Let me start this with a boring disclaimer. Before anything else, know that I am in no way a visa expert. The things I’ll be discussing here are purely based on my experiences of successfully applying for a 10-year multiple entry US tourist visa, and that’s it. I’ll try to update this if there are significant changes, however it is up to you to confirm the ever changing procedures and requirements with the official US Travel Docs Website. Whew now with all that out of the way, let’s do this!
A lot of my friends have been asking me lately on how to successfully apply for a tourist visa to the United States for my trips to the “land of the free” quite too many times already, so I think it’s about time that I write about my experiences and know-how when applying for a tourist visa at the US Embassy in the Philippines.
As with any other visa application to any other country, the requirements and procedures provided in the US Embassy website are very straightforward. But because of the hefty fees, lengthy procedures, and sometimes frustratingly confusing instructions (thank your ‘credible’ source for that), it’s just right and understandable for applicants to double check and consult with others on how the process really works, and the best practices to increase the chances of getting approved.
What is a B-1/B-2 Tourist Visa?
Just to avoid confusion in case you come across the terms B-1/B-2, let’s discuss this first. If your goal of visiting the United States is to, well, just visit the US, you need to apply for a B-1/B-2 non-immigrant visa. This is often called the Tourist Visa, which will be the only visa type discussed here.
B-1 is used for business travel while B-2 is used for tourism/medical treatment purposes. And more often than not, if your tourist visa application is approved, you are granted the B-1/B-2 visa which is combined together to be used for business/tourism purposes.
Here are the 4 steps in applying for a US Tourist Visa:
Step 1: Pay the appropriate visa application fee.
This is the first step for a reason. Your receipt will be needed many times during the whole process, so make sure you do this before anything else. Currently the price for a B-1/B-2 (tourist) visa is at $160. Over the years, the visa fees have varied many times, so make sure to check this page for the updated visa fee.
Although the fee is in US Dollars, you must pay in local currency (PHP). You can pay with cash at Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) branches, or online through BPI or Bancnet. Here are the instructions in paying for your visa fee through BPI branches or online.
The receipt of your payment will be valid for 1 year and you need it to schedule an interview appointment with the US Embassy.
Step 2: Fill-in and complete the Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) form.
You can find the DS-160 form at the bottom of this page.
But hang in there, though! Before you go ahead and fill-in the form, take note of these first:
- You must fill-in and submit the form online, and bring the printed confirmation page with the barcode clearly shown to the interview. You will not be permitted to the interview without the printed DS-160 confirmation page, so make sure to email yourself a backup file in case you lose the print-out on your way to the interview.
- You need to upload your photo online as part of the DS-160 form, so make sure you have this first. Click here for the photo submission guidelines.
- The DS-160 form times out and loses its data after 20 minutes without user activity, so make sure you save the form on your computer frequently to avoid the hassles. Better yet, try to save the form with each step to avoid the frustrations of having to start over again. And…
- Gather all your documents, passports, and itinerary with you while you answer the DS-160 form because I’m sure you’ll be referring to them as you go along. Here are the helpful FAQs in answering the DS-160 form in case you have questions in answering the form.
Step 3: Schedule your interview appointment
Schedule your appointment here! You need the following information when scheduling your appointment:
- Your passport number
- Your MRV visa application fee payment receipt number
- The ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page
Step 4: Go to your interview
This is it! Go to the US Embassy Manila on the date and time of your visa interview, and please be early!
U.S. Embassy in Manila location/address:
1201 Roxas Blvd
Don’t forget to bring these requirements to your interview at the US Embassy
None of these, No entry:
- printed copy of your appointment letter
- printed DS-160 confirmation page
- one recent photograph
- your current passport and all old passports
Here are the supporting documents you can bring to complement your application
You are encouraged to bring supporting documents to prove your ties to your home country (meaning proof that you have sufficient ties that ensures you’ll be returning to your home country):
- Current proof of income (payslip, bank certificate, stock & investment certificates, etc.), Income Tax Return (ITR), property or business ownership, or assets (land title, car registration, etc.).
- Your travel itinerary and/or other explanation about your planned trip.
- A letter from you employer detailing your position, salary and pay slips from the most recent three months, how long you have been employed, any authorized vacation, and the business purpose, if any, of your U.S. trip.
- If you’ll be visiting a relative, bring photocopies of your relative’s proof of status (e.g. Green Card, naturalization certificate, valid visa, etc).
- If you were previously in the United States, any documents showing your immigration or visa status, and passport to show entry/departure stamps.
Why do you need to bring supporting documents and prove ties to your home country anyway?
