A quick note: You can’t really wear sunglasses for your US Visa Photo 😆 I just take my privacy seriously. 😎
Visiting the US is the last thing on my mind…
It’s expensive, and not as fascinating as Europe (at least for me, anyway 😉 )
But since I plan on exploring South America later this year, I figured I might as well apply for a US Visa so I can visit more countries in the Americas.. either on a visa-waiver/exemption or with visa-on-arrival. (This includes Mexico and 20+ other countries, click here for the complete list.)
It also got me thinking about attending a digital marketing conference in the US. I’ve been to 2 different SEO conferences here in Southeast Asia in the past few months and I’ve gotten a lot of value from them. So I figured, attending a conference in the US would be helpful in growing my online career.
Applying for a US Visa is done online. All your details, your application form, and payment is submitted online. Once payment is confirmed, only then will you be able to choose an appointment schedule for the interview.
Here is the official page of the US Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, where you can find more info about B1/B2 US Visa.
Are you an online freelancer or a digital nomad?
For online Filipino freelancers and digital nomads, the idea of applying for a US Visa may seem daunting.
But this is why I always encourage online workers to register with the BIR and pay taxes. This is one the PERKS of registering and paying taxes. I understand taxes are a tricky and sensitive subject, but there are lots of benefits you get to enjoy when you’re a taxpayer. (Add that to the fact that when you complain about a government office or poor service, you can justify “I’m paying taxes, and this is where my taxes go???!” 😛 )
It’s easier to employees to apply for visas; they’re just asked for their employment certificate. But if you’re self-employed, that shouldn’t stop you from applying for a visa. Even if you’re technically “unemployed”, you still get a fair chance of getting a visa.
Which visa do you need?
There are many different visas you can apply, depending on your situation.
For this article, I’ll be focusing on B1/B2 Non-immigrant Visa.
- B1 Visa — is for those traveling for business, including “consulting with business associates, attending scientific, educational, professional or business conventions/conferences, settling an estate or negotiating contracts.”
- B2 Visa — is for tourists intending to visit the US for tourism, family visits, medical treatment, and “other activities of a fraternal, social or service nature.”
How much is US Tourist Visa application fee in the Philippines?
It’s $160, payable in the Philippine Peso. The exchange rate is determined by the consulate. Find today’s exchange rate here: Apply for a U.S. Visa |Visa Fees – Philippines (English)
Requirements for applying online
Before you start the online application process, make sure you have the following:
- A scanned copy of your passport BIO page
- A 2×2 photo (digital copy) – for more info, click here
- All details you need like who are you visiting in the US, their address and other contact details.
- $160 in Philippine Peso equivalent in your BPI bank account
Once you have those ready, you can then proceed.
How to apply for US visa online
1. Fill up and submit DS-160 Form
This is essentially your US Visa application form. It will take a lot of time to complete all the sections, so make sure you do it when you have the time. When you have the requirements I listed above, go to this page: Nonimmigrant Visa – Instructions Page
Select the location where you will be applying from (in my case, I chose Philippines, Manila), then enter the code. Then you need to upload a photo.
Once you start the application process, they will give you an Application ID. Here’s a copy of mine below:
To give you an idea on what sort of questions or information you need to provide, here’s a screenshot of when I was filling out the online form.
If your session timed out, or you took a long time to fill up all the required details, you will see this warning. Don’t worry, you can still access your application, but be sure to have all the following information.
After you filled up everything, and submitted it, you will get to the confirmation page. If you don’t have access to a printer, I recommend to “Email Confirmation” so you have a copy in your email.
Don’t forget to print out the confirmation page; you’ll need to bring it with you to the embassy.
Only print the CONFIRMATION PAGE, not the entire application form which you submitted online, unless you want a copy for yourself. But be sure to keep it safe as it contains private and confidential information.
2. Sign up for an account here: Apply For A US Visa
This is also what you’ll use later on to schedule an appointment for the interview.
3. Pay the $160 visa fee.
I know the US Department of State website recommends paying the fee first before filling up the DS-160 form, but I wanted to go through the application form first. Take note, the visa fee is NON-REFUNDABLE.
More information on the visa fee can be found here: Apply for a U.S. Visa |Visa Fees – Philippines (English) You will also see on that page the current consular exchange rate.
When you’re ready to pay, go here: Apply for a U.S. Visa | Bank and Payment Options/Pay My Visa Fee – Philippines (English)
Please read it carefully.
You can pay cash at the bank or by online payment via BPI or Bancnet. My experience is with paying via BPI online banking, so that’s what I will cover in this guide.
Under “Online Payment”, click BPI and it will open another tab. It will give you instructions on Online Payment For BPI Customers. Take note of the reference number.
IMPORTANT: Only click the “BPI” link ONCE , and do not refresh the page, as it will generate another reference number.
This PDF guide will show you how to enroll US Visa Docs to your BPI online banking so you can pay online.
