Obtaining visas are a complete pain in the neck and are, unfortunately, a solid requirement to visiting a lot of places for travelers from the Philippines (like me). For the complete archive of visa related posts, please click here.
LAST UPDATED: January 27, 2016
The United States of America continues to be a hot destination for many Philippines citizens and it shows no signs of letting up in 2016. Fortunately, obtaining a visitor's visa for the land of the free has gotten a teeny bit easier for Filipinos over the years. I can attest, I just got my 4th one last week!
Personal Prior US Visa History:
- Visitor (B1/B2) - 1998
- Student (F-1) - 2006
- Temporary Worker (H1-B) - 2015
- Visitor (B1/B2) - 2016
Follow these steps and you'll be on your way to the States in no time!
Pre-Interview Requirements & Preparation
#1 Pay Application Fee
#2 Completing DS-160 Form
#3 Scheduling An Interview
#4 Pre-Interview Prep
#5 Before Leaving Home
#6 Arriving at the Embassy & Security Checks
#7 Waiting To Get Inside The Interview Building
#8 Getting Inside The Interview Building
#9 The Interview
#10 Passport Pick Up
Pre-Interview Requirements & Preparation
#1: Pay Application Fee
As of this writing, the application fee for a US Visitor's Visa (B1/B2) is US$160 (this is subject to change at any time). Visit this page if you want to know what the current fee is for a "B" Visa (Business/Tourist). The fee may seem steep but you'll likely get a visa valid for 5-10 years which will pay for itself if you plan to visit the US 2 or 3 times in the future.
There are 2 online methods to pay this fee:
- If you have a Bank of Philippine Islands (BPI) account, click here for instructions.
- If you are a BancNet customer, click here for instructions.
If neither of the online methods apply, you can pay the Visa Fee by going to a Bank of Philippine Islands branch and paying in person:
- First, visit this page and head to the Fee Payment Options section.
- Click on and download the document titled Deposit Slip - $160 MRV Fee (or the corresponding document for the current fee). This slip will contain a unique Receipt Number you will need in order to create an appointment as well as the Payment Amount (in PHP) and Expiration Date.
- Next, print the downloaded form from (2) above and take it to a BPI branch along with cash to perform the transaction.
- Make sure:
- You make the payment BEFORE the expiration date on the slip.
- The bank teller gives you the payment receipt.
After you have made the payment, you will now be able to schedule an appointment with the US Embassy for the next 365 days. Even if you don't plan on applying any time soon, it is a good idea to pay the fee in advance to curb a higher fee in lieu of the increasing exchange rate. The inverse is also true! The fee may go down if the Philippines Peso strengthens against the US Dollar, but that is a not a gamble I'm willing to take. In short, if you are planning to apply for the visa in the next year or so, pay the fee now!
#2: Completing DS-160 Form
- Click on this link to go to the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) homepage.
- Under the Getting Started section, choose PHILIPPINES, MANILA as your option in the dropdown box.
- NOTE: Before beginning, make sure you have an acceptable digital headshot in the 1:1 aspect ratio. If you are unsure if your photograph will make the cut, click on Test Photo (indicated by * in the screenshot below) and then upload the photo. If your photo is deemed acceptable, proceed to the next step.
- Next, click Start An Application.
- In the Application Information screen, pick an answer for the Security Question of your choice and hit Continue.
- Complete the application to the fullest extent till you receive a DS-160 confirmation.
- NOTE: You do not need to complete this in one sitting. You can use the Application ID to continue your application by clicking on Retrieve An Application in the homepage.
- Print the DS-160 Confirmation Page. You will need this for your visa interview!
#3: Scheduling An Interview
- VERY IMPORTANT: Make sure 24 hours have passed since you completed #1: Pay Application Fee.
- Head over to this website and click No when asked "Is this your first time applying for a visa and/or visiting our site?".
- In the Apply For A US Visa homepage, click on Create Account on the right hand side.
- After creating an account and logging in successfully, click on New Application/Schedule Appointment on the left hand side.
- In the Visa Type Screen, select Nonimmigrant Visa. Click Continue.
- In Step 3, select Business/Tourism. Click Continue.
- In Select Visa Class select B1/B2 - VISITOR FOR BUSINESS AND PLEASURE. Click Continue.
- In PersonalData, fill out the form and enter the DS-160 Confirmation Number from #2: Completing DS-160 Form. Click Continue.
- In Step 6, add any dependents to your application. Click Continue.
- In Step 5, scroll to the very bottom and click on Continue.
