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Being a Philippine passport holder, there are over 60 countries that we can visit either visa-free or visa on arrival. I know! Amazing, right? We can actually circle the globe without going through the hassle and pain of applying for a tourist visa.
As a frequent traveler though, I am also aware that eventually, I will need to apply for a visa for countries that require one. And this year, I decided that I wanted to celebrate my big 3-0 in the USA.
Well, a girl can dream. And if you want your dream to turn to reality, you gotta do something about it. So I actually have to do something, act on it, and not just talk about it.
Except there was one problem. Getting a US visa is difficult. Or at least I was told.
Indeed, getting a US visa can be both intimidating and exciting.
Intimidating because, among Filipinos, it is considered the most difficult visa to obtain. Not only that you need to submit an application and secure supporting documents to prove that you won’t stay there illegally (thanks to our kababayans who took that route of being illegal immigrants which since tainted the entire Filipino community with that negative reputation), but you are also required to appear before the embassy for an interview. That interview will determine whether or not you’ll be able to step foot on American soil.
It is also exciting because hearing horror stories of being denied one makes me want to debunk all these myths and half-truths going around about the visa application process.
So, I took a leap of faith. An incredibly immense leap of faith.
Before you continue, I want you to do me a favor: Stop being negative and for once, have a mindset that it is possible to believe in once you thought was impossible.
Ignore all the negatrons in your body and be that optimistic prime version of yourself. Yes, do all the transformations that you need right now because the last thing that I want is a nega reader of my blog when I know I enthusiastically exerted all of my positive energies while writing this article. You got to this page for a reason, and I’m sure that it isn’t to know the recipe of chicken adobo.
At the onset, you’ll hear hearsays and discouraging remarks about applying. That’s okay. Take them as precautionary guidelines. But don’t let them consume you completely. The key to applying for a US visa (or any visa for that matter) is to not get intimidated. If you’re determined to get your hands on a US visa, all you need to do is to continue reading and follow the steps and tips below.
Note: The process below is only for the US tourist visa application for working adults. For other types of visas, please visit the US embassy website.
This part seems to be the most important of all, isn’t it? But what if I tell you now that requirements shouldn’t be at the top of your list for a US visa? I’m not kidding. If you want to know why just continue reading.
Application for a US visa can be done via the official website. For those in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia, don’t freak out if you don’t see your country of residence in “Asia.” Relax. Go back and click “The Pacific.” Apparently, these countries were grouped along with Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji. I don’t know why.
If you are in Malaysia, you can go to this page directly.
You will be asked if it’s your first time applying for a visa or visiting the website. I clicked YES since it was my first time. Obviously. Tourist Visa Application (B1/B2 type of visa) means Non-Immigrant.
FILL OUT THE DS-160 FORM
The DS-160 form is the application form that needs to be filled out by every visa applicant. You should submit your DS-160 application online prior to making an appointment for an interview at the Embassy or Consulate. Once you start your application, you will be assigned a unique application ID. Make sure to jot down this information. Save it. Copy and paste it. Record it. Take a picture of it. I don’t care how you do it. Just make sure you have a copy of it. Be sure to have your application ID and keep in mind the answer to the security question because you’ll need them both to access your application again. In cases that you suddenly need to attend to something else and you have no choice but to stop working on this application for more than 20 minutes, your session will expire. If you’re unable to finish your application in one go, you can save your application then just retrieve it when you’re ready to continue. Please be advised though that you only have 30 days to return to a partially completed DS-160 application. To access your application after 30 days, you must save it to your computer hard drive or a disk.
Although composed of multiple pages, the form is pretty straightforward and fairly easy to answer. You just need to input your personal information along with your address and contact number, passport details, your family and work background, and your travel details ranging from your visa class, travel companions, previous U.S. travel, and your U.S. contact (whichever is applicable). All questions must be answered in English. I suggest that you set aside a generous amount of time on this part. If you need further assistance in filling out the form, visit this site.
After inputting your details on the form, you just need to upload your digital photo to your application. There are certain photo requirements that the form is programmed to validate. If you upload a photo that does not comply with the photo requirements, an error will prompt. Check here for the photo requirements.
Review your information before you submit to ensure the information is accurate and correct. Once the form is submitted, you cannot make any changes. Also, chances are, most questions from your interview will be based on what you have answered in your application so make sure to review all of them. Once everything is completed, print your application. The printed confirmation page with barcode is required for the interview at the Embassy or Consulate. After printing the barcode confirmation page, I highly suggest that you email yourself a backup copy of the DS-160 in PDF format.