You will receive a “Bills Payment Confirmation” email from BPI, confirming you’ve sent payment for the US Visa application. Print this out and bring it with you when you go to the embassy for your interview. You won’t be able to get inside without this.
It looks like this:
4. Schedule your interview on this page: Apply For A US Visa
Remember the account you created in Step 2? That’s where you’ll schedule your appointment.
You’ll need the following details to schedule:
- Your passport number
- Your MRV fee payment receipt number
- The ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page
Important Note on VISA FEES
Once your payment is verified, you can proceed to scheduling your appointment.
After you choose your appointment day and time, you’ll get an appointment confirmation. It contains on important instructions on when to go to the US Embassy, what to bring, and other reminders.
Things to Bring To Your Interview
Here’s a checklist of things to bring during your interview:
- Appointment Confirmation (print ALL pages)
- DS-160 Confirmation (just the confirmation page, NOT the entire application form)
- Payment Confirmation (the email confirmation from BPI)
- 2×2 passport photo
- Supporting documents (ITR, old passports, bank certificate, property titles, etc.. whatever you feel might help your case)
What NOT To Bring During Your Interview At The US Embassy
Please pay attention, as this is VERY IMPORTANT.
Electronic Devices NOT Permitted on Embassy Grounds.
For the safety and security of all applicants and employees, visa applicants are NOT PERMITTED to bring the following into the Embassy:
- any kind of electronic and battery-operated devices (mobile phone, digital camera, laptop, music player, portable game consoles such as PSP, thumb drive, mobile tablet, e-readers, and the like)
- lighter and any flame-generating device
- sharp objects including army-style multi-tool accessories
- crayons and markers
- any kind of food including chewing gum
- any device with an On/Off switch
Applicants who bring such devices will be denied entry and your receipt will be locked, preventing rebooking, for 30 days.
What To Expect On The Day Of Your Interview
The US Embassy reminds people to NOT arrive earlier than 15 minutes from your interview time. So if you chose 8:30am, you should plan to arrive at the Embassy at 8:15am. This is to avoid long queues outside the Embassy. They control the number of people who come in.
When I set up my appointment, I chose the 8:30am schedule. I arrived at 8:00am, and I noticed that they have already started letting in applicants scheduled for 8:30am.
At the gate, they will ask for 4 things:
- Appointment confirmation
- DS-160 confirmation
- Payment confirmation
If you have everything, then they will let you in. After going through security checks, you will be asked to wait inside a seated area.
When it’s your time, you will be asked to line up and go through the process. Depending on how busy the Embassy is, there will be many other people having the same time as you. I think there were 20+ people who had the same scheduled time as me.
They will check your documents in the first and also ask why do you want to go to the US. It’s how they check that you’re applying for the right visa. Also, it’s also here that they check if you got the right photo. Otherwise, they will ask you go to out and have your photo taken.
Next window is BIOMETRICS (fingerprint scan).
Afterwards, you will then queue for interview with the visa adjudicator (the ones who decide whether you get your visa application approved or denied). During the time I applied, there were 3 different rows, with 5 visa adjudicators each. I probably waited an hour just standing in this queue. You can bring a book or magazine to read to pass the time.
As for me, I just enjoyed observing other people, and watching the Embassy Infomercial on US Visa Applications. It was quite informative 🙂
The visa adjudicator will ask you “Why do you want to go to the US?”
Apparently, they will all assume that you want to go to US and stay there illegally, UNLESS you can prove to them that you won’t. (I learned this in the informercial. I told ya it was very educational 😉 )
The follow-up questions will depend on your answer to the first question.
But ultimately, all they want to know is that you can afford to go there, and that you will ultimately leave and NOT overstay in the US.
I’ve seen people, even families, who were denied the US visa. And the reason was always that they failed to prove that they won’t overstay in the US.
Important Note Regarding Supporting Documents
Most of time they won’t ask to see your Income Tax Return, bank certificate, etc.
But you still bring these documents just in case they ask for it.
So put your best foot forwards and answer the interview questions as best you can and as honestly as you can. It’s your only chance.
When I applied, I got my visa approved just from my answers alone. The visa adjudicator DID NOT ask me for my ITR, BIR Registration, or bank certificate.. but I still prepared and brought those supporting documents with me.
Possible Interview Questions
Visa Approved or Denied? Hopefully approved! 🙂
The good thing with US Visa applications is that you will know right there and then whether you’re approved or not.
When you’re denied, they will return your passport, and give you a blue slip (this is where they’ll state the reason for denial).
When you’re approved, they will take your passport and tell you when to expect it. Processing time depends on how busy the Embassy is at that time. I was told to expect my passport and visa within a week, but I got my passport before then.
You can track the status of your Passport and Visa here: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-passportretrieve.asp
How about you?
Are you planning to apply for a US Visa?
Please note that my experience here is for a tourist/business (B1/B2) visa application. If you’re applying for another type of visa, remember that while the steps might be the same, the requirements (especially the supporting documents will differ)
How to Apply for a US Visa in the Philippines – http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph/ph-niv-visaapply.asp