How to get a US tourist visa?

This guide aims to answer that question and is here to help you prepare for the whole process. This is not a guarantee that your visa application will be approved because the US Embassy considers a lot of factors per individual. But I’m hoping that this guide will make things easier for you.

how to process a US tourist visa - this is my successful experience
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A Bit of Story

I was fortunate enough to visit the United States of America just recently. November of last year, 2017, to be exact. I am sharing with you now my experience in processing a US tourist visa as a Filipino or Philippine passport holder.

Just like many of you, I too have heard of the sad and frustrating stories surrounding the tourist visa for America. Many Filipinos got denied after months of preparation and after spending so much. And it is never clear why. That’s why, I must admit, I have not been keen to visit the US.

Honestly, thinking about the whole visa process was daunting. Just like other applicants, I had so many nagging questions in my head, the loudest of which was: Would I be approved?

But, apparently, a US trip was in the cards. My best friend since kindergarten who is now based in Cleveland, OH announced that he was getting married. I was invited and, of course, I really wanted to attend his special day. So, I toughened up and prepared myself for the seemingly long and winding way towards obtaining a US tourist visa.

And you know what? I WAS APPROVED! *insert happy dance here*

Went to the US (specifically Cleveland, Ohio) to attend my best friend’s wedding. Loved every moment of it!

Tourist Visa for the United States of America: Prepare to Get One

Processing a US tourist visa (specifically the B-1/B-2 visitor visa) in the Philippines requires you to set an appointment with the US Embassy and then be there during the set time and date. Since the embassy is located only in Manila and if you’re from other parts of the Philippines, then there is no choice but to travel to the country’s capital. Clearly, that appointment date is super important and you do not want to mess anything up once there. So, thorough preparation is highly advised.

Here is a preparation checklist I’ve created for you:

Check Your Eligibility

Are you eligible for a US tourist visa? According to the USA Immigration and Nationality Act, these are the tourist visa eligibility requirements:

  • Understand that the US government presumes that any tourist visa applicant is an intending immigrant. In other words, they automatically assume that you are trying to immigrate to the US even if you’re just applying for a tourist visa. Yes, it sounds kind of unwelcoming and I hope that changes in the future. But at the moment, that is what it is and we have to live with it.
  • Therefore, when applying for a visa, you must prove to America that you are simply there for tourism (or business since the B-1/B-2 visa is the same one that business travelers should be getting).
  • You are eligible if you are only visiting the US temporarily and for a limited period of time. That means your visit should not be over 6 months as that is about how long a US visa lasts.
  • Being eligible also means that you have the funds to finance the trip and can prove it.
  • You can prove that you are returning to the Philippines after your visit, that you can show proof of ties here in our country. This can be a business, your family, a job, or school.
  • If you’re not right away returning to the PH after your US visit, that’s ok. Just prepare some sort of proof of onward travel, like tickets for a trip to another country.

Please don’t try to apply for a tourist visa when your real intention is to be an immigrant. There is a good chance that they will find out and ban you for life from entering American soil. And that will reinforce the US government’s mistrust of Filipinos trying to enter as tourists. You will just be doing a disservice to honest Filipino tourists by making it harder for everyone. 🙁

US Visa Application Requirements

If you are eligible for a US travel visa, then it is time to gather the requirements:

  • Visa application fee – at the moment, the embassy charges $160 for the processing. Peso equivalent depends on current currency conversion rates. Take note, this is not refundable. (Yes, this is part of the risk and a very painful one if you get denied. But as they say, no pain no gain.)
  • Receipt of visa fee payment – once you’ve paid the visa fee, make sure to keep the receipt as you’ll need to submit that while filling up the DS-160 form.
  • DS-160 form – this can be filled up and completed online. How to process the form DS-160. Find the guide below.
  • Passport – the validity period of your Philippine passport must be six months or more beyond your intended stay in the US. In other words, if you’re visiting in May 2018, your passport should be valid at least until December 2018.
  • 2″x2″ photo ID – what I did was visit one of those ID shops in malls and specified that I want a photo for US visa application purposes. This is important because the photographer will then guide you on what to. Find tips about the photo ID below.
  • Interview appointment letter – once you have gathered all of the above, book an interview with the embassy. Guide for this part is found below.
  • Supporting documents – these are not strictly required but it pays to be prepared. So, bring as many supporting documents as you can, especially those you think can help prove that you’re returning to the PH. (ITR, bank certificate, COE, payslips, leave form signed by your boss, your business permit, student enrolment form, exit plane ticket, etc.)

