Wondering how to secure a US Tourist Visa?

Have you ever wanted to apply for a US tourist visa, but have been hampered by horror stories of being denied one? Ever wondered what it is the consular officers are looking for in a visa application to actually approve it? Why do very similar (sometimes even identical) applications get different results?

Anyone who wants to travel to the United States (US) as a tourist needs to have a valid US tourist or B1/B2 visa to enter the country.

Sadly, for most people, applying for a US tourist visa has always been shrouded in mystery and fear — what with all the myths, urban legends and half-truths going around about the visa application process.

USA Flag For Tourist Visa

Rumours of a particular consular officer at a particular window at the embassy who never approves any visa application; or consular officers who base their decisions on their mood for that day, day of the week, or the applicant’s nationality, appearance, etc. make applying for a tourist visa more daunting than it should be.

Note: This series is written with Filipino US tourist visa applicants in mind (based in the Philippines), but applicants from other countries may also find these articles useful.

How to apply for US Tourist Visa B1/B2

Basic Requirement – Proving Strong Ties

We’ll tackle the myths about the visa application process in deeper detail in another article, but for now, I think the more important question in your mind is this:

“How do I qualify for a U.S. tourist visa?”

Without the legalese, the important thing to remember is that consular officers decide on visa applications based on this simple question:

“Does the applicant have strong ties to their country of origin?”

If you can prove this point to the consular officer interviewing you at the window, he or she will have to issue you that elusive tourist visa.

For clarity’s sake, “country of origin” is the country that issued your passport. For dual citizens, it’s the country that issued the passport you’ll use to apply for the visa.

You could present tons of bank statements to show that you have enough funds to cover your entire vacation; you can present sworn statements from very influential people and relatives that they’re only inviting you for a short visit;

You can present your first class return flight tickets; but without proof that you have strong ties to your country of origin, your visa application will 100% be denied.

“OK, I get it. I’ll prove to the consular officer that I have very strong ties to my home country and I’ll get that visitor’s visa. But how do I prove this?”

To show that you have strong ties to your country of origin, you’ll have to prove that you have very strong SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, PROFESSIONAL, and FAMILY ties in your country.

These ties have to be so strong that the consular officer will believe you will definitely return to your own country after your short visit to the United States.

Of course, these claims of strong ties will have to be backed up by LEGITIMATE and EASILY VERIFIABLE documentation.

What specific documents should I bring to prove my strong ties to my country?”

No, you don’t have to know your country’s history forwards and backwards. They’ll not quiz you on the lives of your national heroes.

And please… no bank documents showing exorbitant amounts in deposits! If you can’t prove the source of those funds, those “doctored” or borrowed-at-an-interest bank documents will do you more harm than good.

Because each applicant’s circumstances at the time of application are different from another, there’s no specific document list to prove your ties to your country of origin.

However, the following SUPPORTING documents can help the consular officer paint a clearer picture of an applicant’s eligibility for a visa:

  1. Latest proof of income – Certificate of employment, business ownership, and/or assets
  2. Detailed travel itinerary – Explain why you’re going, how you’ll get there, how long you’ll stay, and how you’ll pay for it. If you’ve already paid for it — this is not required or encouraged, but if you’ve already paid for it — show proof of payment
  3. Proof of continuing employment or education in your country of origin – most recent payslips (3-6 months) and/or school records
  4. Proof of residency status for host(s) – Legal Permanent Resident card (“Green Card” / USCIS Form I-551) or proof of U.S. Citizenship (copy of Certificate of Naturalisation or bio page of passport) for your host(s) in the U.S., if applicable
  5. All expired passports, especially if you have travelled or been issued a visa before from any country

“Is that all? Any supporting documents needed for my US Tourist Visa?”

