Tips on How to get a US tourist visa (B1/B2)

October 31, 2010

Tips on How to get a US tourist visa

Loving the Philippines doesn't mean I wouldn't be interested in going to other places like the US. We have a lot of relatives in the US and having a US tourist visa definitely makes things  easier for those who like exploring and traveling to different places and discovering different cultures. For instance,  when you apply for a Schengen visa for travel to Europe, they ask for a photocopy of your valid US visa at the interview. Although it's not officially listed as one of the requirements, they do ask for it during the interview. I interpret this to mean that having a US visa bears some weight with the consul of other countries and will persuade them to grant you their visa. Admittedly, the most difficult visa to get is the US visa.

Although we are focusing right now on discovering the Philippines, a great part of my kids' education focuses on cultural tolerance. By exposing them to other cultures, they learn to accept that people who have different beliefs and practices are not necessarily wrong in those beliefs. The beliefs and practices they develop are borne of experiences in their daily life in an effort to survive the daily struggles of  their own unique situation and environment. As usual with Filipinos, if we have funds for travel, we usually travel first to other countries. So we traveled first to other countries. But later appreciated the Philippines more for its unique natural beauty, which remains its competitive edge in the tourism industry.

I'm sure a lot of you are already eager to know my experience getting a US tourist visa so let's get on with the story.

I renewed my 10 year visa in 2007 so my experience in 2007 is no longer valid. The rest of my family, which  includes my husband and  4 kids, had visas expiring November 2010, so I'll share with you their experience renewing their visa  last week. Although my tips pertain to renewing a tourist visa, I'm sure the information below will help those attempting to get a US tourist visa for the very first time. At the end of the post, I will give tips for first-time applicants to give them greater chance of getting one. So do read on till the end of my post.


I will talk about  the process in chronological order so you would know how to prioritize the tasks. With the new system in place, which requires everyone to electronically fill out the application form, you cannot do things  simultaneously. It needs to be done one-by-one, and  in the following order:

2 months before the intended date of interview:

1. Have your photo taken, saved in CD and printed in 2 x 2 print.

This is the first thing you should  do because you cannot electronically submit the application form and get a confirmation number without uploading your digital photo. Visapoint (the website where you get an online appointment schedule) requires that you upload the photo before you can submit your application form. After you submit your application form, you get a confirmation number. You need to have a confirmation number before you can see the appointment  availability at visapoint.

2. Fill up the DS 160 form electronically.

Do not fear filling up this form  because you can edit the contents and edit your confirmation number until 2 days before the interview date. By filling up the form, you immediately get a confirmation number. When you have a confirmation number, you can get an appointment through visapoint.

3. Log in at visa point, purchase a pin and fill up the form.

4. Get the appointment date.

The dates open at visapoint are only until 2 months from the date you get inside visapoint. Do no think that the embassy is fully booked beyond 2 months. They simply don't open the booking facility beyond 2 months from the time you log on to visapoint.

In our case, we made sure we were able to log on at visapoint  2 months before our intended date of interview just to  make sure we get the desired date. The kids don't have classes on sem break so we planned to renew the visa at that time to make it easier to arrange our schedules.

From our  experience, Thursdays are usually the slowest time in any government agency. So we got a Thursday slot. We also got the 1st slot, the 730 am slot, because it usually has the shortest wait time. Logically, if you have the 1st slot in any line, your wait time is shortest. My husband and 4 kids got the 730 am slot and  they finished the interview at 10am. I got the 1030am slot in 2007 when I renewed my visa and I finished 3pm.

1 week before the date of interview:

Review the application form.
Just to make sure that I filled up my kids' form correctly and accurately, I reviewed the contents of the  application form and resubmitted it and got a more recent confirmation number. You need not do this. But being my obsessive self, I had to do this to make sure everything is perfect. Remember, you can change the confirmation number through visapoint until 2 days before your interview.

