For as long as I can remember, I’ve been hearing people complain about why it is so hard for Filipinos to apply for a US visa.
They pay the fee, fall in line at the US Embassy at 4 in the morning, get interviewed at 11am, and then get denied. The fee is non-refundable so they go home several thousands poorer, lamenting the fact that traveling with a Filipino passport can be very challenging.
This fear of getting denied was what kept me from applying for a US visa in Manila for a long time. I thought that as a single female and a freelancer (that is, no fixed employment), my chances of getting a visa was very low.
I’m thankful to friends (you know who you are!) who told me quite firmly to apply before I left for my 2-year backpacking trip in South America. Because of them, I found out that getting a US visa was much easier than getting a visa to Europe (Schengen visa).
Why? Well, there are no requirements (aside from the fees and the application form), no letter of invitation needed (can you believe the Spanish embassy requires you to submit a letter of invitation from a police station in Spain???), and you can apply any time you like.
Nowadays, the process for applying for a US visa in Manila has been made much easier, too. You no longer have to show up at the embassy at the crack of dawn. Just be there 30 minutes before your appointment, and you’re set.
Is it easier now to get approved? In my case, I found it so, but I can’t say for others. In this post, I will lay out the process I had gone through when I applied for a US visa in Manila last July 2015. I also had some realizations as well on why people get approved or denied their applications.
The Process of Applying for a US Visa in Manila
First, I would like to state firsthand that this post is about the process of applying for a US tourist visa, which is a type B1/B2. Type B1 is for business while Type B2 is for pleasure, medical treatment, or visiting friends and relatives. Usually, these two are combined and issued as one.
Sign up for an account at the Consular Affairs Website.
Before anything else, you should create an account at the website of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. You can find the online application and schedule your interview in this site.
Once you’re in the site, click New Application –> Nonimmigrant Visa –> Business/Tourism –> B1/B2: Visitor for Business and Pleasure –> fill out your personal data.
You will then see the earliest available appointment.
Note that you can apply as a family, too. You just need to add their names to the form (see below).
Fill out the application form.
You should then fill out the online application form, the DS-160. It’s pretty long, but you need to fill it out properly as it will be used by the consular officers to assess your application.
Here’s the link to the DS-160 form.
Pay the visa application fee (US$160).
If the date of the earliest available appointment is fine with you, you can pay the application fee, as you need the proof of payment before you can schedule your interview.
My tip: If you want an earlier date, hold off on paying the (non-refundable) visa fee. Just keep checking the website for the earliest available appointment. In my case, for example, I signed up at the site last May, and the earliest date given to me was July 25. Since I was already leaving for Brazil on August 4th, it would already be too late, so I just kept checking. Finally, on the second week of June, I got a good schedule: 7:30am on July 13.
Once you see a date you like, you can pay the fee in two ways. (1) Pay online via BPI or Bancnet, and (2) pay in cash at BPI (not BPI Family Savings Bank). I paid online. Check out the process here.
If you want to pay cash, you have to print out a deposit slip form from the website. Each applicant has a unique receipt number so don’t print out more than one. Check out how to here. Don’t lose your deposit slip as you will be asked for it during your interview.
Schedule your appointment.
Once you have paid your visa application fee (and completed your DS-160 online application), you can now schedule your appointment. Note that you can schedule it only four hours after payment, or if you paid online, at 11am the next day.
My tip: Get the earliest time possible. Mine was at 7:30am and I was interviewed at past 11am. You don’t want to be interviewed later in the day, as by that time, the consuls have already interviewed hundreds of applicants!
Show up on your scheduled appointment date.
Show up at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time. Make sure to bring the following with you:
- Current and old passports
- Visa deposit slip (since I paid online, I took a picture of the payment page in BPI)
- DS-160 application confirmation
- Appointment confirmation
- 2×2 pictures (I brought two)
Other people brought folders of documents, including their employment certificate and bank statements, but I didn’t bring anything else aside from the items above plus my two old passports.
Outside the embassy, you have to fall in line to get in. There are at least three lines, corresponding to the time of your appointment. The personnel there will check your name, your appointment confirmation, your current passport, and your proof of payment before they will let you in. It won’t take long, though.
Once you’re inside, there’s another line to check your photos, so make sure your 2×2 picture is acceptable (e.g., white background, color photo, full profile, neutral expression, no cap, ears visible, no extraneous items). If it gets rejected, there’s a photo booth inside the embassy grounds, so no worries.
After the line checking the photos, you will be asked to wait in the covered court. There are a lot of chairs there, as well as food stands. Don’t just sit anywhere, though, keep to your place in the line, as they will call applicants by batch again to go inside the embassy for your biometrics.
