Family’s been planning a US trip this year, and while I wasn’t originally planning to join them, they convinced me to go. I was like, why not? My schedule is flexible, I’ve never been there, and going to the US meant adding a whole new continent to my experiences. Getting a US Visa was a good idea anyway, in case I ever decided to travel there for some other reason (i.e. I miraculously get a slot in a MTG Mythic Championship or something), and it was a good chance to spend some time with family for a while. It might also be the last time my parents are able to take such a long trip, so might as well take the chance.
The US Visa screening process has a reputation for being a bit difficult, with many stories of being rejected for random reasons, but I wasn’t too worried. In the end, it turned out easier to get the US Visa than to get the Schengen visa for the Europe trip a few years back.
The process is actually pretty straightforward. For the Philippines, there’s a website to help guide you, all the instructions are there, you just have to follow it. You can do most of the things except for the personal interview online as well. The steps I did were:
- Fill up and submit the online form. This includes uploading a photo to be used in the visa, they have some guidelines to follow. I considered using a webcam photo, but apparently that was a bad idea. Go to a photo studio, they know what kind of picture you need, ask for a digital copy so you can upload it.
- Make an online payment (they have a couple of options, I did BPI Online). The fee is like $160 for a tourist visa.
- Schedule an interview appointment. The first available slot may be weeks out, but sometimes slots open up earlier for some reason. During one of my earlier checks I thought I’d have to wait til May to get a slot, but by the time I actually submitted the form and made the payment, there was a March slot freed up.
- Prepare any supporting documents you want to bring to the personal interview. You are not actually required to bring any documents, but the website above will give you a list of suggested documents to bring, depending on your visa type and purpose of visit. Everyone I asked actually said the documents they brought weren’t needed, but better to be sure of course. I ended up preparing bank statements, certificate of employment, payslips, and tax returns.
- On your scheduled date, go to the US Embassy in Manila for your interview
The interview itself was straightforward, but before you get even there, there’s at least six different queues you have to go through:
- waiting outside the embassy for applicants in your time slot (there will be around 50 applicants per time slot)
- queueing at the embassy entrance so the staff can inspect your appointment papers and tell you where to go
- queueing in a holding area outside the processing building. There’s seats, and they’ll let people proceed to the next step one row of seats at a time. There’s snacks and water you can buy here, but it felt awkward to buy because you don’t know when your row might suddenly be called to go ahead. Also, this is the last time you get to stay seated for the entire process, once you go in you might have to stand in line(s) for about an hour
- (step 1) pre-screening. A Filipino embassy staff member will review your documents and your photo. If you didn’t upload a photo when you submitted the form online, they’ll ask you to go to a photo taking area and get a photo taken and come back to their counter
- (step 2) biometrics. There’s a helpful American at this window who will take your fingerprints
- (step 3) interview. An American will be asking you questions and they will pass or fail your visa application on the spot.
Some people take a lot longer than others at step 3, and it can make you a bit anxious when you can see the person in front of you being grilled intensely. One lady in a window in front of me was asked how long she planned to stay, and she said “one to five months” and the interviewer seemed irritated at the vagueness of the reply. “Which is it, one month or five months, those are completely different!” Another lady and her son said they wanted to visit a sick relative and they had to present a certification from the doctor.
My interview was pretty straightforward, I didn’t even need any of the documents I prepared. The guy asked me about my purpose of travel, where I had travelled before, and what kind of work I did. He drilled down a bit into the work question, asking me what kind of software I did, which I suspect was just to make sure I wasn’t BSing him about being a dev. Overall my time at the window didn’t take more than five minutes I think, and he said “Ok, I’m approving your application and you’ll get your visa in a week.”
I think you don’t have anything to worry about as long as you’re honest about your reasons for travelling (no intention to deceive) and you’re confident (don’t look sketchy, which should be easy if you’re honest!). I would imagine being able to communicate well in English also helps a lot, that’s a bit elitist, but such is life.
It worried me a bit that I left without any proof that I had left my passport with them, like a receipt or such. What if they lost it and claim they never had it?
Anyway, that’s just my unnecessary worrying. My passport came back to me by courier three days after the interview, with the visa approved, ten years multiple entry. I’m going to the US!