2 days before the date of interview:

I paid the visa fee just 2 days before the interview. Why 2 days before? The embassy website suggests that you pay 2 days before the interview to avoid large fluctuation in currency exchange. You will not be accepted for interview if  the amount you pay in peso is insufficient. You pay your visa fee in peso and not in US dollars. In US dollars, the rate is fixed. But if you pay in peso, you are subject to currency fluctuation. Since the US embassy website, suggests you pay 2 days before, they cannot argue that you didn't pay the sufficient amount because you only did what they suggested.


1. Do not be late.
They require that you to be at the embassy an hour before the interview.

2. Do not bring electronic devices like cellphones.
There's no place within the embassy to deposit it. You will risk depositing it with strangers outside the embassy for a fee. Being the resourceful Filipinos  that we are, there are a lot of people doing business outside the embassy as depository for cellphones and electronic devices. They hold on to your cellphone, give you a claim stub, and pay them a fee. Of course, it's risky since these people are strangers.


No matter what the US embassy website says, I still think that with the new process installed by the US embassy, a lot of people have been pre-qualified already, meaning, when you arrive at the interview, those who are renewing their visa and has not violated the terms of their  visa, already has a very big change of  renewing their visa. 

Why do I say that? What's different about the new system?

1. You cannot edit your application information and submit a new confirmation number 2 days before the interview.

Two days before your interview, you can no longer change the confirmation number of your application form at visapoint. Therefore, the application form with the confirmation number submitted with visapoint is the final application form that the consul will refer to at the interview.  Therefore, 2 days before the interview, they are already privy to all your personal information and could already judge whether or not you qualify for a visa. In 2007, when I renewed my visa, all the information in my application form is only submitted on the day of the interview. Today, they have that information already 2 days before the interview.

2. In the electronic application form, they ask whether you were given a visa before and what the visa number is. 

To a certain extent, those requesting for renewal already has an edge, unless you're one of those who violated the terms of your previous visa.

If you're up for renewal without any violation of the terms of your previous visa, unless you bungle your interview, you will most probably get a new visa.

What to say and not to say at the interview:

1. Be truthful and be concise about your answer. 

This means to just answer the question asked of you briefly, without elaborating. By elaborating, there's greater chance of error or contradicting yourself. Also, the consul usually takes around 3 minutes to interview each applicant so he/she has no time to listen to elaboration. By elaborating, there's also greater chance of annoying the consul.

2. When asked the purpose of your trip, be sure to state a purpose that is within the scope of your visa. 

Basically you should know what purpose is within the scope of your visa. For instance, if you're requesting for a tourist visa, do not tell the consul that you are going to the States to go on tour and marry your fiance. They will immediately deny your application, because the true purpose of your visit to the States is to marry your fiance. What you should have applied for is a fiance visa and not a tourist visa.

3. Be honest about who filled up or encoded data in your application form. 

It will not affect whether or not you are granted a visa if you declared in your application form that someone else filled it up for you.

There is a portion in the application form that  asks who filled up the  form or encoded the data. You should be truthful on this  respect. It will not be taken against you if you admit that someone else filled up the form for you. What is important is that you read the contents and agreed to it. Those who had someone else fill up the form, and did not state who filled up the form, and at the interview admitted that they did not fill up the form, were asked to return the embassy after filling up another form declaring another person filled up the form for them. Imagine the hassle and the expense of doing so.

You receive your passport with visa by courier 2 days after your interview.

The visa application form focuses on the 5-year period prior to the application for a US tourist visa. During the 5 years prior to your first time visa application, you must have the following history:

1. Work history

You must have worked for at least 5 years with enough income to support traveling to another country for leisure purposes. It will be an added advantage if you stayed with one employer for that length of time. It will strengthen proof that you will return to the Philippines after visiting the States.