By the way, if you have no Income Tax Return, and you need help in writing an Explanation Letter, I can help! I only charge PHP 250 for it (I got bills to pay po). Just send me a message on my Facebook page. ^_^

US Visa Application Steps

Step 1 – How to Pay the US Visa Application Fee

At the time of posting, the visa fee is $160. Every applicant must pay this, including children. It seems there are no senior discounts as far as I am aware. To determine how much this amounts to in pesos, you can use a currency converter for that.

Once you have the amount ready, you can pay the fee online. That is if you have an online account for BPI or Bancnet. Make sure you keep the receipt reference number after payment. Follow the instructions on the page to the letter.

online banking receipt reference number for paying US visa
Take note of your payment reference number as shown here. This is for online banking.

If you don’t have online accounts for the above banks, you can visit a BPI branch and pay there in cash. But before that, you must print a unique deposit slip, which expires. So, it is best to generate the deposit slip on the day you will be paying. Generate your unique deposit slip here. Again, take note of the receipt reference number.

paying in cash for US visa - reference number
Generate your deposit slip online first before going to the bank to pay in cash. Again, take note of the reference number.

Please take note: the visa fee is non-refundable and non-transferable.

Step 2 – How to Fill Up the DS-160 Form

Now, it is time to fill up the visa application form or the DS-160.

Start by creating an account here.

Once in, you will see a dashboard. There, you can manage your visa form, schedule an appointment, and monitor if your payment has been received by the embassy.

Carefully read the Attention message. Then, on the left-side menu, click on New Application / Schedule an Appointment. Follow all of the instructions provided there. Everything is pretty straightforward from there.

When asked to choose the delivery method of your visa in case you got approved, you have 3 choices. Choose the home delivery if you are not a Manila resident. On the left side of the form, you’ll notice a note stating the earliest appointment date available. This will give you an idea when it comes to scheduling. You can choose a more convenient date beyond the earliest one stated.

filling up the DS 160 form for US visa
Choose your delivery date. On the left side, you’ll be guided as to when the earliest appointment date is.

Then, you’ll reach this part. This is where taking note of the receipt reference number.  of your visa payment comes in. Enter the reference number to proceed.

paying the US visa fee, enter the receipt reference number
Enter the receipt reference number to signal the embassy that you have paid and are now ready for scheduling an appointment.

Make sure to double-check all of the data you inputted. Ensure the spellings and dates are correct. Then, finish the form. You should then get your ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page. Once you obtain that, it is time to schedule your interview.

TIP: If you don’t want to set up the interview appointment right after finishing the DS-160, that’s ok. All of the information you entered so far have been saved. You can log out of your account and log in again at a later time.

Step 3 – How to Schedule a US Visa Interview Appointment

Just follow the steps provided after you fill up the DS-160. I, unfortunately, cannot provide screenshots at this point because I am not applying for a new visa and one needs to enter the payment receipt reference number before one can set an appointment.

If you did not set an appointment right after filling up the DS-160, just log in again to the form page. On the dashboard menu, click New Application / Schedule an Appointment. Set the appointment from there by following the instructions provided.

Step 4 – Visit the Embassy on Your Interview Appointment Date

Make sure that you are on time for your interview.

Bring the following documents:

  • appointment confirmation letter
  • passport
  • photographs – 2 pieces of 2″x2″
  • supporting documents – e.g. Income Tax Return, Certificate of Employment, Bank Certificate, Leave Form, Visa Payment Confirmation, Itinerary, Airfare Tickets, etc. In my case, since my friend sent me a sponsorship letter, a wedding invitation, and records of his finances – I brought those along, too.

TIP 1: For the photograph, it is best to approach a professional studio such as those you’ll find in a mall. Make sure to inform the photographer that this is for processing a US tourist visa. In case your photographer is inattentive, know that in the photo you must be wearing a collared top. You also need to get your hair off your face and behind the ears. Also, remove accessories, such as earrings, nose rings, etc.

