As a Philippine passport holder, I recently had to get a US Visa for a trip we are hoping to take in May next year. Yes, I got my visa in October. Yes, a full 7 months before our intended trip – don’t judge. Since I am currently 5 months pregnant, I figured it would be easier to process the visa now instead of when I have more pounds to carry around my belly or a tiny wailing infant that I can’t leave alone at home.
So, despite early autumn constantly calling me to bed and tempting me to spend my days in perpetual laziness, I resolved to get off my ass and get the whole thing over with.
Below I share to you the steps I went through and tips I found helpful while securing my visa. Note that this is all based on my experience and I do not represent the US Embassy in any way. However, I do hope that the information I provide will help you tackle this process in an organized and informed way by taking advantage of what I learned. If all else fails, I highly recommend checking out the US Embassy in Japan’s webpage for visa applications to ensure accurate, updated and more detailed guidance.
Step 1: Research
If you, too, are planning to go to the US, the first thing you would want to do is to do some research. To start with, you need to confirm if you actually do need a visa. The US has a waiver program that allows entry to nationals of certain countries without a visa. Of course, qualifications are not limited to where you are from. The purpose of your travel, length of stay and other conditions apply so make sure to check it out before everything else.
Also, figure out what kind of visa you would need. In my case, since I only intend to stay a few days for pleasure, the Non-Immigrant Business/Tourist Visa was the suitable choice. To know more on the the different visa types, visit the embassy’s very informative page here.
Step 2: The DS-160 Form
About the DS-160
The DS-160 is an online form that you have to complete in order to book your interview appointment. It asks for information about you, your background, travel plans, etc. and submitting this is officially the first step in your visa application process. The form is completely in English and is easy enough to navigate that you can finish it in one sitting as long as you have all the information that you need.
Now, a few things that I found crucial during this step and that I would like to share:
- Though you can, technically, finish it in one go, you are actually allowed to close the browser at any point while answering the questions and get back to it at a later time – as long as you take note of your Application ID!
- How to know your Application ID – Once you have started answering the form, look at the top right-hand corner of the page. Displayed there will be your application ID. Make sure you write it somewhere.
- Using this ID, you can access your application anytime BUT if you think you will not be able to finish it within 30 days, the system might erase it. In this case, you are advised to download the application locally on your personal computer by using the ‘Save’ button at the bottom of the last page you completed.
- Everything must be answered using the English alphabet except for the part where you would be asked to provide your full name in your native alphabet.
- You would have to upload an ID picture taken within the last 6 months in order to accomplish the form. You don’t need to have these done professionally. I, for one, took my own picture. You just have to make sure that they are able to pass the system’s requirements. Checking out these photo examples would also help.
Completing the DS-160
To start your application, you may click here.
This will bring you to the page as pictured above. Select the location where you will be applying for the visa from the dropdown options, provide the captcha code, then click on number ① – ‘START AN APPLICATION’.
The questions that follow are pretty straightforward and divided into different categories such as Personal Information, Family Background, Travel Details and others. It would be useful to have your passport and other pertinent travel documents while going through this step of the process.
If you decided to stop halfway and come back to finish it at a later time, click on ③ – RETRIEVE AN APPLICATION. In addition to providing your Application ID, you would have to answer a security question. In my case, at least, the security question had to do with the information I have provided beforehand.
If it took you a longer time to proceed with your application and opted to download it on your computer, click on ② – UPLOAD AN APPLICATION to continue where you left off.
When you finish providing all the information needed, the system will helpfully bring you to a page where you can review all of your answers. Don’t take this for granted. Read everything carefully and make sure that all details are accurate.
If you’re confident that nothing is amiss, find the ‘SIGN APPLICATION’ button and click on it to sign the document electronically.
The DS-160 Confirmation Page
After signing and submitting your application, the system will automatically generate the Confirmation Page which has a barcode on the upper right-hand side corner. You have to print this Confirmation Page and bring it to your interview.
It would also be helpful to have a backup copy in your possession. After printing out the Confirmation Page, you can hit the ‘BACK’ button on the browser and click on the option that let’s you email a PDF copy to yourself.
Step 3: Visa Payment
The next step is to pay for the visa. There are multiple options offered for this, the easiest of which is to use a credit card and pay online. The fee also differs depending on the type of visa you are after and is non-refundable whether or not you are granted a visa. See this visa fee page for a complete list of payments in dollars or yen. Applying for a B1/B2 Tourist Visa, I had to pay ¥17,600.
New User Registration
Assuming it is the first time you have applied for a visa, you would need to create an account on the embassy’s website in order to process your payment and schedule your interview.
In order to do this, go to the Japan – New User Registration page.
Provide the information required as shown above. After clicking on ‘Submit’, you will be asked to accomplish a few more steps before getting to the payment page.
Payment and Receipt
After you’ve paid, you will be provided with a 12-digit receipt number. This is an important piece of information that you would need for the succeeding steps so be sure to take note of it.
Step 4: Setting an Appointment for Visa Interview
Using the same credentials you used in paying for your visa, login to your profile. This will bring you to your dashboard. Be sure that the details on your profile reflect the correct biographical information on your passport and that the DS-160 Confirmation Number you have provided contains no errors. You would also be asked to provide your address and this has to be written in English characters. Any errors in the address you provided could cause a delay to your visa delivery.