2. Travel history

You must actually have traveled to a foreign country several times in the past 5 years and have returned to the Philippines afterwards. It will be proof that you actually can afford to travel to another country, have traveled to a foreign country and returned to the Philippines, and that you have a habit of traveling to a foreign country for leisure. I actually have overheard a consul deny the visa to someone who has not traveled to another country prior to applying for a US tourist visa and then suggest to the applicant that he travel 1st to a regional destination like Hong Kong before embarking on a long journey to the States.

In this context,  I would also suggest that you travel to a "friendly" and "neutral" country like Hong Kong and Singapore 1st. Obviously, if you travel to Pakistan, or Yemen, where a lot of terrorist groups are present, it will send flags to the consul and you would most likely be denied a visa. Common foreign travel destinations for Filipinos are Hong Kong, Singapore and Bangkok.

If you need detailed information, go directly to the US embassy in Manila website and Visapoint.

Other posts you may be interested in reading: 
Where to ask your US Tourist Visa Questions

UPDATE as of November 27, 2012!!


Tagalog-speaking US embassy exec debunks some visa application myths

Half-Day Cultural Heritage Tour of Batanes (to complement the Free Cultural Heritage Tour included with the Fundacion Pacita accomodations) Summary and Tips

October 24, 2010

Half-Day Cultural Heritage Tour of Batanes 
(to complement the Free Cultural Heritage Tour included with the Fundacion Pacita accomodations)
Summary and Tips

As I've said in my previous post, if you book Fundacion Pacita accomodations, the package includes a free half-day cultural heritage tour of Batanes. You can view what is included in the the free half-day cultural heritage tour of Batanes here.

To complete our heritage tour of Batan Island, we booked another tour the next day. Below is a summary of our itinerary. To see more details, photos and description of the tour below, see here.

12:00 PM - 1:00 PM
Arrival at Pension Ivatan, ordered food, explored Basco town while waiting for food to be prepared.
1:00 PM - 2:30 PM
Municipality of Basco:
3:30PM - 4:00 PM
Municipality of Basco:
Valugan Boulder Bay
4:30PM - 5:00 PM
Municipality of Basco:
Japanese Tunnel
 5:00PM - 5:30 PM
Municipality of Mahatao:  
Marlborough Hills
5:30PM - 6:00 PM
Municipality of Uyugan:
Old Loran Station, Songsong Ruins 
6:00PM - 6:30 PM
Back to Fundacion Pacita

Lowest Manila-El Nido Roundtrip Airfare

October 20, 2010

Lowest Manila-El Nido Airfare

Southeast Airlines (SEAIR) now opens its online booking for Manila to El Nido flights. Flights start December 1, 2010. If you book early, you can get the lowest roundtrip airfare from Manila to El Nido at only P9,043.20 (or P4,563.20 per way). Regular flights, even low season flights, usually cost around P13,000. If you book early, you can catch these fares called flysaver fares. Only 6 of these fares are available per flight. I booked our flight for 6 people and got the flysaver fare. Then I tried to book another flight on the same day for one person and couldn't find any flysaver fare after booking for 6 people.

The restriction for the flysaver fares are as follows:
  • non-refundable, non-reroutable, non-transferable
  • ticket validity is 1 month from date of travel
  • rebookable with charges
Below is the screen shot of April 2011 flights to El Nido showing availability of flysaver fares:

Free Cultural Heritage Tour of Batanes (as included in your Fundacion Pacita Accomodations): Summary and Tips

October 11, 2010

Free Cultural Heritage Tour of Batanes 
(as included in the Fundacion Pacita Accomodations)
Summary and Tips

If you book Fundacion Pacita accomodations, the package includes a free half-day cultural heritage tour of Batanes. When I booked Fundacion Pacita, I wondered whether the cultural heritage tour is complete and includes all the must see sights of Batanes. It does not. Firstly, it only covers Batan Island. Batanes has 3 islands, but the other island that visitors can go to, which is Sabtang Island, is not covered by the cultural heritage tour. And even if it only covers Batan Island, it does not cover all the must-see sights of Batan Island, such as Marlborough Hills.

