My decision to apply for a US tourist visa came when I was in the middle of Bar review; stressed, exhausted and bored out of my mind. My one reprieve was binge-watching episodes of Masterchef Australia during study breaks, and those episodes ran out too quickly. One afternoon, I was eating with my sister, who mentioned that she was going to the US in December. Such perfect timing! I thought. My exams will be finished in November, so I’ll be free to tag along!
Knowing that I needed to accomplish my application before the exams, I began my research. My study breaks were spent online, reading blogs, PinoyExchange forums, and the US embassy’s website. To my relief, I learned that the US tourist visa application was fairly simple, requiring only a few basic documents and a $160 application fee. Previous applicants shared that they weren’t asked to show any additional documents, and this was the same for me and my sister during our interview. Unfortunately, none of the PinoyExchange applicant profiles fit mine to a T, so I was unsure of my chances and anxious until the interview. Here’s my status at the time of my application:
- 28 year old single female
- Graduate of Law (JD), unemployed and preparing for the Bar exams full-time
- With a bank account balance fit for full-time grad students (it was less than P100,000)
- With property in my name
- Travel history (within the last 5 years): South Korea, Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong and Macau
- Travel history (beyond 5 years): Thailand, Malaysia, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong
Kids, how many red flags do you see?
But if you scroll back up, you will notice that this profile was given a Multiple-entry tourist visa. Why?
In assessing the status of an applicant, the consular officers at the US embassy look for the following:
- Purpose of your trip. They need to know not only if you are applying for the correct type of visa, but also to see if your intentions are genuine. What do you really plan to do in the US?
- Strong ties to the Philippines. Equally as important to the purpose of your trip is your strong ties to the Philippines. These guarantee that you will depart from the United States after your trip. According to the US embassy’s website, “Ties” refer to the various aspects of your life that bind you to your country of residence: your possessions, employment, social and family relationships.
Ready to apply? Here are the Basic Requirements:
- DS-160 Application Form – to be filled out online here. Save your work often as the site times out after 20 minutes of non-activity. By time out I mean the site logs you out and you will have to reopen your DS-160 and retype the lost data.
UPDATE: When I helped my parents with their tourist visa applications in mid-2016, I noticed that the males are asked more questions about their educational background and travel history within the last five (5) years.
- Photo – soft copy; taken within the last six months. For specific guidelines and photo samples, check out this link and this link.
- MRV Visa fee – proof of payment of $160, paid either online, through BPI or Bancnet, or in person at the nearest BPI branch. Each tourist visa applicant must secure a unique deposit slip number by clicking Deposit Slip – $160 MRV fee found on this page. The receipt number will change after every click. Make sure to save it for your records.
- Current passport, valid for at least six (6) months beyond your period of stay. We handed the consular officer our current and most recent expired passports. He flipped through the old passports and gave them back to us.
After you have paid the visa fee, it will take at least 4 hours up to 24 hours for the payment to be validated. Head over to this link or http://www.ustraveldocs.com/ph to schedule your interview appointment. You will need to type in the receipt number. When you’re done, hang on to that receipt! You will need to present it during your appointment date.
Every applicant is required to personally appear during the interview. After the online submission of documents, payment of MRV visa fees, and the taking of your biometrics, the interview is the last and understandably most daunting stage of the application process. You are not allowed to bring a copy of your DS-160, so make sure you know your answers by heart.
The interviews my family members and I went through lasted only 5 minutes or less. None of us were asked to present any other document, but we had with us our passbooks and property titles. For my parents, their travel purpose was to attend a Rotary International convention so they prepared copies of their event registration and the organization’s letter to the consulate.
Visa interviews are conducted in a large waiting room with a long row of glass counters manned by consular officers. Your number will be called and you will be directed to your assigned officer. Wear clothes that make you look polished and presentable. Feel free to wear what you normally wear to school or to the workplace. Be yourself. Ladies, you will be standing up during the interview, so skip those high heels and wear something comfortable.
Sit in the first few rows if you want to have an idea of how the interview will go. The consular officers use a microphone to talk to the applicants, so you can listen in on other people’s interviews while you wait.
FAQ: Purpose of Travel
The consular officer will use the interview to verify your Purpose of Travel. Expect to be asked questions like, What part of the US are you planning to visit? Why? How long are you going to stay? How are you going to pay for this trip? Have you traveled outside the Philippines before?
They ask such questions to determine whether you have done the due diligence expected from a tourist. A real tourist would come prepared and would be able to state a rough itinerary, and if prodded, list famous landmarks, popular dishes or must-try activities in the particular states he/she intends to visit. You know where your relatives and friends live in the US, and if they offered to host you at their homes during your vacation. You would also have a bank balance that is sufficient in sustaining you during your entire stay, with enough left over when you return. Ideally, you are a frequent traveler with stamps and visa stickers on your passport, and, more importantly, you never overstayed or violated any local laws during those trips.
Depending on your situation, bring documents and any proof to support your application, as back up. If asked, you could present documents such as the invitation to your relative’s wedding, proof of registration to a conference or major event, or a confirmed tour package with a travel company.
FAQ: Ties to your Country
The consular officer will also ask questions to assess your Ties to your Country, and determine whether it is unlikely you will abandon the Philippines and move to the US.
- On Possessions: Do you own any property in the Philippines? How much do you currently have in your bank account?
- On Social and Family Relationships: Are you married? Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend? Do you have any kids? Do you live alone/with family?
- On Employment: What do you do for a living? How long have you been working in your company? How long have you had your business? How much do you earn in a month? What are your duties?
Under this category, keep in hand any proof of your steady employment or your successful business; proof of investments and other sources of income; confirmed schedule of meetings or events after your return, where your attendance is absolutely necessary; a letter from your company HR showing your approved days of leave; an upcoming or recent promotion; real estate and/or a vehicle in your name; Certificate of Enrollment from your school, etc. You could also present roundtrip tickets or an onward ticket taking you to a 3rd destination, but remember that this is a huge risk. You are NOT required or expected to purchase tickets before you secure a visa.
Once the interview is done, your consular officer will declare whether you have been approved or denied. If approved, he will hold on to your current passport, and you will need to wait for it to be delivered via courier before you see the details (single-entry or multiple-entry).
What if my visa was denied?
Your consular officer will explain to you the reasons for your denial. Quickly evaluate the contents of your DS-160, the documents you presented, and the questions asked of you during your interview. Don’t be disheartened. A visa refusal is not permanent, and you are free to reapply when you can show that your personal, professional and financial circumstances have changed considerably since the time of your original application.
UNITED STATES EMBASSY IN MANILA
1201 Roxas Boulevard
Manila, Philippines 1000
US Embassy – Visa Information and Appointment Service Center
Hotlines: (632) 976-8500, (632) 976-8501 or (632) 976-8502.
Hours: Monday – Friday, 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM (Manila time), except on Philippine and U.S. holidays