As I started traveling internationally, I became highly aware of how weak my Indian passport is. Just when I had given up hopes, I found out there are hacks to strengthen my Indian passport. Procuring a US visa can be a solid step in that direction. Apart from obviously gaining entry to the US, a valid US visa comes with a host of benefits. It offers free visa on arrival to Central and South American countries, and visa on arrival to Dubai , and e-visa to countries like Turkey and Georgia. And the best part about US visa is that it’s a multiple entry visa with a validity of 10 years. So, yes, there are more reasons than one to apply for a US visa.
I assumed that the US visa process is going to be as laborious as a Schengen visa, but it turned out to be much easier than I expected. At least, when it came to documentation.
Which US visa to apply? B1 or B2?
This depends on the purpose of your visit. If you are visiting the US for consulting with business associates or attending conferences/conventions, then apply for a B2 visa. On the other hand, if it’s for tourism purpose, visiting family and friends, or medical treatment, then apply for B2 visa.
Apply for US tourist visa (B2 visa)
Here’s a step-by-step guide to applying for a US tourist visa from India. The procedure is quite similar for US business visas as well. Just that you need to get a letter from your employer that they will be sponsoring your travel and stay arrangements. Also, the visa interview questions will be more focussed on your business purpose.
- Fill in DS-160 form online
- Book two appointments – Biometrics and visa interview
- Visit the biometrics center
- Visit the US Consulate for a visa interview
Fill in DS-160 form
Well the US visa application is pretty straightforward. First, fill in the DS-160 form online. Fill in details about yourself, where you are traveling to and expected travel dates. Also, address of where you’ll be staying in the US (could be a friend/relative’s house/hotel), a contact number in the US, education details, employment details – where all have you worked so far, travel history, and so on. It takes about 30 mins to an hour to fill the form. You don’t need to attach any files at this point.
Make sure you save the application number right away. I made the stupidity of not saving the application number or the application itself. I had to redo the whole process again.
Once you save the application, you can get back to the filled application anytime by uploading the file that you saved.
Verify the filled application, and then submit it.
Once you have submitted the application, you can’t modify it. However, you can submit as many versions as you want till you make the payment. Only the application number you use to book the appointment and make the payment subsequently will be considered. Note down the confirmation number once you submit the form.
You can find the DS-160 form here.
Book two appointments – one for Biometrics and the other for the interview
Once the form is submitted, book an appointment, actually two.
For first time users, register and create a profile online here. Once you log in, you’ll find the below screen where you can schedule an appointment.
Click on New Application/Schedule Appointment. In the following series pages, choose options based on the application.
A confirmation page will show all the details selected so far.
On continue, fill in personal details.
Enter in DS-160 confirmation number you saved previously to proceed further.
The first available appointment mentioned in the above screenshot refers to the first available appointment for a visa interview, NOT biometrics.
Fill in passport, contact, and mailing address details.
In the next page, add additional applicants for the visa interview with you, if any.
Fill in the below details, and hit Save.
This is followed by a set of questionnaires in the subsequent pages. Questions about age and prior visa applications.
Choose the mode of delivery of the passport. You can either pick up the passport from the visa collection centers in your city if you have any, or you can have the passport delivered to you as a premium delivery (Rs. 500 extra).
Clicking on Continue will take you to the payment page. The application fee is $160 and you can either transfer through one of the following options – NEFT, Mobile IMPS, or Challan.
I chose the NEFT payment and it redirected me to the following page which provided the Unique Beneficiary Account Number.
Note down this account number. It’s unique to an application and that’s how they track your payment. In Indian rupees, I ended up transferring 12,600 to the account number (along with the premium delivery amount).
A similar-looking page will show up for Mobile IMPS transfer as well with the relevant details.
You need to visit the above-mentioned banks, for making payments through challans.
Once the payment is done, it’s usually reflected in the bank in 2 working days.
I was able to see the payment reflected within a day. On the other hand, you can enter the receipt number to proceed further.
Next, choose a relevant date for a biometrics appointment followed by an interview appointment. The Biometrics facility is open on Sundays and usually, there are enough slots available for biometrics. So it won’t be a problem. All you need to worry about is the slot for the interview. And yes, the Biometrics center and US Consulate are at 2 different locations.
Visa interview appointment
Like I mentioned before when it says on the first page — your next available appointment is on <<Date>> – it alludes to your visa interview appointment, not the biometrics. Usually, during summer months, the next available visa interview could be at least 2 months away. While during the off-season months, the next available visa interview could be a few weeks to a month away.
If you’ve to go to another city for the appointment like in my case – make sure you get appointments for adjacent days to make the best use of your time. I’m based out of Bangalore and had to go to Chennai for the appointment because that’s the closest interview location I could manage to get. So, booking a hotel close to the Biometrics and the US consulate would be ideal.
Hotels near Chennai US Consulate
Prices around Rs. 2000 or lower per night
OYO 9259 Madurai Alagar: I stayed here for 2 days. It was a basic no-frills accommodation. The bathroom wasn’t clean and I didn’t even feel like taking a shower here. But it was safe enough as a solo female traveler and quite closeby to both the Biometrics and the US Consulate. They had free breakfast in the morning which was basically Pongal one day, and a sandwich the next day which was just decent enough. Traveled by auto to both VAC and Consulate. Book it here.
