Before traveling to the land of opportunity, quite some formalities have to be taken care of. We are applying for a US-Visa – because not matter for how long or what purpose, to travel to the United States, you have to get a travel authorization beforehand.
We already wrote about the Visa Waiver Program and the difference of ESTA and Visa and also answered the question why we choose to apply for a US-Visa –we want to stay in the United States not only for up to 90 days but up to 180 days. Now here, we’re telling you about the application, our experiences, certain difficulties and of course our interview appointment at the US embassy in Berlin.
Jan has never been to the United States before. I spent my Junior High School Year in Harrah, Oklahoma, lived with the loveliest host family you can imagine and was warmly welcomed everywhere! Back then, I applied for a J-1 Visa, so I underwent this whole visa application process before as well as the personal interview appointment at the US embassy in Berlin.
Relevant for the category of a non-immigration Visa is the purpose of the travel. We will enter the US as tourists, so we will apply for a B-2 Visa, which is also known as tourist Visa. An overview of the different Visa categories as well as the different travel purposes is available here.
Online application form DS-160
Everyone who applies for a US Visa has to fill out the DS-160 form. After entering your location (Berlin, Germany) your application ID is displayed, you should write it down. Then you choose a security question and we recommend also writing it and the answer down. If you don’t fill in the form completely at once or you get automatically logged out, you can continue your application later and everything you entered so far will still be available. The form is quite long and we had to provide a lot of information.
To fill out the application, you will need these documents and information:
- Valid passport
- Travel itinerary (if you already made travel arrangements)
- Dates of your last five visits or trips to the United States, and general last five trips abroad
- Résumé or Curriculum Vitae
- Digital Visa-photo
- “other information”
Now you simply have to click through the application and fill it out. Easier said than done…
Entering personal information as name, date of birth or nationality were no problem, as well as it was easy to enter the dates of our passports. We also added that we are traveling with each other. If you already made specific travel arrangements, you add the dates, but we don’t, so we added an estimated date of arrival. We also had to give personal information about our parents and ensure that none of our family members was ever involved in anything “bad”.
Then, we were required to provide an address and a contact person or organization in the US. But we are planning to travel with our campervan, neither do we have a contact person nor a contact organization, so we were really clueless what to enter. We would have liked to leave the spaces empty, but they were required. An E-Mail and phone call at the embassy were not helpful because the only information they can provide is to make all entries at “the best of our knowledge and belief” further questions were to be answered during the interview appointment. We were as unsure as we were before. So we kept on doing some internet research and found The American Dream – US Visa Service GmbH. Another E-Mail and another phone call later we got a recommendation on how to fill in the required spaces: Just choose any hotel that is on your planned travel route and add this as your address as well as your contact person or organization. Okay!
Further into the application I had to give detailed information about my previous trips to the US, information about past issued US Visa and my expired US driver’s license. Jan just had to click “no” while I was happy I still had my old passport with all the entry stamps.
After providing information about our jobs and education as well as past travel destinations, the last part of the application consisted of security and background questions we all answered “no” because we never ever did anything wrong, ever; and don’t plan on doing so, ever. By the way, if you answer a question “yes” you are probably (definitely) not getting a Visa.
At the end of the application we had to upload a photo, there is a cropping tool available to check if the photo fulfills the requirements.
Now we were able to check the whole application again and print or safe it, for later. But you don’t have to because the application is not to be brought to the interview. But we still safe it, to be certain.
At the very end we signed the application electronically to ensure everything was filled out truthfully. We finally got the confirmation with a barcode – this is what you definitely have to safe and print and bring to the interview appointment.
And that’s it; only took a couple of hours of some days 😉
The official example of the DS-160 application is available here.
Everyone who applies for a US Visa has to pay the application fee. It is not relevant if you get the Visa in the end or not, the fee won’t be refunded in case you won’t be issued your desired Visa and it is not transferable. Currently, the application fee for a B-2 Visa is $160. To pay the fee you have to register at GCI Federal Inc., you’ll find the link here.
Because of my previous contact with the US-embassy (when I had questions about the DS-160) I already had an account. We were able to pay the application fee for both of us and with the generated CGI-number / transaction number we could already make an interview appointment online.
Making an interview appointment
The next possible appointment would have been in two weeks, but because we’re both working and want to plan our trip in advance, we choose an appointment in about a month. We received the appointment confirmation via E-Mail as well as a map of the location and a manual for how to check the address for the return of the passport.
There was also a list of objects you are not supposed to bring to a US embassy or US consulate, because if you’re carrying an item of the list, the entry will be denied:
- Electronic devices e.g. cell phones, laptops, iPods, iPads, smart watches, cameras and USB flash drives
- Big bags, suitcases and backpacks
- Sharp objects e.g. scissors, pocketknives, nail files also no firearms or explosive objects
- Liquids, liquid cosmetic products, perfumes or small mirrors of glass, as well as chemical substances
- Baby food or important medicine (only in plastic containers, no glass) are to be shown to the security guards
- At the discretion of the security guards, other objects may not be allowed
US embassies and consulates do not provide possibilities to store any forbidden objects. We will just come with nothing but our required documents.
By the way, required documents – we actually just have to bring the DS-160 confirmation with the barcode, our passports and our printed Visa pictures (50mm x 50mm). But it is recommended to bring additional documents to show the official to convince him or her that you really want to return to your home country. We plan to bring the following documents to accentuate our wish to return to Germany and how we’re going to pay for everything while in the US:
- Employment contract
- Pay slip
- Bank account statement
- Lease agreement
- Our “business” card so the official can also follow us and our adventures! 😉
We had our appointment scheduled early in the morning at 8 am in Berlin. Because we wanted to save money and not spend the night, we took off from Hamburg at 3 am. Despite arriving on time, we were greeted by lots of other people waiting in line for the first security check. We had to hand over our passports and were lead to the second security check at a small annex building in small groups of 4-5 people. After an “airport check” our passports were handed back and we were allowed to enter the main building. Here followed the third security- and passport check, it was made sure we had all required documents, or rather the printed confirmation, with us. After our names were checked off some sort of “guest list” the barcode on the confirmation was scanned and our passport then got a barcode sticker. We were lead to a counter and a friendly lady behind a glass wall, who again took our passports and also took our fingerprints “Four fingers left hand, four fingers right hand, both thumbs”. She then sent us to the next queue and finally the interview which also took place in front of a counter with a nice US-official also behind a glass wall. We expected something like a “job interview” and questions like “Why do you want to travel our country for so long?” The US-officials were all speaking English, but could also speak German, if necessary. We were a little nervous, but for no reason as everyone was very nice and easy going. We were asked about our travel plans, why we are applying for a visa and what we are currently doing for a living. Are we married? No. “Have a nice trip” were the last words of the US-official as he kept our passports and we were ready to go spend the rest of the day in Berlin. The whole appointment took about an hour, but the interview itself only about 10 minutes. And that’s it! By the way, nobody wanted to see our “extra” documents.
Issuing the Visa
We expected to get the passports with the visas back within two weeks. But our packages were already delivered the following Tuesday (the appointment was the previous Friday) – and we now have our US Visas granting us to stay in the United States for up to 180 days within the next 10 years! Mission complete 😉