What is included in the free half-day cultural heritage tour
The half-day tour is conducted the day of your arrival. It lasts from 2pm-6pm. To see more details, photos and description of the tour below, see here.

2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Municipality of Basco:
Radar Tukon
3:00PM - 4:00 PM
Municipality of Basco:
Chanarian View Deck 
Municipality of Mahatao:
San Carlos Borromeo Church
Municipality of Ivana:  
House of Dakay

4:00PM - 5:00 PM
Municipality of Ivana:
Ivana Church
Ruins of the 1st Church of San Jose
Ivana Port with Jackstones
Honesty Coffee Shop

5:00PM - 6:00 PM
Municipality of Basco: 
Naidi Hills

6:00PM - 7:00 PM
Municipality of Basco: 
Basco Lighthouse

7:00PM onwards
Dinner at Basco lighthouse
Note: We paid driver and van overtime because we went beyond 6pm

My tip:

1. Book another half-day tour of Batan Island the day after your free tour to have a complete Batan island tour. 
The regular Batan Island tour is actually composed of the Northern and Southern parts of Batan Island. And it usually needs a whole day to complete a tour of the whole Batan Island.

2. If you are in a big group, you can hire the same guide, driver and van you used the day before. 
It will not be too expensive per head

3. If you are only a couple, I do not advise that you hire the guide, driver and van for your exclusive use. 
It will be too expensive per head if you hire them for your exclusive use. What is more practical is to talk with the same people you were with the day before and ask if they wish to share the same van, driver and guide the next day. They too would most probably want to have a complete tour of Batan Island like you and will be amenable to sharing the fixed cost of driver, van and guide. Whether you are 2 people or 10 people, the total cost will be the same because the driver and van fees and the guide fees for a half-day tour is fixed. They do not charge on a per head basis.

Note: the rental of van with driver is fixed for a certain number of hours, while the guide fees is fixed for a day, which means, whether or not you use your guide for a half day or a whole day, the rate is still the same. What you really save in the free cultural heritage tour is the half day rate of the van and driver.

SEAIR Resumes Flights to El Nido and Taytay in Palawan

October 8, 2010

SEAIR Resumes Flights to El Nido and Taytay in Palawan

Source: Seair newsroom


SEAIR announces the resumption of its flights to El Nido and Taytay in Northern Palawan on December 1, 2010. The flights to El Nido will be every Wednesday, Sunday and Monday, while the flights to Taytay, Palawan will be daily.

Wine Depot's The Festival 2010

October 7, 2010

Wine Depot's The Festival 2010

For more information, check out the Wine Depot website.

Where to Buy Pasalubong in Bohol

October 6, 2010

Where to Buy Pasalubong and Souvenirs in Bohol

For my non-Filipino readers, pasalubong means gifts you bring home to relatives and friends after a trip. In the Philippines, these token gifts are almost always expected. I did not anymore translate the term into English because I can't think of a single word that will accurately describe this practice. The pasalubong can also be souvenirs for all of us.

When you see blog posts or ask relatives and friends who visited Bohol, they would say that the cheapest place to buy pasalubong is the grocery. But sometimes, it's not convenient to pass by a grocery while on tour so I'll mention where you can buy gifts/pasalubong/souvenirs along the way. Most of those who go to Bohol for the first time, do the countryside tour. So if you are doing the countryside tour, here is a list of places where you can buy these things:

Peanut kisses
  • the cheapest will be at where you see the Largest Python in captivity.
  • you can also find it at the Hanging Bridge and Hinagdanan Cave
  • if you're staying in Alona Beach, there's also at Rona's grocery,  and of course, the most expensive will be at the stores along Alona Beach

Souvenir bracelets and key chains with or without the Tarsier motif
  • at the Hanging Bridge
  •  it's expensive to buy Tarsier themed product at the Tarsier sanctuary

