Have you ever wanted to travel in the United States? Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Chicago or Las Vegas? How about to goof around to the financial and cultural capital of the world? which dubbed as “The Big Apple” or commonly known as New York City?
As a Filipino native born citizen, I need to have a visa to enter the US. (and the European Union, United Kingdom, European Union, Australia, Japan, South Korea). This is one of the hindrances that prevent some Filipinos to travel to these places freely without hassle. The Philippines is not a member of the “Visa Waiver Program” that these developed countries provide those lucky foreign citizens to travel among their countries for a limited period of time. Example: If you are US Citizen(native born or naturalize immigrant) you can go travel in Europe and the rest of developed world freely without applying for visa, atleast if your purpose is for visit friends and family or tourism.
I myself was nervous and reluctant for applying visa before. Especially at my age (24) and just nearly three years in the corporate world. However, my passion to travel around the world did not stop me from conquering my fear and take chances.
My first ever issued visa was from South Korea with single-entry, three months validity on May 2013. I used it the following month and stayed in Seoul for roughly six days. I was nervous that time since it was my first time and no experience or history to apply for visas. But prior to that, I already have traveled to Hong Kong and Singapore the previous years. Here in Manila, you need to go to the embassy and apply. You should have the result in a week. South Korean visa is free for tourist provided that you will stay in their in less than sixty days. I was not interviewed, at least on my case. But I saw some who were turned down and needed to be interviewed. I got my visa in less than two weeks prior to my departure. (SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA)
Last March, I have faced another challenge when I intended to visit Japan. I was afraid that I might get denied since from what I’ve heard they are stricter than Korea. I do my researches in the internet. Read forums. Blogs and visit the Embassy website to gather credible information. In the Philippines, Filipinos applying Japanese visa cannot apply directly to the embassy unlike South Korea. You should only apply to their “accredited travel agencies”. The visa is free but the travel agencies charged processing fee as the middleman between the applicant and the embassy. On my case, I lodged my application at Friendship Travel and Tours in Dusit Thani – Makati. I paid 1,200pesos(US$30) and submitted the documentary requirements. Thank God, I was approved for single entry visa with three months validity. I was very happy that time. I got my visa in three days. It was once of the best birthday gift I ever received. I flew to Japan a month after and stayed their for nine days (TOKYO, JAPAN and side trips to KYOTO, OSAKA, and YOKOHAMA)
Whew. And now, the conquest for another visa. I maybe too excited to travel around the world and finally go beyond Asia. I have gambled $160 to take my luck as I applied my US Visa. In the Philippines, it was notably one of hardest visas to obtain especially when you are applying for tourist visas. Seriously, I spent a month to think whether to submit an application. I was really afraid and doubted myself. I began to dig forums and blogs to get tips and advises. I submitted my application weeks after I arrived from my Japan Adventure.
Applying for a US Tourist Visa is quite easy but the Interview with an American consul is the deal breaker for most.
Let me share how I made it:
1. I went to Kodak in Glorietta to have my picture taken that matched the US Embassy requirements. Make sure to get a soft copy.
2. I filled out the DS-160 application form from their website and attached my photo from Kodak. I save my application in my laptop for my reference. (Note: Make sure to put on your Middle Name as part of your given name. This was my mistake when I filled out the application online. You can either choose to open another application or change it in the embassy in the pre-screening stage. I chose the later. I got no problem).At the end of your application online you also need to print your DS-160 Confirmation Page.
3. I printed out the Payment Slip from their website and present it to Bank of the Philippine Islands and paid 7,200Php or US$160
4. I called their hotline and book an interview. You will need your DS-160 Confirmation Page and the Receipt of payment. They will ask for the reference number of each. I personally booked Monday at the earliest time available. I was able to avail 7:15AM a month after submitting my application. For me it’s a mixed of nervousness of prolonged agony and a confidence of more time to prepare. I asked for advises and follow several forums hoping it will be worth it.
The weekend before my interview, i was not able to sleep properly. I am so nervous and lived in paranoia. My age is a big factor. I am just 24. I have no family in the US but I got relatives. However, they are in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Stockton. But I intended to go to New York City. I have long time friend wayback from childhood who is now a legal citizen their. They immigrated ten years ago. I intended to put her as my reference in New York but it is not like the “she is inviting me” scenario so a letter of invitation is not necessary. I am almost on my third year on my job (Two years and nine months to be exact) from a well-known American I.T. company with a good salary. I have past travel history (HongKong twice, Singapore, South Korea and Japan) I am in the I.T. industry and my intent is pure visit and tourism.
