Meet Paris and Andy
These globetrotters are a 24-year-old couple from the United Kingdom and are 3 months into their 7 month trip around North America. Having always loved the States and had so many places on their bucket list that they wanted to visit – they decided to put both their careers on hold to take a trip of a lifetime to see them all. In order to do this, they had to obtain a tourist visa as their stay was going to be longer than the 90 day period which is permitted on an ESTA. Let Paris and Andy take it from here!
What’s the difference between an ESTA and a Visa?
An ESTA is required for any stay under the length of 90 days, for business or pleasure, within the United States of America. An ESTA can be purchased for $14 per person, and is usually accepted within a few days as long as your country of residence is eligible. A list of eligible countries can be found here.
A Visa is required for any stay within the United States for 90 days or more, for business and pleasure. The type of visa needed for your stay varies depending on your intentions while in the USA. In our situation, we needed to apply for a B-2 Visa which allows us to temporarily visitation to the USA for tourism, pleasure and visiting for a six month period. The main thing to note on a tourist visa is that you are absolutely forbidden to work of any kind during your stay in the United States, failure to follow this can result in a 10-year ban from the Country.
The Visa Process
The first thing to do in order to obtain your Tourist visa is to head to the US Embassy for the UK website, which can be found here. You then need to complete STEP ONE and STEP TWO.
Step One involves completing an online form (DS-160) which is very long and detailed, it is certainly very intimidating especially as it states on the website that you are unable to get assistance to help with any of the questions. For example, we found it difficult to fill out the section ‘Place of Residence’ and ‘Friends and Family Living within the US’ as we did not know at the time of completing the form where we would be staying, nor did we have any friends or family living in the USA. To overcome this we included the name and address of a potential hostel we would be staying at during part of our trip and included their number under the Point of Contact. As long as the form is filled out to the best of your knowledge and all the details are correct such as your passport number, length of stay and declaration questions it should be accepted. At the end of step one, you need to print the final page and keep that safe as you will need it later.
You should then receive an email to say your online application has been received and within a week you should have an invitation to book an interview at the US Embassy in London. You can pick your date and time of the interview to suit you, but keep in mind that they are only available Monday-Friday. The price of the interview/visa application is around $160 per person which is non-refundable even if your application does not get accepted.
What you need:
- Current passport, valid for travel to the United States with a minimum of six months past date of return to the UK
- The DS-160 confirmation page which you printed at the end of Step One
- A passport photo (5cmx5cm) taken within the last 6 months
- Purpose of your trip – here it is useful to have a trip itinerary or plan of the states/cities you want to visit during your trip. We created and printed out a detailed itinerary of what we had planned and booked before the interview, the specific places we wanted to go to in a certain city and printouts of our Airbnb accommodations. For example, Andy loves Jiu-jitsu so he had lots of different places all around America he wanted to visit. I love reading, so I had various bookstores that I wanted to explore.
- Your intent to depart/evidence of employment or family ties – in this situation the person conducting the interview wants to know that you have a life to come back to in the UK. We proved a written and signed letter stating that Andy has been granted a 7 month sabbatical with the date he is due back to work. I was unable to get this from my employment so I got my parents to write a hand-written letter, showing my family ties to the UK. If you are a homeowner in the country you intend to return to, it would be a plus to provide evidence of this at this point.
- Your ability to fund your travel – the main thing that the interviewer is concerned about is how you are planning to support yourself for the duration of your trip. This is critical, as you are not permitted to work on a tourist visa. Here it is fundamental that you have printouts of your bank statements/savings and pay-checks to show how much you have saved so far, how much you’re earning and how much you plan on having by the time you leave for your trip. We also found it was very useful to create a budget spreadsheet with rough estimates of how much we would spend each month during the trip. As soon as the interviewer saw how much we had already saved and how much we were planning on saving in total she was satisfied with the interview and grated our visas.
Top tips & Things to Remember Before & During the Interview
- Arrive early; even though you have an appointment time there is usually a very long security queue to get into the building. The security is the same as an airport so if you have sharp items in your bag this will be removed and confiscated. If you miss your appointment time you have to rebook another one, which also means paying the $160 fee again.
- The interview is conducted much like at the bank or post office and takes place in two parts. If you’re planning on travelling with someone (like we were) you can take the interview together, even if you’re not living at the same address.
- Be calm, and honest. Express why you want to visit the United States for such a long period, tell them what you’re planning on seeing and doing.
- Have everything ready and printed out, the more organized you are the more seriously you will be taken
- Save as much as possible for your trip before the interview, if you do not have sufficient funds but have generous family members that will send you money get a hand-written note from them saying they will fund your travels should you run out of money.
- DO NOT say you will find a job if you run out of money. The better response would be that you will go back to the UK or have money sent to you.
- Be aware that if your visa does get accepted then the Embassy will take your passports from you and may have them for up to three weeks. So be sure to apply in advance and don’t book any last minute celebration holidays, as you won’t have your passport!
- Once you have your passport back, the visa page will be stuck into your passport. When you first cross the US border you will need to pay a customs fee ($6) and it is up to the official at the border if you are granted entry or not. Once granted your passport will be stamped with a date (6 months from entry date). You must be sure to leave by this date.
That’s all! Best of luck with the process, and enjoy your travels around the United States!
Friendly Disclaimer: This post should be used as a helpful guide to understanding the process, and is in no way an official document or guideline for all citizenships applying for their tourist visa. The Sherpa Team send a huge thank you to Paris and Andy for taking the time to provide a detailed guide to their experience heading to the USA. You can follow their adventures and connect with them on Instagram. Do you want to contribute to Sherpa? Have a blog idea we should cover? Check out our Initiatives Page and let us know – we’d love to hear from you!