One of the most important things on my PCT checklist was the visa for the USA, as here a simple ESTA visa (only valid for citizens of a “Visa Waiver Program” country) for 90 days is not sufficient, instead a “Business / Tourist Visa – B1 / B2” is required. An important part for the visa application is the form DS-160, which I will introduce here also a little more precisely.
With a business/tourist visa – B1 / B2 you can stay in the USA for a maximum of 180 days per entry. Since the average hiker needs 150 days for the PCT, this visa is perfect.
The Road to a Visa
With this little help I would like to show you how I got my visa. Before you start to apply for a visa, be sure to check the USTRAVELDOCS Business / Tourist Visa website. All important information for the B1 / B2 visa is summarized there.
Since it is very likely that my information will not match yours, it is important that you provide your own information truthfully. Some fields in the forms are not always clear, so I try to explain them.
However, there is no guarantee for a visa with this assistance, as this is always at the discretion of U.S. officials!
With the following 4 steps I will show you what to do to get a B1 / B2 visa for the USA.
- If you don’t have a recent photo, have a coloured passport photo taken
- Fill in form DS-160
- Pay the visa application fee and arrange an interview at the respective embassy/consulate.
- Go to the interview appointment and complete the interview
The central contact point for visa applications and the DS-160 form is https://ceac.state.gov/GenNIV/. On this page you can test if your photo complies with the photo regulations and start, upload or edit your visa application.
Create a Photo and Test it
The first step is to have a passport photo taken of you. Click here for the photo regulations. If your photo meets the standards, you can test it on the DS-160 form page (https://ceac.state.gov/GenNIV/). IMPORTANT: Since November 1, 2016, glasses are no longer allowed on photos!
I scanned my passport photo and uploaded it for testing. However, scanned images have different terms than digital images. The photograph shall be square, colour, 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) and 300 dpi resolution.
If the photo meets the standards and passes the test, you will receive the following confirmation:
The DS-160 Form
If you meet all the requirements for the DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Form, you can start filling out the form. To do this, go to the following page: https://ceac.state.gov/GenNIV/
Start of Application Process
On the website you first have to specify the city where you want to apply for the US visa. This is also where the interview is held for the visa afterwards. For Germany you can choose Berlin, Frankfurt am Main and Munich. Then start the application by clicking on “Start an Application“.
IMPORTANT: On the following page you will receive your access data (Application ID) for processing your visa. Make a note of these dates if you want to edit the form later or if you can’t finish it the first time. I also recommend that you save your data on a regular basis, as the sessions for processing the visa are not exactly stable and you don’t know exactly when a session for processing the visa has expired. Oh yes, and an answer to a “secret question” must also be given.
Personal Information 1
On the first page of the visa application you enter first name and surname. The part “Full Name in native alphabet” is only to be filled in if your name is not in Latin letters in the passport. In this case just click on “Does not apply”.
One of the most frequently asked questions about the first page is: What is the Telecode? The telecode is a unique conversion code for 16,356 Chinese characters organized in two levels. For German names there is no telecode and here you can simply click on “No“.
To understand what a telecode is, I have a small example for you. I translated my first name in Google Translator into simple Mandarin (Chinese) and then converted it into a telecode generator. My name “Martin” in Mandarin “马丁” (Mǎdīng) would therefore have the telecode “7456 0002“. But like I said, you can just click “No” here.
All other data such as gender, date of birth, place of birth, marital status etc. are actually self-explanatory. For Germans: at the birthplace you can click in the area “State/Province” “Does not apply”. My details:
- Full Name in nativ Alphabet: DOES NOT APPLY
- Do you have a Telecode that represents your Name?: NO
- Date and Place of Birth – State/Province: DOES NOT APPLY
Personal Information 2
In the Personal Information 2 you only need to enter your citizenship as a German, or both in the case of dual citizenship.
With “National Identification Number”, “U.S. Social Security Number” and “U.S. Taxpayer ID Number” I clicked “Does not Apply” everywhere. If you have already lived in the USA and applied for a Social Security Number, enter it in the field below. My details:
- National Identification Number: DOES NOT APPLY
- U.S. Social Security Number: DOES NOT APPLY
- U.S. Taxpayer ID Number: DOES NOT APPLY
Address and phone
- State/Province: DOES NOT APPLY
On the fourth page of the form you enter the data of your passport. In the field “Passport/Travel Document Type” I have selected “REGULAR”. On “Passport Book Number”, enter “Does not Apply” if you are a German. My details:
- Passport/Travel Document Type: REGULAR
- Passport Book Number: DOES NOT APPLY
The “Travel” page is one of the most important pages in the form, as concrete travel plans are given here. I filled out the document as follows:
- Purpose of Trip to the U.S.: TEMP. BUSINESS PLEASURE VISITOR (B)
- Specify: TOURISM/MEDICAL TREATMENT (B2)
As I didn’t know for which date I would receive a PCT Permit during the visa application process, I indicated “NO” for specific travel plans and the planned arrival date was April 1, 2019. For the duration of my stay I have chosen 6 months.
- Have you made specific travel plans?: NO
- Intended Date of Arrival: 01. APRIL 2019
- Intended Length of Stay in U.S.: 6 MONTH(S)
If you want to enter the USA, you will need to provide an address where you will be staying. Here you can enter the address of local friends you have visited before, or of Trail Angles who offer this (for example Scout and Frodo in San Diego) or of your hotel where you will stay the first nights. However, you should check with the hotel to see if this is in order.