- In Specify Documentation Delivery, I strongly suggest selecting Pick Up. Your passport will be sent to a 2GO center closest to you based on what you pick in the Select State/Province and Select City dropdown boxes. This way, you minimize the risk of something horrible happening in transit versus an office or home delivery. After making your selections, click Continue.
- In Step 8, enter the Receipt Number from #1: Pay Application Fee and click Continue.
- NOTE: Enter all the digits of your Receipt Number, including any 0 prefixes.
- A calendar with available times will then display. Pick the day and time that is most convenient for you and then print out the subsequent Appointment Confirmation Letter.
- It appears there is about a 3-4 week wait for the next available appointment.
- You can also schedule an appointment by calling (02) 976-8500 to 02 from 8:00am - 8:00pm Philippines Standard Time.
#4: Pre-Interview Prep
Before you head off for your interview, make sure you have the following things ready. Items in bold are essential!
- DS-160 Confirmation Page from #2: Completing DS-160 Form. This is very important. DO NOT FORGET THIS!
- One 2x2 Photo
- Original Passport with at least 6 months of validity
- Original Receipt from #1: Pay Application Fee. They generally don't ask for it but keep this handy.
- Appointment Confirmation Letter from #3: Scheduling An Interview. Again, they don't ask for it but keep this handy.
- Answers to the following questions:
- Why are you planning to visit the United States?
- If visiting friends, where do they live?
- Do you have any immediate family in the United States?
- What (other) places in the US to you plan to go to in your visit?
- Have you been to the United States before? If yes, when was the last time, for how long and what did you do there?
- What is your job in the Philippines? (Keep this answer quite brief but detailed)
- Supporting Documentation. They generally don't ask for it but keep this handy.
- Invitation letters
- Bank books/certificates
- Employment Certificate
#5: Before Leaving Home
It is imperative that you NOT BRING anything electronic with you as it is not allowed into the Embassy! This includes cell phones, cameras, MP3 players, calculators and even USB flash drives. Trust me, I learned the hard way as I inadvertently carried a USB flash drive and calculator with me on the day off.
If you can bring a friend to wait outside for you, feel free to leave your electronics with them. I went alone and I made sure I didn't bring anything electronic with me, most importantly my cellphone. Finally, I brought a notepad with me and wrote down the phone numbers of my family just in case I had to give them a call later that day.
In addition, do not plan on bringing any snacks or water into the Embassy with you. Those are also prohibited.
Feel free to bring a book or magazine (basically anything non-electronic) with you to entertain yourself while you wait, but this may not be such a good idea as I explain in #8: Getting Inside The Interview Building.
Finally, allow yourself time to get stuck in lovely Manila traffic and make sure you arrive at the Embassy at least 30 minutes before your appointment.
#6: Arriving at the Embassy & Security Checks
The Embassy is located on 1201 Roxas Blvd (Google Map). If you are going Northbound on Roxas, there is a pedestrian flyover that you can use to get to the Embassy on the other side.
- As soon as you get there, there will be multiple lines forming. Ask around for the line for applicants of your particular time slot and stand in it.
- Once your time slot is called, the first post checks that you have your DS-160 and valid passport before asking you to join another line.
- The next line attaches a barcode to the back of your passport for tracking purposes.
- Next, you will be asked to go through a scanner. All electronic devices, food and drink will be detected. If you heeded my warning in #5: Before Leaving Home, you should get through this no problem.
- NOTE: If you were caught bringing in an unauthorized item, you will be given an opportunity to leave the secure area and dispose or give the items to a friend or to someone performing a holding service. After these items are no longer in your possession, you may re-enter the secure area. You do not need to rejoin the line, just walk back into the secure area.
#7: Waiting To Get Inside The Interview Building
- After getting through security, you will join a line to check what kind of visa you are applying for and if you've gotten a visa before. Hand your passport along with your DS-160 to the booth agent and tell them "Tourist Visa" and if you've gotten a visa before or not. The booth agent will then attach an Interview Number to your DS-160. This number, once called, will be your opportunity to interview with a US Consulate Officer.
- After you are handed your interview number, you are then asked to sit in an open waiting area just outside of the interview building. Make sure you sit in the block of chairs closest to the entrance. These chairs are for Nonimmigrant applicants like you, and the other side for Immigrant applicants.
- Once seated, a greeter will call applicants in groups of 20 based on interview number. Pay attention to the greeter and once your group is called, line up with the others and prepare to walk into the interview building.
- In this waiting area, there are bathrooms and a small boutique where you can buy a beverage and some snacks.
