Update 2018: After 7 years of travelling the world – 5 of those without a home or permanent address – I’ve written a book about my journey! “The Shooting Star” charts my journey from the cubicle to the road and from small-town India to remote corners of the globe. Published by Penguin, the book is now available on Amazon and Flipkart.
So many myths surround the much sought after US Visa in India that I just have to bust them. I applied for mine shortly before my 6-month trip to Central America, New York and California, and was pleasantly surprised by how easy the process was. I walked away with a 10-year B1 tourist visa, which also gives me ‘visa on arrival’ access to many other countries!
The visa application process is long drawn, but if you are prepared with the right documents and a bit of patience, it is not nearly as difficult as many make it to be. Here are my tips to help you enter the promised land:
1) The US Visa Forms and Fee
Select your location within India and start your application on the US Consular Electronic Application Centre website. You need to fill the DS-160 visa form (make sure you don’t leave any section unanswered), sign it electronically, upload a passport-size photo and submit it. You will have a fixed period of time (usually 48 hours) to pay your visa fee via internet banking or bank transfer, into an Indian bank account. The US tourist visa fee for Indians is 160$ (roughly INR 9,900); the exact amount will be calculated automatically based on recent exchange rate and given to you at the end of your application.
Make sure you print your DS-160 confirmation page with the barcode, and keep it safely right until your trip to the US.
2) Appointment One: Fingerprinting and Photographs
The good part about a US visa application is that you don’t have to show confirmed flight and hotel bookings – the way you must for most other countries. The painful part, however, is that you have to make yourself available in person, TWICE. Check appointment wait times here based on your location, and book both your appointments right after submitting your forms, especially if you have to travel to the nearest big city for these.
The first appointment is at VFS USA, where your fingerprints are scanned and your photograph is taken. The process takes less than five minutes, and it’s better to show up a little earlier than your given time slot, since it’s on a first-come first-serve basis.
3) Appointment Two: The Visa Interview
The second and more crucial appointment is the visa interview. You must arrive earlier than your given time slot and be prepared to wait on the benches outside (it was an hour before I finally had my turn). Remember that phones, electronic devices and bags are not allowed to be taken in – carry only your forms along, and a book to keep your entertained.
Applicants are sent inside for the interview in batches, which itself takes only a few minutes. The immigration officer is likely to ask you about your invitation letter if you have one, your purpose of visit, how you’ll fund your trip, and how long you plan to travel for. Answer truthfully and confidently.
The result of your visa application is told to you by the immigration officer there and then!
4) Supporting Documents
Unlike other visa applications, the US embassy does not ask to see confirmed bookings or other documents during the process. However, these can be asked for incase of additional screening. To be on the safe side, I carried along an invitation letter from my brother who lives in the US, a copy of his employment visa and passport, my bank statements, resume and a cover letter. Luckily, I wasn’t asked to produce any of these.
If you have a relative residing in the US, it can be extremely helpful to have an invitation letter, written by them, preferably on the letterhead of the company they work for, stating that you’ll be visiting and staying with them for a given period of time. Don’t worry if you can’t obtain one – the US embassy website states that it is not necessary to have an invitation letter, nor is that the decisive factor in being granted a visa.
5) Passport Collection
After a successful interview, it usually takes 2 working days for your passport to be ready for collection. While submitting the application form, you can choose to sign up for free SMS / email alerts and track the status online.
The passport needs to be collected at VFS USA, by submitting a photocopy of your passport or another valid Indian ID. Someone can collect it on your behalf with an authorization letter signed by you.
I hope that simplifies the US visa process for Indian passport holders. Even if you don’t plan to visit the US anytime soon, it is worth applying for a visa anyway, to get ‘visa on arrival’ access to most Central American countries, e-visa access to Turkey, entry into Georgia, and many more places you probably dream of visiting. I’m already using mine to its full potential!
Also read my tips on how to score a Canada Tourist Visa on an Indian passport and a Schengen visa to travel in Europe, and read whether it’s worth getting an E-visa for Georgia with the recent deporting of Indians at Tbilisi Airport.
Going to New York? See my experiential travel guide to NYC.
Got any other tips or experiences with an Indian passport and a US visa?
[For more information about the US Visa Applications, please see US Visa FAQs on the US embassy website. If you have specific questions about the US visa process for Indians, you can find your nearest embassy here, and contact them by phone or email.]
Featured image by Arturo Donate.