When I was pregnant with Kerrigan, I vowed to have lots of fun activities and trips together. It includes going on an international trip before she turns two. And just as planned, when I got my pre-baby strength back at two months old, we drove to our first out-of-town trip to San Pablo, Batangas. At four months, her Dad and I brought her to Cebu to see the whale sharks and trekked our way to a beautiful waterfall. And a few months after receiving her passport, we packed our bags and went to Singapore and Hong Kong in March 2017.
Those two international flights didn’t need a visa. So, I thought could we push my travel goals a little bit further? Why not visit the US before she turns two?
With the guidance from my dear friend, travel enthusiast, PinayNomad, KT, and encouragement from my US-based long time friend Angely, I got started with the US visa application. Their tips and support paved the way to get me up to speed in the application process.
I know that the thought of getting a tourist visa is a daunting task for some, especially to freelancer parents like myself. We are intimidated by the whole process of proving that we intend to return. It is one of the many reasons why it’s hard to begin the process.
Why the US? I thought it would be nice to travel with my little girl and be in those places that I would only see from the movies.
Before becoming pregnant, my college friend would always tell us to go and visit her, but I was just too intimidated even to check the requirements. I would say to her I caught up with work. I guess if it weren’t for my daughter and friends, I’d still be sitting around waiting for my trips to happen. Before we get to the steps, I want to tell you that applying for a US Visa (contrary to what we believe) is easy if you are well-prepared for the trip. Meaning you have your passports ready, your Certificate of Employment indicating your intention to return or business permits and other documents proving your capacity to pay for your trip are all with you.
Here are the steps in applying for a US tourist visa:
1. Get your passports, sign the DS-160 form online and read all the information found on their website carefully.
Remember to include all your social media profiles as this is a crucial part of the US tourist visa application. To keep things more transparent, I added not just my active social media accounts but also my lifestyle, parenting and agency websites. And before you complete the online filing of the DS-160 form, upload your 2×2 photo in their portal. Check the guidelines here.
For your kid’s US tourist visa application, create a separate DS-160 form for your child and upload your child’s 2×2 photo on the online form.
Tip: Finish the online filing in one sitting to avoid repeating this step — Logging back in to complete the DS-160 form was confusing. Somehow the password and security questions weren't working.
2. Keep the confirmation numbers found on the DS-160 forms.
You and your child should have a separate confirmation number. Those confirmation numbers are needed to register an account at https://cgifederal.secure.force.com to complete the payment and interview scheduling process. There’s no need to open another registration for your child if s/he is still a minor. But don’t forget to indicate that you are travelling with your kid during registration.
3. For payments, you can pay online or go directly to any BPI branch.
I did the latter because I couldn’t find my bank in the Bacnet online portal and I don’t own a BPI account. Bring the MRV forms with the deposit slip numbers, photocopies of your passports and US Visa fee payment. Secure the receipt number of your payment for booking the interview either online or call (02) 548 8223 or (02) 792 8988 from 8:00 AM to 8:00 PM, Monday through Friday (excluding US and Philippine holidays)
Tip: All details for the payment are on the https://cgifederal.secure.force.com, so read them carefully. The MRV form (Machine Readable Visa) must match your Visa Type.
4. Register your payment receipts on your https://cgifederal.secure.force.com account.
At this stage, you should have a print out of your DS-160 forms, photocopy of your passports, 2×2 photos, and your deposit or payment receipts. Keep them safe. I registered mine 5 hours after payment because it took 3 to 5 hours before it appeared in their system.
5. After confirming your payment, book your appointment date as soon as the payment record appears in the system.
Schedule your interview on your https://cgifederal.secure.force.com account and safe keep all the documents, including the appointment confirmation email.
Before the US Visa Application Interview
I filed for the US Visa Application on the first week of April and got a schedule on April 24. While waiting for the interview, I prepared my answers to the interview questions. I read tips on what to bring and what not in the embassy.
Remember, electronics of any sort; even an Apple Watch is not allowed, so bring a friend or a relative to hold your electronics for you. I climbed the overpass (bridge) twice to hand over my watch to my brother, and that was while carrying my daughter. Not smart! So get everything in place.
What documents to bring
Bring the passports, a print out of the DS-160 confirmation pages, original deposit receipts, a print out of the appointment confirmation and 2×2 photos at least 6 pieces for each applicant. You can also check the complete list of supporting documents you need here. Though it wasn’t checked during the interview, I still brought my business registration documents, Income Tax Return, Bank Statements and Certificates, Itinerary with a cover letter.
On the day of the interview
I woke up early to prepare and thought about what to wear. I didn’t want to look too polished like I was going to a job interview, so I wore a grey dress that looked like overgrown men’s long sleeves and paired it with purple trainer shoes. But my daughter wore something cute and sparkly. She wore a light peach dress with gold dots and paired it with red shoes. Cute right? I know!
Take the attention away from you and direct it towards your cute kid. Trust them!
Do yourself a favour and double-check the things you need. If I hadn’t checked twice, we would have come to the interview without the Appointment Confirmation email. Although, it was not asked it helps to be prepared with the things you might need. Make sure professionals take the 2×2 photos because the ones I took got rejected. Luckily, there is a Kodak Photo Booth inside the embassy.
Back to the interview process, after resubmitting our photos on the first window, window 2 and 4, we went straight to window 24. We skipped the line because Kerrigan was still considered a baby at 16 months old. We did wait for a while, and that’s when I heard how others carried themselves during their turn. The interviewer was using a mic, so while she spoke from the window, I could hear the conversation. Unfortunately, the couple at the time got rejected. The same thing happened to the lady who was in line before us. The interviewer mentioned about the ‘US immigration policy’ to explain why they’ll have to re-apply in the future. For some reasons, I just had a feeling that confidence hugely matters in this type of interviews. Speak clearly and confidently. If you appear too meek, you may give them the wrong impression. Go there with clear intentions with loads of confidence!
The questions were pretty basic, like what do you do for a living, the intention of the visit to the US, travel history with my daughter, accommodation and Kerrigan’s dad. They asked why her dad isn’t joining the trip. The interview would have been shorter if not for the computer freezing from time to time. The lady interviewer kept complaining about how slow the system was. It only made our interview a lot nerve-racking, so Kerrigan and I sang “ABC” s and “If you’re happy and you know” nursery rhymes to entertain ourselves. At last, after she’s done typing, she seldom looks at us by the way, she announced: “Your visa will arrive blah blah…”. I kind of lost track on the number of days she mentioned because I was just exploding with excitement. Instead, I blurted: “Yehey! You’re the tiniest traveler” at Kerrigan. The lady interviewer smiled at us, and we said thanks and goodbye.
On April 26, I received our passports with the US Visa on them.
So mom or dad, or even guardian of someone’s kid, it helps to be bold and brave to achieve things even when having a kid in tow. With the right preparation and confidence, you and your kid will be doing all your goals in no time. I know because that’s what Kerrigan and I have been doing since birth.
Be safe and have fun!