If you are travelling alone, simply fill out this form and click “No”. If you travel with a travel group or friends, you must enter their details here. My details:
- Are there other persons traveling with you?: NO
Previous USA Trips
- Have you ever been in the U.S.?: NO
- Have you ever been issued a U.S. Visa?: NO
- Have you ever been refused a U.S. Visa, or been refused admission to the United States, or withdrawn your application for admission at the port of entry?: NO
- Have you ever been denied travel authorisation by the Department of Homeland Security through the Electronic System for Travel Authorisation: NO
- Has anyone ever filed an immigrant petition on your behalf with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services?: NO
For the further processing of the visa it is now necessary to specify a contact person from the USA, who can confirm your identity if necessary. If you don’t know anyone
in the USA personally, you can also enter the address of Trail Angels if they offer this. You’d better check with them first, though.
On the ninth page of the form the names and dates of birth of your parents as well as close and distant relatives in the USA are queried.
Work, Education and Training Information
Present: The area of work, training and further education is divided into three parts: “present”, “past” and “additional information”. On page 10 of the form, the current employer, training place or college/university with address and monthly income is queried. In addition, a description of the activity, training or study is required.
Past: In the second section you will be asked about the previous employers and positions of the last 5 years. For this not only the addresses but also the names of your former supervisors are queried.
Additional information: In the last part of the area additional information is requested. This includes the question whether you belong to a clan or tribe, what languages you speak and to which countries you have travelled in the last 5 years.
Additionally there are questions about the affiliation of paramilitary or insurgent groups or if you have a special training with special weapons. Even if these questions seem strange to you, you should take them seriously and answer them truthfully. The whole thing could look like this:
Security and Background
The Security and Background section has 5 parts and should be taken very seriously as it deals with very personal questions.
An important note on the website is that a question answered with “YES” does not automatically mean that you are not eligible for a visa. If a question has been answered with “YES”, you may have to appear in person before a consular officer who will clarify the answer in a personal interview.
- In the first part, questions are asked about the state of health (illnesses, psychological illness, drug addiction).
- In the second part, questions will be asked about the criminal past, prostitution, money laundering and human trafficking.
- The third part contains questions on espionage, terrorist activity, killing or mass murder.
- The penultimate section of the Security and Background section asks whether you have ever tried (or helped) to obtain a US visa through fraud, intentional misrepresentation, or other illegal means.
- In the last part, questions on custody, electoral fraud and US citizenship renunciation of tax evasion are asked.
If you have truthfully filled in all five parts, proceed to the photo.
On the first page of the photo form, you will find the note that since November 1, 2016, glasses are no longer permitted on photos. Then click on the upload button and a new page will open. Here you can select and upload your image file. Then the message should come that your photo has passed the quality standards.
Summary and Confirmation
The next step takes you to the “Review”, where you can check all the information you have entered and change it if necessary.
On the next page a text appears which should be read carefully. Then you sign the form electronically and submit it.
The Final Confirmation page contains a barcode and must be printed out and brought to the visa interview.
Visa Fee and Interview Date
If you have successfully submitted the visa application form, you have to transfer the visa fee afterwards. To do this, go to the website https://cgifederal.secure.force.com/ and create a profile. The fee is displayed in US dollars, but must be paid in euros (in Europe). In my case this was 136,00 € (due to currency fluctuations this can also be more or less).
If you have created a profile click on “New Application/Arrange Appointment” and enter the required data for the visa. In my case:
Visa category: Non-Immigrant Visa
Diplomatic representation: Frankfurt
Visa category: All Others
Visa category: B2
Then enter your passport details and your DS-160 confirmation number.
On the payment page, click on “Payment option”, select a payment method and transfer the money. Here you will receive a reference number which must be kept in order to make an appointment. IMPORTANT: The processing fee for visa applications is non-refundable. All further information about the payment options can be found here: http://cdn.ustraveldocs.com/de/de-niv-paymentinfo.asp.
In the last step you arrange an appointment based on your profile and the reference number assigned. My diary looked very good and I got an appointment within 7 days.
I was really excited before the interview and collected all the documents meticulously. It’s better to have more information than too little, it’s all about a visa for the USA.
- DS-160 Confirmation Page
- Printed copy of the date confirmation letter
- current passport photo (not older than 6 months)
- Payroll of the last 3 months
- Letter from my Employer
- Statement of Account
- Map of the PCT
The security regulations in the US consulates are very high, so be sure to check out the following page again: Safety regulations US Consulate. Electronic equipment may not be brought into the consulate, but may be delivered at the entrance. Since I didn’t know this before, I went to the consulate in Frankfurt with a classic paper ticket of the Deutsche Bahn and without a clock or telephone. Kind of a weird feeling.
After passing through the security check, digital fingerprints are taken and you then queue up at an interview counter. When it was my turn, my pulse and excitement went up. I had a very nice officer who asked me a few questions about the visa, which I answered. Of which the following, among others:
- What do you want to do in the US?
- What do you do for a living?
- How can you afford the trip?
She listened to my answers, thought about it briefly, looked at her computer, looked at me again and said: “Ok, your visa is approved, we will send you your passport via mail. This can take up to two weeks.” I breathed deeply and was super happy. Two weeks later, my passport with a valid visa was in my mailbox.
To get a visa for the USA, there are a few things and documents that need to be well prepared. If you are well structured, this should not be a problem. In the end, of course, the US officials in the consulate always decide whether a visa is issued or not. So there is no guarantee for a visa.
Another important point on my checklist for the Pacific Crest Trail was the PCT Permit, which was not easy to get. Here you can go directly to my article PCT Permit – You need Luck with your Application.
I hope I could give you with this article a small insight into the process for a US visa. If you liked this article, I’m happy about a Like, a heart or a smile on your face. If you have questions, suggestions or criticism, I look forward to your comments.