This post is 1 month overdue but I hope it would still be of help to anyone who’s researching on US Visa for Filipino tourists and families or any aspiring resident of the Philippines.
Note: This is strictly for those who wish to visit the US for a holiday/vacation and touristic purposes or for business. We care for our fellow Filipino people and we want them to have a good livelihood, but we care so much that we don’t want them to get into harms way because they entered a foreign territory illegally or they stayed longer than the prescribed maximum limit for reasons other than tourism.
1. Pay the Visa Fee
You might say, “wait a minute, hold it! I haven’t signed any forms yet and I’m paying this X amount already?!”. Yes, for your convenience in the application, you need to pay first. Currently, the fee is US$ 160 per applicant or its equivalent in Philippine Peso (based on the US Embassy’s Exchange Rate). You can pay it at any BPI Branch (You can use this Bank Locator to find one near you) or pay online with embassy’s online payment gateway. You will need your passport because your Passport Number (for new applicants) or Visa Control Number (US Visa Renewal) will be your receipt number. We highly recommend you make the payment first because at the page prior to setting your appointment, they will require a receipt number as proof of your payment. The payment you made in the bank does not post or get sent to the embassy immediately. If you paid through BPI before 3:00PM, you will be allowed to schedule your appointment anytime after 3:00PM. If you made the payment after that time, you can only schedule your appointment the next banking day. Online payments get posted the following day, so after filling up the application form, you might need to wait again. Once payment is done, you can use the receipt number within 90 days. That is more than what you need for when applying. Please note that the visa fee is non refundable whether your visa is approved or denied. These fees are used to pay operational costs in running the embassy.
Tip: call a BPI branch or the embassy at 832-0826 to check for the exact amount in Philippine Peso before making the payment. This would make the preparation easier.
2. Fill up DS-160 Electronic Application Form
Before filling up the form, please have these ready as it will make the answering of the application easier:
a. Passport (latest and valid for at least 1 year) – some or most information can be found in your passport
b. Old passport (if you have renewed your passport within the last 5 years) – You will be asked about your travel history in the middle of the application. Your old passport can remind you of the places and dates you have been to.
c. Scanned 2 inch x 2 inch colored photo – there are specification on how you should look like in the photo and you will need to scan your picture for you to be able to upload it. Some or most Photo studio provide additional services like downloading your picture to a CD. Please avail of this (even for a minimal fee) as the Photo studio most likely know the exact specifications required by the embassy website on photo submissions. You can view the Photo guidelines at the US Embassy’s Photo requirement: http://travel.state.gov/visa/visaphotoreq/digitalimagereq/digitalimagereq_5327.html
If you have recently gotten your photo and you have a scanner, have your file tested and cropped by the embassy’s tool: http://travel.state.gov/_res/flash/cropper/FIG_cropper.html
Once you have them, go to https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/ and then select “Philippines, Manila” under the drop down menu at the upper right portion.
Click on “Start An Application”. On the following screen, before doing anything, write down in a piece of paper your Application ID. This will come useful in case you got timed out during the filling up process or you need to finish your application some other time. Better yet, print the application ID (a link can be found under the application ID image).
Select a security question that you could easily remember the answer and type it in the box provided. Click on “Continue” and fill up the rest of the form. At the end of the application you have to electronically sign the application by typing your passport number, but before you do so, review your answers because as soon as you sign the application, you can no longer change any answers you have provided.
After signing, you will be prompted to either Print, View or add a family (member) application.
Print the “Confirmation” as this is what the embassy will look for during your interview day. You can print the “Application” but it will not be required by the embassy. You can also e-mail to yourself the confirmation and application form so you could easily get back to it for review. Any unfinished application form can be retrieved within 30 days, otherwise the embassy will remove it from their system until you complete the submission.
Tip: highlight, copy and paste your Application ID and answer to your security question in Notepad or Microsoft Word for easier access. You may need to access your application in the future and also, it lessens the risk of misspelling. Also, answer the application form as honestly as possible.
3. Schedule Your Interview
Open a new tab/screen and go to https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/ and then click on “New User“.
Select “Philippines” and type in your e-mail address under Username and then type in your First Name, Last Name and password. Retype your password and type in the characters showing in the Captcha.
Click on submit and the go back to the main page and log in using the same credentials. Have all information complete (including your family or travel companion) and click on schedule an interview.
Once you have selected the date and time for the interview, print and the appointment confirmation. E-mail it to you so you can be reminded of the date and you can re-print the confirmation in case of loss.
4. Go for the Interview
Visit the embassy on the day you selected and what is printed out on your appointment confirmation. Bring along your appointment confirmation, DS 160 application confirmation and the rest of your documents. Do not bring any electronic device (except pacemakers, but if you do have one, inform the security and bring a medical certificate about your pacemaker so you won’t have to pass through the magnetic fields of the metal detectors).Arrive at the embassy at least 1 hour prior to the scheduled time (30 minutes is what the embassy recommends but the queue is long).