PAY THE VISA FEES
Although the official website would tell you to settle the visa fee first before filling out the DS-160 form, practicality-wise, I suggest that you pay AFTER you fill out the form. This will give you time to re-evaluate if you really want to have a US visa. Visa fees are non-refundable. Hence, if along the way, and for some reason you got this inkling feeling that it’s not for you, at least it’s not too late to turn around. But then again, you’ve gone this far, what’s holding you back now?
Since you’re applying for a tourist visa, your visa class is B1/B2 (Business & Tourism – Temporary Visitor). The visa application fee (also referred to as MRV fee) for a B-type visa is $160. Although fees are listed in US dollars, payment must be made using local currency, depending on the exchange rate at that time, which is being updated every day. In my case, since I’m in Malaysia, I paid RM640 (Ringgit Malaysia) during my time of application. To check the updated visa fee information, click here.
You may pay your visa fees via electronic funds transfer (EFT), JomPAY, or by cash at any AmBank branch. As for me, I paid using JomPAY because I didn’t want to go to the bank and I find it to be the easiest and most convenient way to pay. Since I paid using JomPAY, I can give you the detailed instructions for this method only. If you want to know more about this paying method, please continue reading. If you want to pay using other payment options and instructions, click here.
Paying via JomPAY
First, you need to download a unique deposit slip from the US visa website. For a regular tourist visa application, you can download the deposit slip here.
I provided a sample image below. You will see the JomPAY logo on the deposit slip where you will be given a unique Ref-1 number. You will use this number when processing your online payment. Important: DO NOT download or print multiple copies of the same deposit slip. You must have a unique deposit slip for each transaction. The Ref-1 number changes every time you attempt to download from that link I provided.
Pay attention to the expiration date on the deposit slip. Usually, it’s only valid for a few days. If you failed to make a payment on the day stated on the deposit slip, just go back to this website to generate a new one.
Once you have obtained your Ref-1 (aka MRV fee receipt number), log in to your bank’s Online Banking or Mobile Banking application and click on JomPAY. Enter the JomPAY Biller Code and Reference Number as shown at the bottom left corner of the deposit slip. It’s important that you pay the correct amount as stated on the deposit slip because there are no refunds. Upon completion, print out the bank receipt. Please keep your Ref-1 number because you will need it to schedule your appointment later on. It is your responsibility to make sure you keep your proof of payment with you.
Please be advised that after making a payment, you still need to wait for your receipt to be activated. I know you’re excited. But you have to wait. Once your receipt is acknowledged by the system, that’s the only time that you can schedule your appointment using the Ref-1 number. If you pay before 4:30 PM on any given banking day, your payment will be processed by noon the next business day. Any payment done after 4:30 PM or anytime during the weekend, it will be processed by midnight of the next business day, which is 12 hours longer wait time.
Note: A handful of international bank providers may not recognize the JomPAY Biller Code 5116, so make sure that you use your local bank account.
BOOK YOUR INTERVIEW APPOINTMENT DATE
For you to schedule your visa appointment, you first need to create a profile here.
Complete all fields and create your password. Once you are logged into the system, you will see your dashboard. On the left-hand side menu, you can click the “New Application/Schedule Appointment” button.
To start the process of scheduling your appointment, make sure you have the following information ready:
- Your passport number
- The MRV fee payment receipt number (Ref-1 number)
- The ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page
As you go through the process, you will be able to select your visa type, enter personal data, select your document delivery location, confirm visa payment and finally, schedule your appointment. The following screenshots are a simulation from my actual account.
After this step, that’s when you’ll be routed to the calendar which will enable you to set a scheduled appointment of your choosing.
To check if your schedule went through, you may go to “Appointment History” at the left-side menu on your dashboard.
IMPORTANT: Make sure to print the appointment confirmation letter as you will need to bring that on your scheduled appointment date. See sample confirmation letter below.
Practical Tip: You don’t have to book the earliest time. Trust me when I say that you don’t have to book the earliest time. Did I mention that you don’t have to book the earliest time? LOL.
I chose the 10:30 AM schedule. And for me, that’s the best time schedule to choose if: (1) you don’t want to skip breakfast, (2) you want to avoid the rush hour, and (3) you want to avoid longer wait time. I’ll explain more. Keep reading.
SHOW UP ON YOUR INTERVIEW AT THE EMBASSY
For those of you who have cars, I highly suggest that you don’t drive your car to the embassy. There’s no parking area for you there. So, you either be dropped off or take a short walk from the Ampang Park LRT station. In my case, Monica and I were too lazy to walk so I booked a Grab car from the train station.