Because Section 214(b) of the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) states that:
Every alien shall be presumed to be an immigrant until he establishes to the satisfaction of the consular officer, at the time of application for admission, that he is entitled to a nonimmigrant status…
This means that at the time of your interview and you’re applying for a non-immigrant visa (e.g. tourist visa), the consular officer assumes that you are intending to migrate or live permanently in the U.S. of A., unless your words during the interview, your flawless record of international travel without breaking rules, and your supporting documents show that you are indeed intending to only visit the US and return home before your allowed number of days to stay expires.
So how do you increase the chances of a US tourist visa approval?
Short answer: it’s never guaranteed.
Tourist visa approval remains a mystery to many and a lot have been asking about tips on how to increase chances of getting approved, but the answer really is simple: be honest, show proofs of ties, and maybe, smile more during the interview?
Of course, your supporting documents are only one of the many factors the consular officer considers in your application. Single, or Multiple entry visa, you ask? You don’t state it in the application form, and it depends on the consular officer as well. In cases of millennials/younger applicants who don’t have the opportunity yet to form ties to home country, the consular officer may look at your specific intentions, family situations and long-term plans.
Each application is looked at decided upon individually, so no one can really guarantee an approval (although if you’ve gots the supporting documents and the money, why not, right? :) ).
Congratulations, you’re approved! So how do you get your passport back?
You can get your passport at the courier location you selected when you scheduled your interview. No need to pay any courier fees, since the fees are already included in your visa application fee. If the need is urgent and you want it really fast, choose the courier location closest to the US Embassy (your interview location) since delivery will be quicker.
Of course, you will need to show proof of identity when receiving your passport, so see this FAQ for the list of acceptable IDs including answers to questions like having a representative receive your passport on your behalf.
Do you need to apply through a travel agency?
No. You can do it on your own, so try to save the money for your actual trip instead. The steps are pretty straightforward anyway, but yes it can be quite tedious.
If you’re one who don’t want to get your hands dirty on the application process, then by all means, get the help of a trusted travel agency.
Some tips and advice on your tourist visa application:
- Dress appropriately. No need for extravagant jewelries for showing off. Just bring your fine self and you’re good to go.
- If your visa application is rejected, don’t fret. You can apply all over again, and there is no limit to the number you can do so. But yes, you still have to pay the exorbitant visa fee with each re-application.
- Be honest.
- Bring original and photocopies of your documents. Original for the consular officer to validate and photocopies in case they want to keep one, and
- Don’t you even think about presenting false documents. It goes without saying, but I have to anyway. They are very vigilant when it comes to this, and quite frankly, it’s embarrassing in case you’ve been found to use such (not to mention repercussions such as permanent visa inegibility).
- Avoid inconveniences and leave other items at home. For safety reasons, the embassy does not allow any kind of electronic and battery-operated devices (yes, that includes your smartphone, USB device; just stay away from any kind of technology just to be sure), lighters, sharp objects, and any other items with an on/off switch.
- Finally, when approved, follow the rules of immigration law. Having a tourist visa (regardless of country) is a privilege, not a right. Respect the law, and enjoy the benefits of having a worry and stress free travel especially when renewing your visa, like the one below.
About visa renewal through the ‘Interview Waiver Drop Box Program’ (for Philippine Citizens)
If you’ve been to the United States many times already like it’s just Cubao, then under some circumstances, you can renew your visa without appearing for an interview. If you meet the Interview Waiver Program qualifications, you can drop off your visa application at a 2GO branch, and if approved, your passport with new visa will be delivered back to you.
Talk about a hassle-free renewal.
Here’s the eligibility criteria, if you say YES to the following, then more or less you’re eligible:
- I have a previous B1/B2 visa that I wish to renew.
- My visa was issued after July 1, 2007.
- My prior visa was valid for at least five years.
- My prior B1/B2 visa is still valid or expired within the last 48 months
- I am a citizen of the Philippines.
- My prior visa does not say “Clearance Received" or “Travel with Employer".
- I have my passport with my B1/B2 visa in my possession.
- My most recent visa was issued on or after my 14th birthday.
- The last time I applied for a B1/B2 visa it was approved.
If you’re eligible, congrats! Go on and see the full details here.
And last but not the least, here are some of my blog posts you might find very helpful when traveling to the US:
- How To Quickly Visit San Francisco Via Market Street
- Best Spots to Get the Best Views of the Golden Gate Bridge
- What To Do In Hawaii: Your Unassuming Guide to Oahu
- How to Survive New York City without Breaking the Bank
- The 15 Ways New York City will Inspire You Real Bad
- How to Spot a Celebrity in New York City
- I Visited Niagara Falls, Washington DC, & Philly in 3 days for P6,000 ($132)
- A Cheapskate’s Guide to Traveling