Not at all! It’s really simple when you think about it. But remember that the list above represents only the list of SUPPORTING documents. Those are the documents you’ll present in addition to the REQUIRED documents, which are:

  1. Proof of payment for the visa application
  2. Interview appointment letter
  3. Online Nonimmigrant Visa application form (DS-160) confirmation page
  4. Valid passport
  5. 2” x 2” colour photo with white background

Also, remember that consular officers have a limited time at the window to make a decision about your visa application – it is better to present a few documents that contain pertinent information about your status and intent (see list above) than bury them in random documents that don’t prove anything.

For example, affidavits and letters from individuals other than your host(s).

I must remind everyone to NEVER EVER present fake documentation. I cannot stress this point enough.

The Embassy has investigators and checkers that watch out for fake documentation. Yes, they know what fake documents look like, so don’t even try it. You’ve been warned. There are very serious consequences when you get caught.

Here are the seven easy steps to follow to apply for a US Tourist Visa:

STEP 1

Before anything else, you’ll have to pay the application fee.

You’ll need to print the visa fee deposit slip and bring it to any BPI branch with the appropriate visa fee. As I write this, the current fee for a non-immigrant visa is 160.00 USD. The actual amount in pesos would depend on the current rate at the bank at the time of payment.

For the most current visa fees, see the Embassy’s page on visa fees. If you’re the techie type and like to do everything online, you can also pay your visa fees that way through a BPI Online or a BancNet Online account.

STEP 2

Next, fill out the online application form DS-160. Make sure all the information is accurate, correct, and 100% honest.

TIP: Make sure there’s no need for corrections by the time you print out your DS-160, as you won’t be interviewed if there’s even a little bit of inaccuracy or incorrect information there.

Pay attention to the spelling of names, addresses, and previous travel dates. You’d think nobody would get their own names misspelt, but typos can happen, yes?

Once done, take note of the ten-digit barcode number on your DS-160 confirmation page, as you’ll need it for the next step.

STEP 3

Now you can schedule your visa interview date. You have the option to do this online or through the Embassy’s Call Center.

TIP: Plan to schedule your interview well in advance of your travel date (probably 3 months is enough lead time), as you may have to wait for an available schedule slot that’s also convenient for you.

Remember that summer and Christmas holidays are always “high season” for visa applications.

STEP 4

Attend your visa interview on the date and time you scheduled.

TIP: You don’t have to be in line outside the Embassy at the crack of dawn on the day of your interview. According to the Embassy, 15 minutes lead time is all you need! If you show up too early, you’ll just end up waiting outside until it’s 15 minutes before your scheduled interview.

Still, we’re Filipinos, and we always want to show up early for important days like a visa interview, just so we don’t miss anything! So if you don’t mind waiting outside on the Baywalk between Roxas Boulevard and the Manila Bay, go for it and show up as early as you like.

Once you’re inside the gate, you’ll go through security inspection. Avoid being surprised, harassed or offended during the security inspection – prepare for it is as if you’re going through airport immigration security. Here are some of the items you cannot bring inside the Embassy:

  • All types of electronics – these include (but are not limited to) cellphones, tablets, electronic readers, pagers, chargers, mp3 players, etc.
  • Food and beverages – these are available for sale inside the Embassy
  • Objects that can easily be used or misconstrued as weapons

On the other hand, here are the items you absolutely MUST bring with you on the day of your interview:

  1. Print-out of your appointment confirmation
  2. Print-out of your DS-160 confirmation
  3. Your 2″x2″ photo that meets technical specifications
  4. All passports, current and old

Okay, so now, you’re through the Embassy’s very strict security inspection. What’s next? Well, there are three more steps!

STEP 5

It’s time to meet the Embassy Pre-screeners and Greeters!

Address: 1201 Roxas Blvd, Ermita, Manila, 1000 Metro Manila, Philippines (Show on map)

They’re the ones who will guide you to the interview waiting areas. They’re also the ones who will double-check and confirm that all the information in your DS-160 are true and correct.