Also, you don’t have to show up too early. I know you wanted to get it over with. But the US embassy won’t allow you to wait outside for more than 15 minutes prior to your appointment time. If you do so, you will be asked to leave. Their process is very systematic and organized. You will only be allowed to go inside the embassy when it’s your turn. You need to queue up, then you will be ushered inside where you need to go through two security checkpoints. Right, Americans don’t take any chances for sure.
When going to the embassy, make sure that you bring at least one identity card, in addition to your passport to gain visitor access to the embassy. Of course, do not forget to bring the required documents (below) and the supporting documents. Make sure to read the entire Appointment Confirmation Letter because it contains all the information you need for your scheduled interview. Items permitted to bring into the embassy are just keys and mobile phone. They have a list of prohibited items inside the embassy, so you should watch out for that.
- Interview Appointment Confirmation Letter
- DS-160 Confirmation Page
- MRV Fee payment receipt
- Passport (bring all available passports, particularly those with previous U.S. visas)
- One Recent Photo (white background only)
SUGGESTED SUPPORTING DOCUMENTS:
Employment letter (COE)
- I requested this from our HR free of charge. Like any employment letter, this should state your position, period of service, and salary details. For those with a working visa that has less than 6 months validity, I suggest that you let HR mention in the letter that your visa/contract is being renewed yearly. Depends on how fast your HR responds to your request, this can be requested anytime before your scheduled appointment.
Most recent three-month payslips
- If you’re a salaried employee, this shouldn’t be hard to obtain. I’m sure you have a personal copy of this that you can easily print.
- It wasn’t confirmed whether the US embassy requires bank statements to be certified with the official stamp of the bank or not. But since here in Malaysia it’s not much of a hassle to have your bank statements certified, I had mine certified anyway. All I had to do was print out my 3-month bank statement and go to my bank’s branch. Depends on how busy the bank is, you may need to wait about 10-15 minutes for the bank officer to certify and stamp on every page of the statement. If you’re lucky, 5 minutes and you’re out the door.
For me, the interview itself is just a mere formality. The time I spent on the interview is only about 5 minutes or less. I think I even spent a long time queueing up and anticipating the entire interview process.
Although I saw a few people being rejected and others were subjected to answer a few more questions and provide more supporting documents, I didn’t let any of those to discourage or intimidate me. I was positive about this one. I was completely confident. *grins*
If my memory serves me well, the following were the only questions asked during the interview:
“Why are you going to the US?”
“How long do you intend to stay there?”
“How long have you been here in Malaysia?”
“What is your job here (in Malaysia)?”
As far as I’m concerned, I answered all those questions truthfully, briefly, and confidently with a heart. LOL.
Occasionally, the Consul would look at her screen. But no further questions were asked, and no request to see other documents or proof of my employment whatsoever. All of the supporting documents I prepared were of no use. The Consul only asked for my passport. I saw her quickly scanning through the pages of my passport. A few seconds after, she put my passport on top of what I assume are stacks of passports. Then I heard her say, “Your visa is approved. Welcome to the United States and I hope that you enjoy your visit!”
My heart jumped with pure joy. I think I died for a second. LMAO.
It wasn’t mentioned whether we were approved for a single or multiple entry visa. Still, our happiness was more than we can contain that day. Both of our visa applications were approved. It was Monica’s first time to apply for a visa and she got approved as well. I was so happy for her!
From my assumption, every application has already been vetted prior to the appointment. They’ve probably done background checks as well. Who knows. That is why is it important that you are consistent with your answers, both on the online application and during the interview. Your intentions about visiting should be clear and not contradicting. Don’t give them a reason to see you as a risk for overstaying or doubt your capacity to support yourself to travel.
Since my visa application was approved, they needed to keep my passport for a few days for visa issuance. The Consul gave me a piece of bond paper with instructions on how to get my passport back. The delivery location will be based on what you selected when you scheduled your appointment. In my case, I chose office delivery to make sure someone is there (front desk personnel) to receive it. Three days after, I got my passport back. And it’s valid for a whopping 10 years, dude!
We only prayed for an “approved visa.” But He blessed us with an approved multiple-entry visa for 10 years! Both Monica and I got 10 years. Hallelujah!
If only you saw us, we were jumping like kids. I think it took us days before Monica and I finally got over it. The elated feeling, both of us grinning from ear to ear, is still there until now actually. It’s really worth it.
There you go! I can say that the whole process is not as daunting as many people thought so.
If you have plans to travel to the US in the future, I wish you the best of luck in applying for a visa.
I hope this article helps you in any way.
Do you have the same experience as I do? Or even a better one? Feel free to share them on the comments!
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