- Comically, you can also buy US Embassy Manila emblazoned t-shirts and other souvenirs at the boutique to commemorate the experience.
- There is a photo booth just in case you didn't bring a photo. Six 2x2 photos can be had for 80PHP. Use this as a last resort only because you do not want to fall behind in line trying to get a new picture.
#8: Getting Inside The Interview Building
- Once inside, you will be ushered into the Pre-Screening area where the booth agent will check (again) what visa you are applying for and will affix the 2x2 picture you brought with you on your DS-160. Make sure your picture is easily accessible!
- Next, you will head to Biometrics where your fingerprints are taken.
- After that, you are asked to sit down and watch for your number to be displayed on the display screens overhead.
- Wait patiently, and when summoned, your number will be displayed next to another number which indicates the interview booth you will be interviewed in and will need to head towards.
- Interview numbers are called randomly within a certain block and are only called once.
- Every time you hear a Ding!, look up and see what interview number is being called.
- Interviewees have more or less 3-4 minutes to make it to an interview booth or lose their chance to get interviewed.
- Unfortunately, constantly looking up at every Ding! makes reading difficult.
- The interview booths used for B1/B2 Visitor Visas are typically 1-10. Try and get a seat as close to these booths as possible to reduce your walk time.
#9: The Interview
Here are the questions I got asked during my interview:
- "What is your purpose visiting the United States?"
- "When was your last visit to the United States?"
- (I mentioned I had a Temporary Worker H1-B Visa) "Is your H1-B now finished?"
- "What do you do for work?"
- "Is this line of work similar to what you did on your H1-B?"
- "How long did you spend in the US in total with the F-1 and H1-B visas?"
- "How long do you plan on staying in the US during your next visit?"
- (I mentioned I was going to a music festival) "Where is the music festival you plan on attending?"
"Approved! Your visa will be ready in 5 business days!"
#10: Passport Pickup
If approved, as soon as your passport is ready for pickup, you will receive a text from 2GO instructing you to come pick up your passport at the 2GO location specified in #3: Scheduling An Interview.
- You have till Midnight of the day of your interview to change pickup locations to another 2Go center (ie. in a different area) from the one specified in #3: Scheduling An Interview. Simply log back into your profile and change the Documentation Delivery Instructions.
- You will need to show a government issued ID in order for the passport to be turned over to you.
What happens next if your visa was denied?
Fortunately for me, I haven't had to deal with this scenario. I was able to dig up this information from the State Department Website that may provide some insight.
If a consular officer finds you are not eligible to receive a visa under US law, your visa application will be denied (refused), and you will be provided a reason for the denial.
I was found ineligible for a visa. Can I get my money back?
No. The fee that you paid is a non-refundable application processing fee.
Can I reapply for a visa?
After being found ineligible for a visa, you may reapply in the future. If you reapply for a visa after being found ineligible, with the exception of 221(g) refusals, you must submit a new visa application and pay the visa application fee again.
I'm pleased to be awarded another visa to visit the United States! This means I will be able to execute either plan (Plan A, Plan B) on my upcoming RTW Trip. From an application perspective, the whole process is pretty seamless and the interview itself somewhat of a formality. On the other hand, this may be due to the fact that I've been awarded 3 other US visas before this one which could easily mean your mileage may vary!
An interesting thing to note is that during the interview itself, I was not asked for any supporting documentation (such as financials). Again, this may be due to the fact that I have a rapport with the United States and have not overstayed or violated my previous US visas. With that said, I still think it is a good idea to bring supporting documentation outlined in (7) of the #4: Pre-Interview Prep section if this is your first time applying for the B1/B2 Visa. Better safe than sorry.
Personal 2016 Application Process Timeline
December 28th, 2015
Paid MRV Fee at Bank of Philippines Islands Bank Branch
December 30, 2015
Completed DS-160 & scheduled appointment online for January 21st, 2016
January 21st, 2016: Interview at US Embassy
- 0645 Arrived at US Embassy Manila.
- 0715 Got through security and seated in waiting area before getting into interview building.
- 0725 Entered interview building.
- 0745 Completed pre-screening and biometrics. Seated waiting for number (2138) to be called.
- 0805 Interview numbers begin to be called, starting at 2000.
- 0935 Number called, Window 6.
- 0940 Visa Interview completed. Visa approved.
January 27th, 2016
Picked up passport from 2GO
Where do you plan on going in the United States? I would love it if you checked out my travel diary for the area. No matter where you end up going, enjoy your visit to the United States :)
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