TIP: Again, make sure your DS-160 has no errors. I can’t stress this enough, as you may end up having to go out, correct the error, and either come back later in the day, or completely reschedule your interview! The pre-screeners will also check if your 2″x2″ photo meets the Embassy requirement.

TIP: If your 2″x2″ photo doesn’t meet the technical requirement, there’s a photo booth inside the Embassy you can use to take your photo, so you won’t have to go out of the premises.

Here is another tip to take perfect passport photos for babies.

STEP 6

Next, the Greeters will ask you to either wait or queue up for Biometrics or Fingerprint collection.

Once it’s your turn, an Embassy personnel will ask for your name and date of birth, and proceed to take your fingerprint scans. Listen closely to the instructions given by the fingerprint scanner on which hand or finger(s) need(s) to be scanned. Usually, it’s the four fingers on each hand first, and then both thumbs at the same time.

TIP: Very dry skin on hands generally don’t scan well, and the Embassy personnel will not quit until they get a good quality scan. So if you have very dry hands, make sure you hydrate with any type of moisturiser.

In some cases, wounds or allergies right on the fingertips may cause a delay in the visa approval.

Note: Only applicants between the ages of 14 and 79 years are required to have their fingerprints scanned.

STEP 7

And now, for the most-awaited part of the day – your interview with an American Consular Officer. You can troll the net for tips on the usual questions asked during a tourist visa interview and you’ll get a host of possible questions:

  • What is the purpose of your trip to the United States;
  • How long do you plan to stay and what is your itinerary;
  • Who are you travelling with;
  • Do you have relatives in the United States, and if so, what is their immigration status (how did they get there);
  • How will you finance your travel, or who will finance your travel;
  • What is your source of income/occupation;
  • Travel history outside of the country – what type of visa(s) were you given, and how long did you stay abroad;
  • … and many more possible questions!

The succeeding questions really depend on your answers to the first few questions listed above.

Don’t be surprised if the Consular Officer only asks you a few questions, doesn’t look at your documents, and then denies your visa. The DS-160 is a comprehensive form in itself – it’s possible the Consular Officer’s decision is based on the information in your DS-160 alone, or from your previous visa application(s), if any.

In any case, due to the sheer number of applications, non-immigrant visa interviews don’t last all that long – sometimes, 3 to 5 minutes (if that) is all they have at the interview window per applicant.

No worries, Consular Officers don’t deny visa applications just because they didn’t have enough time to spend on the interview.

If your application warrants further review, the Consular Officer will tell you this up front and will advise you of when you can expect a determination on your visa application.

If your application is denied despite all the documents you’ve presented and the seemingly innocuous and short interview, it means they found something in your current or past application(s) that made them believe your visit to the United States isn’t temporary in nature.

If your tourist visa application has been approved, the Consular Officer will tell you at the window. All you have to do then is wait for the delivery of your passport with the approved B2 visa inside. This generally takes 5 business days.

TIP: It’s good practice to mark (put sticky notes or paper clips) on the pages of your passports with visas and immigration stamps.

It’s not required, but I’m sure the Consular Officer will appreciate it. Also, if the Consular Officer happens to ask you about your previous travel to whichever country, you’ll be able to find the appropriate page(s) easily, because they’re already marked!

TIP: During the interview, be open and honest. Just relax. Remember that everyone at the Embassy – including the Consular Officers – are just people too, so there’s no need to be nervous about speaking with them during the interview.

So there you have it – all requirements and the 7 steps on how to apply for US Tourist Visa!
I hope you find the tips useful. The very best of luck to you!

Note: This series is written with the Filipino U.S. tourist visa applicants in mind (Philippine passport holders), but applicants from other countries may also find these articles useful.

Do you have a question about the US tourist visa application process?
Please don’t hesitate to ask us!

Done with your visa interview?
Share with us your experience in the comments below!

US Visa Series: How To Apply For US Tourist Visa (B1/B2)
US Visa Series: How To Apply For US Tourist Visa (B1/B2)