TIP 2: It is advisable to schedule your interview early in the morning. There are many reasons for this. One, the embassy officers won’t be too tired or stressed at their jobs yet early in the morning. So, they’re most likely to be less intimidating. Just hope that whoever interviews you slept well the previous night. Two, if ever (and this is a big IF EVER as I have no way of verifying this) the US Embassy sets a cap on the number of people they approve daily, having an early appointment gives you a better chance.

TIP 3: Have a good rest the night before. Don’t stress too much about your answers for the interview. If you are honest in your intent to apply for a tourist visa, then you should not be overly nervous.

TIP 4: Wear decent business clothes. No slippers. I’d avoid open-toed footwear as well.

TIP 5: Make sure you prepare all of the necessary documents for the interview the night before so you don’t forget anything. These documents should include a printed copy of your DS-160 (although you’ll be told online that there’s no need for it, I still brought mine to be sure). Have a printed copy of the appointment confirmation as well. Don’t forget your supporting documents. Mine included the sponsorship letter from my friend, my bank certificate, COE and payslips).

TIP 5: NO ELECTRONICS. This is for security purposes. So, do not bring your mobile phone, laptop, or any battery-operated device during the interview. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to enter the US Embassy. Security is pretty tight. What I did was ask my father to accompany me to the interview so he can wait for me outside with all of my electronics. I did this because there’s no way I am getting to the embassy entrance without my phone as I needed my Google Maps and transportation apps 😀 If you have no companion, leave your gadgets at your hotel.

Here are other things you should not be bringing with you during the US visa interview appointment:

  • large bags/purses (only bring a small bag that can be carried by hand)
  • zipped folders or folders with sliders (put your documents inside a long brown envelope)
  • food and beverages (don’t worry there are stores in the embassy’s waiting area selling these)
  • sealed packages/envelopes (I think it’s obvious why)
  • sharp and dangerous objects
  • weapons or explosive materials of any kind

TIP 6: No need to go to the embassy super early. Arriving at the entrance around 30 minutes before your appointment schedule will give you enough time. If you insist on arriving early, find a nearby coffee shop (I think there’s one across the street) where you can sit and wait. There is no proper seating area in front of the embassy and it might rain or get too hot.

I’ll tell you all about my experience in the embassy right below. Read on!

My US Visa Interview Experience

Like many applicants, I had my doubts. But visiting my friend and being there on his wedding day was really important to me. Even if I’m from Cebu and have to spend to travel to Manila for the visa and even if I have to spend $160 for it and end up getting denied – I still wanted to give it my best shot. I toughened up and processed my application.

So, ask yourself first. How important is this US trip for you? If it is worth the risk, then go for it!

When I got my interview appointment set, I booked a flight to Manila. I asked my father to accompany me because I’m female and I have no sense of direction and I thought this is a bad combination for Manila. I really did not want to deal with cheating cab drivers or getting lost and ending up in an unsavory neighborhood.

Also, since we cannot bring our smartphones to the embassy, I worried that I might not be able to find it without using Google Maps. If I leave it to a random cab driver, he might think I’m super rich upon hearing that I want to get the US embassy. Thoughts of getting driven around in circles to up the fare meter and extort me flashed in my mind. So, I decided having a companion for this already stressful trip is worth the extra expense.

Besides, if ever my visa was denied, I’d have my dad there to absorb my disappointment and possible explosion of anger and feelings of unfairness. 😀 Why my dad? He was the only one who was readily available to accompany me and has an amazing sense of direction. 😀

I made sure to arrive in Manila the day before my appointment. That way, I’d have enough rest. I stayed at an accommodation that’s only 20-min ride away from the embassy. That way, I don’t have to deal with Manila’s notorious traffic situation too much.

On the Day of My Interview

My appointment was early in the morning but I slept late, oops. Waking up early isn’t just my thing. Anyway, I rushed to the embassy with my father and I didn’t have time for breakfast. Not a good idea, I tell you, because the whole process took me more than an hour and I got super hungry while waiting in line.