My tip: Leave all electronics behind. They won’t let you in with it and they don’t have a baggage counter. That means no phones, tablets, laptops, or cameras (hence I have no photos!). I left my Kindle and brought a book; I should have brought two, as I finished it in a couple of hours and was left with nothing to do before my interview.
Tips in Applying for a US Visa in Manila (The Interview)
Unlike other visa application processes, the interview with the consular officer in the US embassy is, I think, the most important factor in getting a US visa. After all, aside from the online application form, you’re not submitting any other document–no employment certificate, no leave of absence, no legal deeds to properties you own.
In short, you have to convince the consul that you will go back to the Philippines after your US trip and not stay illegally there.
It was 9am when I finished the biometrics, so I still had 2+ hours of waiting to do before I got interviewed. To better hear the questions the consuls ask applicants, I chose a seat in front of the interview booths. Based on what I’ve heard and based on my experience, here are some tips during your interview with the US consul.
Be calm and confident. I know it’s hard to be calm when you’re waiting for hours and hearing one applicant after another getting denied. However, remember that if you appear desperate, the consul will wonder why you are so set on going to the United States.
I tried to chat with my seatmate for example, but she was so tense, she never acknowledged me. Too much thinking about the upcoming interview can be bad on your nerves, so while waiting for your number to be called, do something to occupy your mind, whether it’s reading, writing, or just paying attention to your breathing.
In my case, I just convinced myself that it didn’t matter if I would get the visa or not. I would just apply again in Brazil or Bolivia.
Act naturally (or just be yourself!). When you’re nervous, you will have the tendency to act unnaturally. My aforementioned seatmate, for example, when she was called by the same consul who interviewed me, loudly said, “Hello, Ma’am! How are you today? You look great!” It sounded so fake that I cringed. If you’re not the type of person who usually says that to people you just met, don’t say it. It makes you look desperate. (And yes, her application was denied.)
Answer only the question being asked. Answer briefly and concisely. Don’t babble as it gives the wrong impression.
Review the countries you’ve already visited. I noticed that the question “Have you traveled outside the Philippines?” was always asked by all the consuls. That shows that travel history is important for them. If you’ve been to quite a few, review them. Also, when this is asked, give your old passports. My consul leafed through my brand-new passport (with nothing in it) when she asked the question, so I gave my old passports and she was satisfied that I had indeed been to 18 countries at the time of the interview.
Don’t lie! It seems common sense, but I guess people still lie during interviews. One applicant was caught out on his reason for travel and he had to backtrack. It was painful to hear it.
My Interview with the US Consular Officer
By coincidence, I was sitting right in front of the booth of the consul who eventually interviewed me. When I saw her counter number beside my queue number, my heart fell. I saw her deny application after application. I think she only approved 2 visa applications out of 20, and usually, the applications she approved were made by families (with kids in tow), not to solo applicants.
Thus, I was calm when I approached her window, resigned to the fact that my application would probably be denied. These were the questions she asked me:
- Purpose of travel (“To spend Christmas with my cousin in Delaware, as I don’t want to be in a hostel in Peru with drunk backpackers during the holidays.”)
- Reason for my travel to Peru (“I’m backpacking in South America for 2 years or more, starting August 2015.”)
- Date of intended US travel (“December 2015 to January 2016.”)
- Employment (“I’m not employed. I’m a freelance writer and editor and I work online.”)
- Monthly earnings (“00,000 on average.” –I was surprised she didn’t ask me for proof! I was telling the truth, but still.)
- Educational attainment (“Candidate for a Masters degree in Psychology in the University of the Philippines.”)
- Family composition (I told her about my mother and my siblings.)
- Travel history (I told her I’d been to 18 countries, started saying them, then just gave my old passports to her.)
- “What would make you go back to the Philippines?” (“I’m not sure. When I finish my trip in South America, I’m planning to travel more, either to Europe, if I can get a visa, or to New Zealand and Australia.”)
- “Are you planning on setting up a business?” (“Yes, something to do with the written word. Either to produce content for websites, or to edit them. That’s what I’m doing now anyway.”)
That was it. She then said that I can expect my passport back in 5 days; it will be sent to the address I gave via courier.
I couldn’t stop smiling as I went out of the embassy. I’m sure the people there saw that smile and knew what it was about. (When someone’s application is rejected, the consult gives them a piece of green paper, probably stating how to reapply. I have seen so many people leaving the interview with green paper and a downcast expression!)
Less than a week later, I received my passport with the multiple entry, 10-year US visa in it. I couldn’t believe it was so easy, I should have applied a long time ago!
How about you? Are you planning to apply for a US visa? If you already have one, please share your experience (and tips!) in the comments below.
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!