How to apply for a US visa

2014-08-03 22:39
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If you had to choose between applying for a visa and having your entire body waxed, which would you pick? 

We’re willing to bet you’d probably choose the latter, because applying for a visa is just. Such. A. Pain.

And as far as visa application processes go, the US wins the ‘most stressful’ award, hands down.

However, if you know exactly what’s expected of you and the kinds of costs you’re facing, it could make your application less of an ordeal.  

We chatted to Carla Douglas from MDS Visapak to find out how to be best prepared, what to bring and how much it would cost.

If you have any further advice for other travellers, please feel free to share it in our comment section below or send us tips to

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.

We will be looking specifically at the 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: +/- R1 920 ($160 - Depending on the exchange rate)

Visitor's Visa step-by-step:
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.

Should you need to expedite your appointment, due to a medical, business, family etc emergency, this is possible and would incur extra costs. Find out more about the process on the Official Visa Services of the US.

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.

As with any interview, it is of the utmost importance that you are punctual, so aim to be there at least 15 minutes before.

What to bring:

  • Passport. NOTE: You are allowed to travel to the US on a temporary passport (it’s not permissible for the UK, which you should be aware of if travelling the US via the UK)

  • The application confirmation page from Step 1

  • The appointment confirmation page from Step 3

  • Supporting documents, including invitation letters, accommodation confirmation, air tickets, letter of employment and anything else pertinent to your application.

  • One 5 x 5 cm color photo taken within the last 6 months. Rules about photos are pretty strict:
  • - the photograph must be taken against a white background
    - The face must be totally visible with ears exposed 
    - There should be no hair covering the forehead 
    - The face from the neck up should cover 50% of the area of the photograph.
    - Any applicant wearing glasses must take them off 
    - The head must be uncovered
    - The photograph must be clear and sharp
    - Glue or staple the photograph to the DS-160 form following the instructions

  • All previous passports, especially those that show any international trips or previously issued visas to the United States at the interview. 

Once you have submitted your passport and supporting documents to the visa officer, you head to the DHL desk located inside of the embassy.

They will give you numerous options to choose from as to how your documents can be delivered back to you. You can pay them directly for their services. 

Now, it’s time for the actual interview!

Questions they’re likely to ask:

  • Purpose of the trip
  • How long you plan to remain in the US
  • How you plan to cover the costs of your trip
  • Binding obligations i.e. do you have anything that forces you to come back to South Africa Although the officer may not request documentation, applicants must bring relevant paperwork to provide if requested.

Although the official may not ask for any additional documents, it's best to be prepared.

Apart from those mentioned above, the following are require for specific cases:  

• Non-South African Citizens: Non-South African citizens (also known as third country nationals) residing in South Africa must document their legal status by presenting their immigration documents, such as the South African visa and/or permanent residence permit.  

• Stolen visa: If your US visa has been lost or stolen, you may apply for a replacement, but you must present a police report documenting the loss or theft of your visa at the time of your interview.

• Children under 18: Applicants under 18 should provide a notarized statement of consent from each custodial parent. If a statement cannot be obtained from one parent, the applicant should present legal documents supporting this situation. Applicants under age 18 may be required to present each parent's passport and visa (if they hold one), an original birth certificate, and the parents' marriage certificate (if applicable). A legal guardian must present court documents indicating permission to travel with the child.

TAKE NOTE: The South African Department of Home Affairs has introduced new rules for travelling with kids - read about it here

• If you have been previously arrested: You may be required to provide a police clearance certificate, showing the date of the arrest and convictions, and any court documents you may have related to the arrest

• Traveling for business, or any purpose other than tourism: you may need evidence of the purpose of your trip. If the company you work for will cover the expenses of the trip, you may submit a letter to that effect on company letterhead.

If you're wondering what sort of documents will prove your intentions for returning to South Africa, these are suggested:

• Self-employed: a statement on your company letterhead in addition to independent evidence of self-employment and tax payments.  

• A Retiree or Pensioner: evidence of your pension and/or proof of property ownership.  

• A Farmer: evidence of farm ownership (a copy of your deed).

• A student: copies of your school transcripts and/or a letter from your school’s registrar verifying your current enrolment.

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.
  • R400 expedited delivery to one of three DHL offices within 24 hours of the interview.
For more info visit

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