I left my dad at the embassy’s entrance. Dumped on him my phone and purse. I only took my documents with me and wallet. I actually arrived there 10 minutes before my interview schedule and the entrance guard was already calling out my appointment number when I got there. Truly, it did not start out too well for me.

Then, it started raining! I had to rush to enter the embassy and still got wet a bit. We did not bring any umbrellas so I got so worried about my father as I know he will be soaking wet outside.  There was no covered shade 🙁 It was an effort to push the concern for my father to the back of my mind, but I had to focus on what lay ahead.

Inside, it was pretty straightforward. There are embassy people in uniform who will guide you where to sit and what to do. Just listen and keep your wits about you. There is also a photo ID shop inside in case you forgot your 2″x2″ picture. And there are food and beverage shops. I just bought water to ease my hunger though as I did not want any food particles stuck to my teeth while being interviewed. 😀

Lines, Lots of Lines!

The interview process involves a lot of lining up. So be prepared. In some parts, there are seats but for the most part, you’ll be standing in line. So, wear comfortable, closed, and decent footwear.

The first window counter I had to go through was managed by a Filipina. She asked me for my appointment number and purpose for being there. That’s it. I thought I was going to present all of my documents there but she didn’t ask for them. In fact, nobody looked at any of my documents while I was inside the embassy. I guess the US really does excel at background checking hehe. Anyway, still bring your documents with you to be safe!

Next up, I fell in line to have my fingerprints scanned. All fingerprints, mind. Sometimes, when the skin is too dry, the scanners won’t read the prints. Whoever is managing the fingerprints section will advise you to rub your fingers on the back of your neck. That happened to me and, fortunately, the scanner worked after that. There’s also a sanitizer dispenser near there which you can use.

Again, listen to the instructions given by the officers there. They have microphones so you can hear clearly. And, again, try to control your nerves. Don’t panic. Otherwise, you might not hear the instructions clearly and might just annoy the American embassy officers.

They do get annoyed. I witnessed a senior couple having trouble with the fingerprint scanners. They were short so they could not press their fingers well enough on the scanner, which was placed on a high-ish counter. The American woman behind the counter with her mic on told them to press harder, use the left hand to press harder on the right-hand fingers being scanned.

The old couple who were not probably used to such technology or are panicking, panicked some more 🙁 It took longer for them to pass that section. And the woman was repeating her instructions and clearly getting annoyed. I could tell she was miffed because her already microphone-enhanced voice rose a few more octaves. Fortunately, the couple managed to have their digits scanned in the end.

Lesson:  Listen to the instructions. DON’T PANIC.

Interview Moment of Truth

Simply follow the steps inside the embassy. There are signs and there are officers who will direct you to where you need to line up next.

Finally, the last line is for the interview. This is where most people become really nervous. After all, the interviewers (who are all Americans) sit inside their booth looking all imposing. They, too, have microphones on and you can actually hear them asking all these kinds of questions to the applicants. The questions vary slightly depending on the applicant.

Worst of all, you can actually hear them approve or deny applicants right there and then. And then those people will pass you on the line on their way out. Those who got approved will most likely be smiling from ear to ear, doing their best to contain their elation.

Meanwhile, those who were denied will pass by you looking so sad, disappointed, and crestfallen. And you’ll really empathize because you know that, just like you, they just went through all the trouble and paid around PHP 8,000 for nothing. Worst, that dream or coveted US trip of theirs became unreachable and to me, that is really the greatest loss.

While I was lining up, for some reason I wasn’t nervous. I was hungry! I could hear my stomach growling and I just wanted the line to move faster so I can get out of there and eat. I suppose I should be thankful for missing breakfast because when it was my turn to be interviewed, there was no room for nerves haha.

When I was still in the line, I chatted with the guy behind me to distract me from my hunger. He was being sent by his company for training to the US. So, he wasn’t nervous too because he had a good reason and had the necessary documents. He was interesting to talk to and we chatted away. In hindsight, we might have annoyed others in line with our chatter. We were the only ones talking in line there and the others were probably trying to simulate their interviews in their heads or psyching themselves up. So sorry!

