When we recently asked you to vote in our "which visa is the hardest and most admin heavy to acquire" poll - with the options being between the Schengen, United Kingdom and United States of America, an overwhelming 45% of you went with the US option.
Knowing what a schlep the application process for the other two are, we decided to make your next trip to the land of stars and stripes slightly easier by gathering some crucial information you may need and putting together a little checklist of sorts.
If you have any further advice for other travellers, please feel free to share it in our comment section below!
Types of visas
The US has two main streams of visas to apply for - immigrant visas and non-immigrant visas. As you can imagine, the immigrant visas are aimed at those people looking to take up permanent residence in the big US of A, while the non-immigrant visas are aimed at those who are only planning on visiting the country for a relatively short period of time.
In the non-immigrant category, you will find four main subcategories tailor-made for the different reasons for travel. These visas are normally issued for a period of anything from 3 months to 10 years, and single or multiple entry depends on the reasons for your visits.
Visitor's visa: mainly for tourists and travellers, but also for those desiring to enter the country for business (B-1 visa) or medical treatment (B-2 visa).
Cost: +/- R950 ($140 - Depending on the exchange rate)
Study visa: In order to obtain a student visa, you have to be accepted at an academic/vocational institution prior to applying for the visa, as your acceptance letter will form part of your application. There are two types of student visa - the "F" visa for academic studies and the "M" visa for non-academic or vocational studies. For more specific information on student visas visit the US Embassy in South Africa's website and take a look at their FAQs.
Cost: +/- R950 ($140 - Depending on the exchange rate)
Temporary work visa: As with the student visa, you will need proof of the fact that a job awaits you in the US before applying for a temporary work visa. This means your prospective employer or agent will have to fill out a certain form upon which they will receive a reciprocal approval form, which you will have to hand in with your visa application. Sounds complicated, but for a more detailed explanation visit the US Embassy website. There are also 11 different classifications under this visa.
Cost: +/- R1020 ($150 - Depending on the exchange rate).
Exchange visa (J visas): This is the type of visa you would apply for if you intend to work at a Summer Camp, a Ski Resort or as an Au Pair, among others. Before applying for the visa, you would need to provide proof of the fact that you form part of a reputable program or organization by presenting a the specific form prepared by them, confirming this. You must also have sufficient scholastic preparation, financial resources and a good command of the English language. To find out more about options regarding this, visit the US Embassy website.
Cost: +/- R950 ($140) (Depending on the exchange rate)
Non-immigrant visa step-by-step:
Now, while each of these subcategories have specific requirements of their own, the basic checklist for the plain ol' visitor's visa is a good guideline to go by. Take note that for any US visa application, a personal interview with the embassy/consulate is required. With rather stringent security it's best you don't even try taking bottled water, cell phones, portable electronics, or weapons of any sort into the embassy/consulate,as these will only delay the whole process.
Step 1: Complete application form
Complete the DS-160 visa application form that you will find on the US Department of State consular electronic application center website. In order to fill this out you will need
- a fast and efficient internet browser,
- your passport,
- any previous US visas you may have had, and
- documentation for your travel plans. (However, the documentation does not require plane tickets, as it's best to leave such a pricey purchase till after your visa has been granted.)
Once you've completed the form you have to print out the barcode confirmation page, as you will need this number to set up an appointment and you will have to present this page to the consulate during your interview.
Step 2: Pay and make an appointment
You can pay your visa fee with a credit card or cash and for information on doing either contact the Visa Information Service Center (VISC) on 087 940-7597 or by visiting their website.
Once you've made your payment (and have proof thereof if you paid cash) it's time to set up an interview with your closest consulate. This is also done through VISC.
You will need:
- The DS - 160 confirmation barcode number
- Payment receipt number
- Passport number
- Any numbers/codes required for the specific visa you're applying for (e.g. student, temporary work etc)
Step 3: Confirmed appointment date
After successfully scheduling an appointment, you will receive an appointment confirmation letter by e-mail, which you must print out, put safely away and take along to the interview.
Step 4: The interview itself
An interview, no matter how trivial, can put anyone on edge, but try to keep calm. What the consulate would basically want to see is that you have strong social, economic, and/or family ties in South Africa and that you are not going to try and immigrate to the US. Your purpose of travel, and itinerary are an important factor which they will probably scrutinize in minute detail. Don't be intimidated.
Take note: none of the consulates in South Africa have public parking available, so remember to take cash along for paid parking in the vicinity.
What to bring:
- A valid passport with unused visa pages, as well as any old passports.
- The application confirmation page from Step 1.
- The appointment confirmation page from Step 3.
- A recent front-facing, 50 mm x 50 mm photograph of each applicant.
Step 5: Delivery of passport (if successful)
If your application is successful, there are three options for getting your completed passport back:
- Free delivery to a DHL office in your vicinity within 3 -5 business days. You would have pre-selected one in Step 2, if you so chose.
- R90 standard delivery to home or office, also within 3- 5 business days.
- R288 expedited delivery to one of three DHL offices. Usually delivered the day after the interview.