Applying for an US Travel Visa
This article is mostly about the basics when it comes to applying for an US travel visa and the purpose is to help make the process as quick and as “painless” as possible for you. America is truly one of the greatest travel destinations in the world and there are just too many things to see on just one trip – I mean the scenery ranges from the beautiful beaches of Florida to the Snow slopes of Colorado , not even mentioning the hustle and bustle of a vibrant city like New York. This is just a couple of examples and the list just goes on and on and seems to be endless!
As with traveling to most places in the world , the US also requires you to have a valid visa that you need to obtain before you land in America. I’ve been to the states a couple of times , both for work and for pleasure. The B-2 visa is the most commonly used visa and is intended for those who want to travel to the US for leisure purposes.
The requirements to apply for a B-2 visitors visa:
- Complete a form called the ” DS-160” ,online through the US Department of State’s official website. Basic personal information , purpose of travel ,education etc. are asked. The official link can be found here.
- After completion of the DS-160 , you MUST print the bar-coded confirmation page as proof that you’ve completed the DS-160 form.
- Book an Appointment on you Local American Embassy’s website , you’ll first be asked to register your new account with the Embassy. You’ll receive an email confirming your appointment. US embassies worldwide can be found here. (Follow the link that takes you to the visa section)
- Pay for your visa – payment methods are different at different Embassy’s. My local embassy only accepted cash deposits paid into their official bank account. (Payment is Non-refundable)
- Remember to keep the original payment slip /confirmation of deposit as proof of payment.
It sounds like a lot of things to do , but the nice thing about the American visa is that it is valid for a period of 10years , with your stay limited to 6 months at a time. Thus you only need to apply for a US Travel visa once every 10 years. Important: Your US Travel visa stays active even if your passport has expired. So no need to apply for a new visa when your passport expires , simply travel with both passports.The visa interview seems to be daunting to a lot of people , but the reality is that you haven’t done anything wrong and the reality is that the purpose of the interview is purely to ascertain your reasons for going to the US and to ensure that you’ll return safely.
Things to take to your visa interview:
- Valid Passport – with at least 2 unused visa pages.
- Previous Passport – If you’ve traveled to the US before. Important: The US visa can still be used , even if you passport has expired!
- One Passport Photo 5cm x 5 cm – There are further instructions with regards to photo quality that can be found here . Photos must be less than 6 months old!
- DS-160 Confirmation page. (The one with the barcode)
- Appointment Confirmation Page.
- Proof of payment of visa fee.
- Proof of purpose of travel – for example where you planning to travel to and for how long. (Itinerary)
- Proof of Ties to your home country – Probably the most important documentation to take with you in order to show that you intend to return back from the US . I used a letter from my employer as proof of employment , stating the dates I needed to be back at work. Also home ownership should be sufficient proof.
- Proof of sufficient funds – copy of a recent bank statement , payslip etc. You could also bring a letter from the person who will sponsor your trip’s expenses, if that is the case.
- Provide a letter/invitation from the person you’ll be visiting in America – if you are going to visit someone….
REALLY IMPORTANT : Do not book any flights or accommodation before you’ve obtained a visa , as there is no assurances that you’ll receive one. I know most European Visas require flights and accommodation before applying for a visa, but the American visa does not require it. Also you are allowed to stay a max of 6 months at a time!
It might take some time to get all the documentation you need together, in order to apply for your US visa, but you only need to do this once every 10 years and visiting the US is definitely worth the “trouble” of going through the visa application process. As I stated before , there really are so many things to see and do in America that a day’s hassle of going through the application process is not too hectic. For me the interview was pretty quick, smooth and painless. Most embassies use Courier services to courier the passport back to you – so be sure to fill that information in. I received my passport back in like 3 working days.
Visa Waiver Program:
The US Department of State has agreements with a number of nations that are allowed to travel to the US without a visa . This is for a period of up to 90 days. (So ,if someone who falls under the visa waiver program wants to stay for more than 90 days , they need to then apply for a B1/2 visa instead = as discussed above. They will then be able to stay for a maximum length of time not exceeding 6 months . )
Currently , as of June 2011, there are 36 nations that are allowed visa free travel. These include :
Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Monaco, New Zealand, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.
IMPORTANT: The ESTA system applies to those eligible to travel under the visa waiver program and requires travelers who travel under this program to still fill out the their travel details 72 hours prior to travel , otherwise they’ll not be allowed to board the plane. This is done online via ESTA’s website .Your passport needs to be an electronic passport or a machine-readable passport (MRP) in order to qualify to travel under visa free travel scheme. Also ,if you have previously been refused entry or been convicted of a criminal offense you might also not qualify. Check out the US Department of States website for more information on the visa waiver program here.
All-in-all whether you qualify under the visa waiver program or if you need to apply for a B-visa ,the whole process is totally worth it and traveling to the US is something everyone simply has to do once in there lives , I think. Anyways I hope this post has made the visa application process a little more understandable and less daunting for most. Hope you have a save and enjoyable trip to the United States America!