But, if you’re really nervous, I suggest striking a conversation with the person ahead or behind you. That might help you calm down.

FINALLY. I got to the interview counter. There were several there and I ended up talking to an American lady. Upon getting there, I only allowed one thought to reign supreme: I am not going to illegally immigrate to the US and America should be happy to welcome me and my tourist money. Therefore, there should be no reason I won’t get a visa. Presumptuous or not, this gave me the confidence to not be intimidated and actually enjoy talking with the interviewer.

She asked me a bunch of questions. What’s my name, what’s my purpose in the US, who I will be staying with, what is my work, etc. I had no reason to lie, so I told the truth. Did not embellish as well and did not ramble on. I just answered her questions succinctly, to the point.

Then, she asked me to elaborate on my work. This was something that I had a little bit of doubt about. I am a freelance writer, after all, and I can work anywhere. To me, this sounded like I really have not enough ties in the PH. But, again, the truth is the truth. So, I told her about my work and that I also have a travel blog. She asked me where I live in the PH, and I told her I live with my parents.

All the while, the interviewer’s face seemed pleasant to me. She spoke calmly and pleasantly as well. I did not feel like she was intimidating. Overall, I think we had a good chat. Then silence. I waited for her decision as I listened to her type on her keyboard. Clack, clack, clack.

Then, she looked at me and said, “Okay ma’am, your visa is approved. It will be delivered to your home address in a few days.”

I smiled and thanked her. We bid each other to have a good day. I exited the building and went to my father (who unfortunately got rained on) and the first thing that came out of my mouth was: Let’s go eat! 😀

Really though, I was happy. But I did not allow myself to get overly excited until I saw the visa attached to my passport. Because I read somewhere that even though you got approved, there is still a rare chance that the visa will be revoked in case something suspicious comes up in their background check.

So, I told my father I got approved and he was really happy for me. And we got out of there to find some food. The next day, we left Manila. I’m 99% happy at this point.

Received My US Visa and It Is Multiple Entry! WOOHOO!

A few days later, my passport was delivered to my home address in Cebu. I excitedly opened it and there it was! I finally got my US tourist visa.

I scanned it adoringly with my eyes. Then, I came across the “Entries” part and it stated “M”. Multiple Entry valid for the next 10 years. It dawned on me that not only will I be able to attend my friend’s wedding, I will have more opportunities to visit him in the next decade. ECSTATIC!!!

Tips on How to Get a US Tourist Visa

The USA is a huge, huge place with many beautiful sights worth experiencing for yourself.

There is the Statue of Liberty in New York for example. Visiting this iconic monument was one of the highlights of my USA trip.

So, don’t scratch it out of your bucket list just because the process of obtaining a tourist visa seems daunting.

I understand that my experience does not guarantee your successful application, but all I’m saying is it is worth the shot.

me at the Statue of Liberty. New York
Meeting Lady Liberty was such a special moment.

To help you further, here are some more of my tips:

  • Be confident. Don’t let our passport’s “third-world” status hold you back. If you really love to go on adventures, then think of going through the visa process as one big adventure as well!
  • Stay calm during the interview. Answer only what is asked of you. Stop adding unneeded details. For example, when I was asked what I’ll do in the US, I truthfully answered: attend my friend’s wedding and tour a bit. That’s it. When asked what my work is, I answered: freelance writer. Only when she asked me to elaborate did I do so.
  • Focus on the positive. Don’t let the denied applicants bring your confidence down.
  • Stay alert and follow instructions inside the embassy.
  • Rest well the night before. If you appear too stressed and fidgety during the interview, this might make you look suspicious, which can be a factor for denial.
  • If ever you do get denied, chin up. This does not mean defeat. If you are honest in your application, then aim to try again in the future. It will hurt for sure, but it is not the end of the world. Perhaps you can gather more stamps on your passport before your next attempt. Your chances can be increased that way.

That’s all folks. Thank you for reading this ultimate guide to getting a US tourist visa. For other types of US visas, I, unfortunately, do not have experience in those so I won’t be able to guide you. If you have any related questions, just comment below. If you have tips you can share with others about this, your comment is much appreciated as well.

I hope this helps you in getting a US visa. GOOD LUCK!

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