Prior to the recently concluded US Elections, my mom and I had planned on applying for a US visa since she’s about to retire soon and we’d like to be able to travel together soon after she does. I had applied on my own years ago and unfortunately, I was denied back then. They cited “lack of strong ties” to Saudi Arabia even though I grew up here and half of my family already resides in KSA. Fast forward to present day, my mom and I were able to get US visas. 🙂 My dream of finally seeing New York City, Chi-Town and California are now within reach!
So how did we go about the process? Well, the first thing I did was read all the instructions found online. They have a very comprehensive, step-by-step guide on the US Travel Docs website, but I’ll just add a few of the tips I learned along the way. Just a disclaimer: I am not a Consul or anything like that so the decision of whether getting approved still lies in hands of the Consul Officer. I’m just sharing what I had to go through myself and maybe you can learn a thing or two when getting a TOURIST (B1/B2) VISA.
Step 1: Fill out the DS-160 form. You can find it here: https://ceac.state.gov/genniv/ and follow the registration process.
TIPS: The form is lengthy and will require several specific information and a significant amount of your time. You can either prepare all the details you need ahead of time and allot an hour or so for you to complete the form or if you don’t have enough time, an Application ID will be assigned to you and you can return to continuing it when you have time. That Application ID is only good for 30 days and requires you to answer security questions whenever you log back in. If you don’t finish your application within that period, you would have to create a new application all over again.
Apart from your personal details, the other specific information that you need to have are the names and personal details of your companions (if you are traveling with family). This includes passport number, Iqama numbers, birthdates etc. You will also need to cite the name/organization where you will staying during your visit to the US. You will need to provide their full name, postal address, email and contact number and specify your relationship with them.
As you go along the form, if something in the form does not apply to you, don’t forget to tick the “Does Not Apply” box.
Photo requirements are found on this page: https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/general/photos.html Ensure that you follow the rules and have that photo ready when you’re filling up the application.
Once you are done with entering all the required info and have uploaded the photo, you will be asked to do a final review and you will electronically sign the document for submission. After that, a confirmation email will be sent to you. The attached Confrimation Page is very important and you should print it and bring it with you along with your supporting documents on the day of your interview. But before that…
Step 2: Register at the CGI website and pay your Visa Fee. 160$ (608 SAR) Non-refundable.
This is your “gambling money” — so to speak. Paying this fee is not a guarantee you’ll get a US visa so be prepared to lose it, just in case.
TIPS: The application site of the DS-160 form is different from the visa fee/appointment schedule website. You first need to go to: https://cgifederal.secure.force.com. In this site, you are required to register and enter a lot of the similar information required in the DS-160 form. Again, this will take time but not as much as the DS-160. Once you’ve registered, you will be given a confirmation page will be given to you once again to print. Take note of the CGI Reference Number that is indicated in that form. You will need it once you get to the bank.
US Visa payments are only made at SAMBA banks and they have a special carbon form for that so make sure that you ask for it from the counter. Enter the CGI Reference Number for the reference code that the form asks. I want to emphasize the difference between the CGI reference number and the DS-160 application number because when we were there, a fellow Filipina appeared to not be aware of the CGI Reference Number so I had to tell her about the different log-in to the CGI website.
Step 3: Schedule your Appointment and Prepare Your Documents
Once the payment is made, just give it 24 hours to reflect on the CGI website. By then, you will now have access in the dashboard for the Schedule and Appointment. Select your preferred date and time and a confirmation email will be sent to you.
TIPS: You definitely MUST bring the following:
- Printed DS-160 confirmation page including the barcode confirmation number
- Photograph: A 5×5 cm photo with a white background, taken within the last 6 months. Men should not wear any head covering. Women’s hairline and jaw line must be clearly visible. Please bring the photo even if the upload of the photo to the DS-160 was successful.
- Documentation of strong ties to Saudi Arabia: Documentation varies depending on the individual applicant’s situation, but can include a letter from your (and/or your spouse’s) current employer on letterhead stationery confirming your job title and position, salary, length of employment; bank statements going back the last three months and/or a bank certificate.
- Your current and previous passports (to show your previous foreign travel).
Note: You do not need a travel order or a dummy booking for a flight or hotel.
Step 4: Arrive on the Day of your Scheduled Appointment
TIPS: Applicants are only scheduled in the morning so make sure you are there at least 30 minutes before your scheduled interview because it’s a series of queues once you get inside. Mobile phones or electronic devices of ANY kind and bags or purses are strictly not allowed so make sure you have a car waiting for you and leave all your valuables there. We learned this the hard way. As for the attire, you don’t really need to dress up but if you want to look presentable, by all means do so. Funny story: my mom asked me the night before what she should wear for the interview and I told her to wear a gown. :p The next day she came fully dressed in a business casual attire while everybody else were in abayas and I was in sneakers. I guess she didn’t get my joke.
The location of the US Embassy in Riyadh is here:
The standard questions we got were:
What do we do for a living and how long have we been in KSA?
Why do we want to go America?
When do we intend to go?
Where do we plan to stay in the US?
Do we have relatives there? If yes, where do they live?
How do we intend to pay for this trip? (I told them my mom and I will share it but since she earns more than me, maybe she’ll have to shell out more)
Have we tried applying for a US visa before? Were we rejected? What was the reason?
Have you traveled to other countries before?
We were just honest with our answers and the Consul briefly looked at our documents, including our Certificates of Employment and Bank Statements. He had a piece of rubber band beside his computer and he started to reach for it and looked at us and said, “Your application is approved” and he tied up our passports together and said to wait for the package delivery at the Aramex location we’ve selected. As rehearsed with my mom in case we did get approved, we just modestly smiled, thanked the Consul Officer and tried to hide our excitement until we reached the bathroom where we did our happy dance!
For me basically, I’m just glad that my 608 SAR did not go to waste this time! I know how it feels to be denied from my prior application so this one was one for the books. A few days later, we received a text message from the Aramex in Sulaimaniyah where we had to personally pick up our package with the stamped visas. There is another location in Exit 2 if that’s what you prefer but the Sulaimaniyah branch was the more accessible one for us.
If you’re interested in applying for a US visa yourself, we hope you found this helpful.