Look for the option to schedule your visa appointment, choose the date and time that’s convenient for you and viola! you have scheduled yourself an interview with the US Embassy. You will be provided with an Appointment Confirmation which you could also have emailed to yourself. This is another piece of paper that you would need to print and bring to the interview.
Step 5: Document Preparation
Before appearing for your interview, make sure that you have all of the documents that you would need to bring. As of the writing of this post, the necessary documentation are:
- A printed copy of your appointment letter
- Your DS-160 confirmation page
- One colored 2×2 ID picture that satisfies the requirements on this page
- A passport valid for travel to the United States (validity date should be at least six months beyond your intended period of stay)
- Expired passports issued within the past 10 years
- Zairyu/Residence Card for non-Japanese applicants
- Supporting documents
This may change over time so be sure to confirm with the embassy’s official page.
About the Supporting Documents
The embassy also provides a useful resource as to what supporting documents might be necessary based on your visa type. As for me, I am a working adult with a Japanese husband. While filling-out the DS-160, I stated that my husband will be paying all of the expenses for our trip. Based on this circumstance, these are the supporting documents that I prepared all in all.
- certificate of employment
- 6 months worth of pay slips
- bank certificate
- husband’s certificate of employment
- husband’s pay slip (his company only provided 1, stating that every month reflects the same figures) – this did not seem to be a problem during the interview
- husband’s bank certificate.
- husband’s Koseki (戸籍)/Family Register (as proof of marriage)
- certificate of our marriage in the Philippines
- printed copy of my bank transaction history for the last 3 months (I opted to include this since instructions stated that applicants should be able to show regular history of deposits and withdrawals)
- printed copies of our return tickets for the trip
- printed copies of our hotel booking confirmations
Technically, I found information on the website that says not to make travel arrangements yet in case the visa will not be approved. However, since I already had them anyway, I still decided to include items 10 and 11. I submitted originals of all of supporting documents from numbers 1 through 8.
Useful Tip! Documents in Japanese such as the Koseki have to come with an English translation. Fortunately, the US Embassy have also provided templates for the common Japanese documents that they require. You can find them here.
Step 6: Visa Interview
What to Bring and Not to Bring
Place all your documents in a clear folder – yes, this is a requirement – and bring them with you to the interview. Be sure to arrive no earlier than 15 minutes before your appointment and note that you are allowed to bring only a purse that is no larger than 10×10 inches. For security purposes, bringing in more than 1 cellphone and any other battery-operated or electronic devices are not allowed. You can find a more detailed list of restrictions attached to your Appointment Confirmation or on this page.
The Interview Process
After passing the thorough security search, you will first be asked to fall in line for a window where an embassy employee will check the documents you have brought. This is a quick process and the nice lady who entertained me asked if I’m comfortable speaking Japanese or if English would be better. She also asked questions every now and then, making sure that all the information reflected on the papers are accurate.
After, you will go through the fingerprinting process on another window. Again, a speedy step without any hassle.
Lastly, on to the long line. For the interview, don’t expect to be seated in a private room in order to state your case about being allowed entry to the US. This will actually be done right on the windows, in full view and within hearing distance of the entire line of other applicants. Still, everyone there had to go through it so it wasn’t as stressful as it may sound. The length of each interview differs so I can’t say for sure how long you would have to stand in line. Though there were a lot of people in front of me though, it didn’t take me more than an hour to finish the process.
When it came my turn, the lady interviewer was honestly quite intimidating – no smiles while sipping her coffee and giving my application the once-over. That said, she seemed no less than reasonable so I just answered the questions as honestly as I could. My interview itself did not last longer than 2 minutes and I was asked only questions that had to do with my intended trip. One question asked for example was – why was I planning to go to the US? (to which I gave the honest answer that my husband simply likes the beach of the area we want to go to).
In the end, she said, “Your visa application is approved” and that was that.
Step 7: Claiming Your Visa
I chose home delivery for my passport/visa and it arrived exactly 7 days after my interview. I honestly thought it would last longer because I applied on a Wednesday and on that weekend, Typhoon Hagibis wreaked havoc on Tokyo.
If you are the type that can’t be at peace until you know exactly what the status of your papers is (as I am), don’t worry. There are various ways you can track your visa. I found simply logging into your visa application profile (the same one you used to schedule the interview) and checking the ‘Visa Status’ section to be the most convenient.
I started checking the status of my visa the following Monday and by then it said that it was still in the embassy. Tuesday evening, it said the same thing and I started to worry. On Wednesday morning, I received an email stating that it was on its way and the status on my dashboard was changed as well. Then, just before lunch that day, I had it on my very own hands. I was granted a multiple entry visa valid for 10 years.
Note that this is an important legal document so you would have to receive it in person. Also, all the documents you submitted will be returned to you along with the visa and passport.
I hope you found what I have written here helpful. If you have any questions, feel free to hit me up in the comments. Also, I would like to reiterate that I am not connected with the embassy and that their official website is still the best resource for any information regarding the process.