The earlier you arrive at the designated time, the sooner you will be able to enter the embassy and finish your interview earlier. Get a number at the first window and then wait for your turn. There are marshals inside the embassy, you can always ask them where you can go next. Current process requires you to go through 3 windows. First window, they assess your application form. If you have missed some answers or if they have questions about answers you have indicated.
Second window is for finger printing. Third and last window is the final interview.
At this point, they may ask for anything related to your application like travel history, your relationship with your travel companions, your proof of funds, your connection here in the Philippines, etc. The visa officer will be frank with you and will tell you immediately and directly if your application is approved (the officer will take your passport only and will tell you to wait for your passport to be delivered) or denied (the officer will return your passport and describe the reason why you were denied). Once approved, keep calm and exit the embassy quietly. Wait for a week or two for the arrival of your visa (if you chose to have it delivered) or go back to the embassy to pick it up.
Tips: Make sure you had heavy breakfast prior to your arrival. There are some food stalls inside the waiting area but are quite expensive. The wait can be long and you are not allowed to bring food inside the building (waiting area is not within the interview area). You don’t have to pay for anything when inside the US Embassy except when you buy food or water. There’s no ATM machine inside either (I know because I realized I forgot to bring cash and my daughter and husband got so hungry waiting for our turn but we couldn’t do anything because I forgot to bring moolah).
I. What are the “required” documents? It doesn’t say specifically on the embassy website.
The embassy did not indicate exactly what are the requirements simply because they do not apply to all applicants. It is best to be prepared in case the visa officer looks for it. Below are the general requirements that you may need to prepare. There could be more and if you feel that you need to bring something other than what is listed below, follow your intuition and bring it. For senior citizens, just bring items a – f.
a. Passports (bring them all, but the embassy will only get the latest) – for identification and proof of travel history
b. DS 160 and appointment confirmation
c. Bank Certificate and Bank Statement (issued within 30 days of the scheduled interview / both are different documents and it is best to provide them) – the more issuing bank, the better. Amount? Some would say it really doesn’t matter but what the embassy needs to see is if you could fund the cost of travel (air and land arrangement) and still have considerable large amount left for you to return to. If what you have is just enough for the trip, then they would think you will look for the rest of the amount there.
– Though in our experience, we were not asked any of these financial documents.
d. Birth Certificate – in case there are name amendments or as proof that the child is indeed the son or daughter of these parents.
– This is the only document that was asked from us.
e. Marriage Certificate – for couples as proof that they are indeed married.
f. Other government IDs – (photocopy and original) just to prove age and consistency of name
g. Business Permit and DTI or SEC registration (photocopy) – To establish that you own a business and for how long already.
if you are an employee, provide this instead:
Certificate of Employment with Salary Declaration and Approved Leave of Absence – To establish how long have you been employed
h. Income Tax Return – another way to check how much you earn
i. Other documents indicating your employment or financial status in the Philippines (Car Registration, Land Title, etc.)
j. Community Tax Certificate (Cedula) – yes, sometimes if you bring all what is mentioned above, just for the sake of looking at a document they will check for your Cedula.
Depending on these documents and their contents, the visa officer can already check if you are qualified for a US Visa.
II. I got denied, why? I don’t exactly understand what the visa officer told me.
There can be many reasons why a visa application is denied. One of the reasons are:
a. Economic stability – the visa officer may decline your application if they see that you do not have enough money in the bank or your business or employment is not that established yet (Newly opened or newly hired).
b. Insufficient Travel History – going to ASEAN or non visa countries are not counted as travel history. Even if you have been to Hong Kong or Singapore hundreds of times they will not be counted as such. These countries do not have screening regulations of tourist and they can find it as a security risk. Visit Australia, Korea, Japan or Europe first before applying for a US Visa and it will surely help.
c. Inconsistencies with the Application and documents – discrepancies in the application form can give the visa officer some trouble and would take time to re verify them, eventually denying the application. Answer the application form as truthfully as possible. Do not hide or withhold any information that you think the embassy needs to know. For bank transactions, they could check if there was a spike in the deposits made which means you are just inflating the bank account for the sake of visa approval but actually doesn’t own that much money. Answer the visa officer directly without hesitation as this is another way they check if you are not telling the truth.
– If you have been denied from your previous US visa application, they have information from that as well and they verify your current application from your previous. Bottomline is BE TRUTHFUL.
III. Is it easier if I use a travel agency to apply for a Visa?
Yes, for the application, it would be easier if you get the assistance of a travel agent, BUT, they cannot, will not and should not guarantee your visa approval. The approval comes from the judgement of the visa officer and no one else. Joining a tour or getting the assistance of a travel agency does not guarantee or qualify you for a non-immigrant (tourist) US Visa. Even if you are joining a legitimate tour or cruise, Visa is your responsibility including the documents that you bring. The travel agent or any third party is not and will not be liable for any visa denial.
– This I highly advise on group/family applications as it becomes tedious.
Lastly, I do not claim to be an expert on US Visa application but I wish to impart whatever knowledge I have on the matter. If you have questions, I’d love to give my opinion on them. Before my family and myself applied for the US visa, I did research on these HOW TOs and I hope I am able to help you by writing down what I’ve experienced and learned.