Hotel Crystal Residency: One of the most common places to stay while visiting Chennai for US visa appointment. The reviews online aren’t that great. It seems like a basic no-frills accommodation like above but at a conveniently close distance for the visa interview. Book it here.
Prices around Rs. 3000 or higher per night
Christmas in New York
In my case, I decided to travel to New York for Christmas quite at the last minute. I found flight tickets to New York starting at around Rs. 50,000, so I decided to go ahead and book flight tickets right after my visa appointment was confirmed.
I was on a tight schedule as my visa appointment was a week later and flights scheduled for the week after that. I was only able to procure a visa appointment in a week due to some cancellation. And this was during the low-flying months of December. In case you have a similar situation, please make sure you book fully refundable flights.
Visit the Biometrics center
For providing biometrics data, head to the VAC Biometrics center. There’s no point in arriving in too early, as the guards only let you in if you arrive within 30 minutes of your appointment time. Just be on time and you’ll be good.
Right from the time I entered the building, it took me 15 minutes to exit the building after providing my photo and fingerprint at the VAC biometrics center. This is mostly taken care by the local folks and I didn’t see any US citizens here.
Visit the US Consulate for the visa interview
Carry a copy of the appointment confirmation page while heading to the appointment along with all the necessary documents. I carried a stack of documents with me to support my visa claim – 3 months payslips, ITR return forms, 6 bank account statements, and offer letter from the current employer. Usually, none of these supporting documents are requested during the interview but carry it, just in case.
Head to the US Consulate for the interview. My appointment was at 12.00. I arrived just 5 minutes before and I was ushered into a 12:00 appointment waiting line. And those who arrived early or late were standing on another line. Ideally, arriving just 20-30 minutes before the scheduled interview time is good enough.
They do not allow mobile phones inside the Consulate and they mention the same in the appointment letter as well. Take it seriously! If you still carry it, then they will collect your phones at the reception desk and place it in a counter. By counter, I mean all the phones go into a plastic bag. Oh yeah, that’s right! Which goes without saying that there are high chances of your phone getting misplaced. So, if you can avoid taking phones into the Consulate – by all means, do!
I didn’t carry my phone and left it at my hotel. But, before leaving the hotel, I noted down the area name and a landmark of my hotel so that I can refer it while coming back from the Consulate. And I booked an Uber Auto to my interview spot.
I was asked the following questions by my visa officer
- What’s the purpose of your visit?
- What’s your profession?
- Where do you work?
- How long are you staying in the US?
- Which places are you going to visit in the US?
- Where are you staying in the US? (I said I’m staying with a friend of mine in Atlanta)
- Are you married?
- What’s your monthly salary?
- Which countries have you visited?
He seemed satisfied with my answer and told me that my visa is approved. I handed over my passport to the visa officer.
It took about an hour of waiting in queues for my interview. The visa officer didn’t ask for any documents while conducting the interview. In fact, I didn’t see anyone producing any documents to the visa officer in the one hour I was there. And I’ve heard the same in many cases too. But do carry the documents which you think will support your claim, just in case. I was fretting over not carrying more documents to support my claim for the visa. Now that I think about it, it feels silly, but back then, it was the need of the hour.
I was a happy clam leaving the Consulate premises. My visa was approved and now it’s only a matter of when will I receive it. I was going to leave to the US in a weeks time and everything had fallen in place perfectly. And now, it was time to head back to the hotel.
I enquired with the auto drivers near the Consulate to drop me to my hotel. And they state ridiculous rates as most of them are helpless at that time without their mobile phones. They wanted me to pay Rs. 200 when I had just arrived at the spot for Rs. 50. I wanted a short distance away from the auto stand and had to pay Rs. 100 to go back to my hotel.
I had appeared for the interview on Monday, and by Wednesday, I had already received my passport through premium delivery (sets you back by Rs 500). To save money, you can collect it from the VFS center in your town if you’ve any.
I got a B1/B2 US visa for 10 years. I had applied for a B2 tourist visa as a B1 business visa requires an invite from the company which wasn’t possible at this point in time. And now apart from being the obvious precursor for visiting the US, it has other benefits too which I listed above. This was my primary reason for applying for the US visa as it makes international travel a little easier.
Tips to keep in mind for the US visa application
- Make sure your application is consistent and the details provided by you are authentic. For example – if you mention the travel dates in the DS-160 form with particular dates, mention the same in the interview as well.
- Ideally, don’t book the flights until you get the visa. It’s not a mandatory document and in fact, they suggest you not to book the flights beforehand.
- Provide the right details of your contact in the US. And also make sure to inform them about the same just in case they get a call.
- Usually, you’ll know on the day of the interview itself whether your visa is approved or not, so whatever it is, you won’t be left hanging with the decision which I think is the best part about US visa.
- Be clear and confident while answering the visa interviewer’s questions.
And shall I say that the US visa application process is quite straight forward and less of a hassle as opposed to Canada and Schengen visa? No stack load of documents to put together unlike a Schengen visa. Or no nail-biting uncertainties about when visa approvals, unlike Canada visa. The whole application process was quite breezy and you meet face to face with your interviewer. Apart from the inconvenience of going to Chennai for at least two days for the appointments, it was quite a straight forward and painless process.
If you have any questions regarding applying for a US visa, let me know in the comments below. I’ll try to answer questions to the best of my knowledge.
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