Applying for an US B1/B2 Visa from Cape Town My Life 10 JUN 2016

There is a very good chance that I’ll be in the USA in July, first attending an expo in Anaheim, followed by a little sightseeing in San Diego with my work colleague (where Touchwork’s US office is based). As such, I obviously needed to organize a US visa – which as it turns out is not such a hard thing to do… unless of course you make it harder for yourself than what it should be!

So as I mentioned, the process is pretty simple. The first thing to determine is the type of US visa that you require. (Note, these days you do not need to have airline tickets booked yet, which is great because in the past if your visa application was turned down you would be left still sitting with some rather pricey tickets in your possession!)

For my purposes I need a B1/B2 non immigrant visa (business and tourist), and so my instructions are based on that particular visa type. To kick the actual process off, you need to complete a DS-160 online application, but before even that, it is a good idea to get the required visa photo out of the way, because you’ll need to upload a digital copy as part of your DS-160 submission. Be sure to check the photo requirements as advances in digital facial recognition software means that US visa photos now need a different set of requirements to what they did before.

As it turned out, although I did eventually go to a nearby Kodak Express for some printed photos to take along to the interview, a simple selfie on my phone against a white(ish) background, followed by some cropping in PhotoShop was good enough for the Americans.

The online DS-160 form takes a reasonable amount of time to fill in as a lot of questions qet asked, including information about school attendance, family etc. You can save and resume from any point, so taking your time to collect this information while you work on the DS-160 is possible. (Just be sure to remember your App ID as this is critical for this process!)

Once you have completed and submitted your DS-160 you will be asked to pay your non refundable visa processing fee online, which is currently $160 USD (and therefore cost me R2,480 at the time). With that done, you now move on to the next stage which is printing out the DS0-160 confirmation page (red document) and then scheduling your visa interview at the nearest US consulate.

For me the nearest consulate is the Cape Town site, situated in Reddam Avenue a few streets away from Touchwork’s offices in Westlake.

us consulate westlake cape town

It’s a good idea to take with some proof of strong ties to South Africa for your interview (e.g. proof of address, marriage certificate, bank statement, holiday itinerary), and so following a lovely weekend away in Stanford with Chantelle, I came into work nice and early on the Monday morning to print all of these documents.

However, as I printed the last file and glanced over the sheet telling me what I needed to bring with for my interview in an hour and a half’s time, I had a small heart attack when I realized that I had somehow completely forgotten my passport back home in Gordon’s Bay!

After a brief, to the point phone call to Chantelle, I stormed out of the office and raced back towards Somerset West, meeting Chantelle halfway at the Engen garage on the N2. She handed me my passport and I was off again, completing a very stressful journey as fast as I could!

Now I knew that there wouldn’t be any parking at the consulate building because understandably Americans aren’t fond of cars near government buildings as they tend to blow up every now and then, so I drove up Reddam Avenue nice and slowly, looking for an alternative place to park. However, I didn’t realise that Reddam school is of course at the top the the road, and at busy times, the route turns into a one-way. Yes, I was that despised twat that was riding up against the flow of parents in their super smart cars with my little black Getz.

Embarrassing.

Pro tip: If you have a trip to the consulate in Westlake organised, park instead at the bottom of the road at the Steenberg Village shopping centre and then just walk up.

Anyway, amazingly I managed to make my way back down without being killed or causing an accidents (though I was hooted at a lot), and walked up to the consulate with about 15 minutes to spare before my interview slot.

However you first need to clear security, so the suggestion is to leave all electronic devices at home. Whatever is not left at home is locked into small pigeon hole lockers, so keys, cellphones, etc. At this point you are also ticked off of the list and your required documents checked – which is the exact point my heart once again dropped when the lady manning the counter inquired as to where my printed DS-160 confirmation page was. As it turned out, I had printed the completely wrong thing! (Luckily for me though, what I had printed did at least have my App ID on it, so she sent me through with my passport, that and a photo neatly bundled together, suggesting that perhaps they might let me get away with that).

From there you step through some very thick steel doors and make your way across to the actual consulate building, where you wait for the first queue that checks your papers. The first thing that was pointed out to me was of course that I didn’t have the correct form (but they’ll use what I have) and that my digital photo was good enough, i.e. my paid for photos were unnecessary, and that had I not been able to get my passport on the day, I could just mail it in to them instead. Doh!

With that stage now passed, I was next called up for my interview, which takes place with a to the point American man asking me questions from behind a glass window using a telephone system – similar to what you see in prison setups on television. I was asked a small handful of questions relating to who I was, why I was going and for how long, and I guess because I have such a trusting face, was not asked for any supporting documentation at all. In total, my interview probably took little more than a minute to complete! (And not nearly as stressful as what I had imagined it might be!)

A couple of days later I received an e-mail telling me that my visa application was approved and my passport ready for delivery/pick up.

So that’s the process then, not particularly difficult or challenging unless you make it hard for yourself by forgetting things all over the place! Oh, and just to sweeten the deal, the US visa is valid for 10 years!

 

About Craig Lotter

Software developer, husband and dad to two little girls. Writer behind An Exploring South African. I don't have time for myself any more.