Sunday, May 17, 2015

VISA: United States (Multiple Entry)

Philippine passport holders need a visa to go to the United States, and getting one in Manila is a real pain. Why so? It’s because the embassy there does not really think of us as tourists, but rather illegal aliens wanting a share of greener pastures. As such, you would find many forums online dealing with this topic, some of them giving helpful tips on how to answer the consul’s questions. Some would even tell you how to specifically prepare paperwork to boost your chances.

The bottom line is that it is hard to get a US visa in Manila. Those who try their luck and succeed are rewarded with a 10-year multiple entry visa which is usually a combination of type B1 and B2. As for me, I didn’t really have plans of going to the States, but since I was already in Seoul and with an Alien Registration Card to boot, I thought hey, why not? South Koreans are visa-free in the US, so at least that gets rid of the long lines at the embassy. And yeah, I was right indeed.

The US embassy in Seoul is hard to miss, thanks to its strategic location at Gwanghwamun. If you see the palace, the mountain behind it, and the giant statue of King Sejong in front of it, then you only have to look right and that’s the embassy right there. Appointment is made online and due to the small number of applicants, most of whom are probably foreigners, you can get a schedule as early as the following week. Payment could be made through different means, but I preferred over-the-counter through Citibank.

The US visa fee is standard for all embassies, I suppose. I remember paying over a hundred dollars, but not over two hundred. Because I was studying in Seoul, I had a well-funded bank account there because it was a requirement for further enrollment. I used the same bank account to get a bank certificate. I also photocopied my ARC and asked for a certificate of enrollment from the university to vouch for my standing as a regular student. I don’t remember preparing any other documents.

I remember changing my appointment dates once or twice because of class schedule conflicts, and recall finding it easy to do online. On the date of the appointment, I forgot to print the confirmation letter sent via email, the one with a barcode in it which they need to scan at the entrance. And so I had to find a place where I could access my email and print the said document. Everything went well and I still made it just in time. I was then directed to one of the upper floors. Passports ready!

One window was reserved for the verification of information. After that, you wait for your number to be called for the dreaded interview. I was asked no more than five questions, some of which I remember to be:

1) What are you doing here in Seoul? I’m a language student;
2) Why are you going to the United States? Transit, I will be backpacking in Latin America;
3) Are you going back here after your trip? Not sure, most likely back to Manila;

I can’t remember the others, if there were more than three, that is. I do remember volunteering my bank certificates but he said there was no need. Instead, he suddenly announced that my visa was ready for pick-up in three days’ time. Indeed, when I picked up my passport at the courier’s office, I found the 10-year multiple entry visa stamped on page 27.


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