5. The day of the interview. I arrived an hour before my schedule (6:15AM) but there were already a lot of people outside. You should not bring any electronic gadgets including mobile phone. This is prohibited inside I personally went there with just my wallet and my documents(DS160 Confirmation Page, Appointment Confirmation, Payment Slip, passport, employment certificate, letter of approved leaves, bank statement and certificate, stock certificate, vehicle payment receipt, hotel and flight bookings from booking.com and China Eastern Airlines. They should all be under your name unless you are being sponsored. They were under my name. Never mind what to wear, I wore casual but presentable.
a. I queued on 7:15AM line. They allowed us to go on the Embassy grounds where the other Non-Immigrant and Immigrant applicants were waiting. This is also the place where the 2GO Courier will put the sticker in your passport.
What i learned from college is that whenever you are inside an embassy, you are already under the jurisdiction of that country.
a. Entry and Pre-screening – From the waiting area, you will be directed to enter the another gate(I supposed the Main Gate) for security check. Then you will proceed to a window where they will give you your “queue number” before entering the Consular Building. There is a waiting area before you can enter. I am not sure if the queue number begins with 0000 but they gave me 2220 already! There is a snack back in this area. They manage to let people by batch to the Consular Building. The system is great. No hassle. It was convenient. There is also a small Kodak center and photocopying booth here just in case you need it. There were also personnel along the way of each stages if you need assistance.
When I entered the Consular Building, my nervousness doubled. I already saw a lot of people and the windows where the consul at. It is where you can edit your application for corrections (in my case, i asked to put my middle name in my surname. )
2. Biometrics. – it is where they will take your picture and finger prints digitally.
3. The Interview – this is the final and the “make or break” stage. You can actually overhear some interviews here especially when they flash your number to enqueue on a particular window.
The moment of truth – my number flashed to go to Window 3. A mid 30s or 40s American lady there. There is man before, he was approved. But I heard some families and individuals from the other windows who were turned down and some were approved. This is it. My turn.
VO: Good morning
Me: Good morning *smiles*
VO: So what is your purpose of going to the States?
Me: for tourism, i want to explore NYC and do small shopping.
*typing in the computer*
VO: Great. so who is <the girl in my reference> is she your girlfriend?
Me: NO! I responded immediately in full force with a bit irritated look. (Because she is really not. I do not have a girlfriend)
VO: Oh sorry i just need to ask about that. How did you meet?
Me: I explained thoroughly and even provided some info about her and her family
VO: Is she a US Citizen or immigrant?
Me. Immigrant. They migrated ten years ago
*typing in the computer*
VO: Why do you want to go to Diamond District? ( i wrote it in my application form)
Me: Ohh. i am just curious what is it all about, how it looks like
VO: Ok. so what do you do?
Me: I am < company position> at <company> at <company address>
VO: How long are you with <company> ?
Me: 2 years and nine months
VO: You are <company position> so what is it all about?
Me: <I explained thoroughly in two or three sentences my duties and responsibilities>
*tying in the computer*
VO: Okay. so have you been travelled before?
Me: yes i went to Hongkong twice, Singapore, Macau, Korea, and Japan
VO: How much you earn per month?
*scans my application in her computer while typing*
VO: So you speak French?
VO: Where did you learn? at school?
Me: Self study.
VO: (I did not hear clearly what she said in French)
Me: I am sorry?
VO: <french word> it means truly?
Me: Oui. *smile*
VO: What did you do in Singapore? Work or pleasure?
Me: All my travels are for pleasure. I stayed in Singapore for three days.
VO: Ok, your visa is approved. We will deliver it in a week.
Me: Merci Beacoup *smile*relief*too much joy**
VO: Je vous en prie, she smiled
I was so happy that time. I am with no one. I left my phone at our apartment. The feeling that I survived the interview. I proudly exited embassy with joys in my face. I hailed a cab outside and went home. The taxi driver asked if I got approved and I said “yes” with full smile 🙂 He interviewed me all the way and he told me I was lucky at my age. He even told me some stories from his previous passengers who were denied.
My passport was delivered by 2GO three days after my interview. Voila. It’s a 10 years multiple entries visa. Yehey! Thank God! 🙂
*As I have read from the US Embassy Manila website, your visa is still valid even your passport has expired. You just need to bring your old and new passport at the port of entry when you arrived at any US airport.
I hope I was able to inspire some prospective US Visa tourist applicants 🙂
I’m off to New York City this November. The Autumn season 🙂