit and tie, others being really formal. It will just make you look so desperate. I mean, if I were the consul, I would deny you at once. Haha Dress appropriately. Smart/business casual’s presentable enough. For the interview, I wore a crisp, button-up shirt, tucked into clean, classic blue jeans, and a pair of penny loafers.
One thing you gotta prepare for though is the embarrassment if you get denied. It’s easy to tell when one gets denied because they will be walking away with a blue slip, and still with their passports. On top of the pain you’re feeling is that bit of embarrassment, because you do all these 3 stages in front of so many people. Really like a bank, but way bigger, with a lot more spectators. So it’s important to be ready for that. But I know most of you could care less, which is great!
Of course, the gratification and the happiness you get when you do get approved is also very glorious. It’s like you’d want to just smile and greet every person you pass by!
Most importantly, pray. When you do, God’s leading becomes clearer to you. You can be saved from a lot of heartache when you are walking in God’s will. Also, only God can give you the peace of mind and a calm spirit in such a situation with heightened anxiety. 👍🏻
If you are successful, you will walk out of there with a 10-year multiple entry visa, on cloud-9. Except, with weakened knees and sweats of relief from the wearing-off of your adrenaline, and maybe some tears. But happy tears. ^_^
It really is worth the scare!
How about you guys? What was your experience applying for a US Tourist Visa? Let everyone know in the comments section below. ^_^
To my good friend, Willia, of http://www.cebuanaadventures.com, for allowing me to use some screenshots from her own blog for this article. Go ahead and follow her for more travel reads!
To our family friend, Tita Joy Cabañero, for picking us up at the airport so early in the morning. We really appreciate all your help, watching over our things while we were at the embassy.
To another good friend, Kay Chiong, for always trying to recall small details about the whole process every time we’d ask about them. That really helped us a lot!