Souvenir T-shirts
  • best place to buy is at the Hinagdanan Cave. There are so many t-shirt stores near the entrance of the Hinagdanan cave so there are plenty of choices.
  • you can also find T-shirts at the souvenir shop at the Hanging Bridge

Bohol Bee Farm products
  • such as pesto spread, chocolate spread, chocolate tablets with honey
  • you can buy these products at the Bohol Bee farm
  • see more products at Bohol Bee farm website

Hanging Bridge of Bohol

October 4, 2010

Hanging Bridge of Bohol

What Kids Should Know
  • Where it is located: at Sevilla town of Bohol
  • Built over what river: the Loboc River 
  • Why was it built: to connect 2 barangays. Without the bridge, the locals will have to walk very far to cross to the other side of the river. 
  • Made of what materials: It is a suspension bridge with bamboo flooring

11:00 AM -11:05 AM: Traveled from Manmade Forest to the Hanging Bridge

see previous post:

11:05 AM -11:25 AM: Crossed the river, bought souvenirs, returned to the van

It took us around 20 minutes to pay the entrance fee, cross the river, buy souvenirs at the shops at the other side of the river, and walk back, pause and take pictures in the middle of the river, then return to the van.
The entrance of the hanging bridge. 
The management imposes a load limit of 10 persons at a time.

This is the distance of the bridge from the river below. 
You can see a native Boholano washing clothes at the river.

The wooden flooring of the bridge

There are 2 bridges. 
At the other side are souvenir shops.
My tip: If you don't have much time shopping for souvenirs, you can make a stop at the souvenir shops at the other side of the river. You can buy peanut kisses, key chains, native placemats, and bracelets. If you're making a stop at the largest python, it's best to buy peanut kisses there instead of the souvenir shops here because they sell the cheapest peanut kisses, almost at factory price.

It's safe for kids to cross this bridge, as long as they are not initially frightened at the idea. 
The bridge is stable.

We are hanging on top of the Loboc river.
My tip: Ask your guide to cross the other bridge so he can take a picture like this. In our case, it was our guide, Tatsky's idea to take this picture. 

See our next stop: The Loboc River Cruise and Floating Restaurant

Manmade Forest of Bohol

October 2, 2010

 Manmade Forest of Bohol

As I've mentioned earlier in my previous post on the Chocolate Hills, we started with a 1 1/2 hour trip to the Chocolate Hills and made it our first stop. The reason is to take advantage of the good weather to view the Chocolate Hills because the past few days it rained in the afternoons. 

So we're doing this tour backwards because most tours had the Chocolate Hills as their last stop. Our next stop from the Chocolate Hills is the Manmade Forest.

My tip: If you don't have enough time, or you have small kids or elderly people with you, you don't need to stop at the Manmade Forest. You can just pass through it. It's more important to pace your companions and save their energies for the rest of the day rather than tire them out.

What Kids Should Know
  • Where it is located: at the boundary of Bilar and Loboc towns
  • What trees are planted: mahogany trees
  • Why called man-made: because all the mahogany trees were planted by the Boholanos one by one during the reforestation programs in the 1960s.
  • What's unique about this forest: It's the ONLY man-made forest in the Philippines. 
  • What's so impressive about this forest: The Boholanos nurtured and watched over this forest to make sure the trees grow healthy and no one cuts any tree. It's easy to watch over one or 2 trees but it shows dedication to the preservation of the environment to watch over a whole forest. This is an indication of how committed the Boholanos are in preserving nature in Bohol.
10:30 AM -10:50AM: Traveled from Chocolate Hills to the Manmade Forest
See the previous post: Chocolate Hills of Bohol

10:50 AM -11:00AM: Manmade Forest

Tatsky watching for cars so he can cue us 
when to run to  the middle of the road for the usual photo

See the next stop: The Hanging Bridge

Chocolate Hills National Geological Monument

October 1, 2010

Chocolate Hills National Geological Monument

(Below is what was written in the plaque on the viewdeck at the Chocolate Hills Complex, Carmen, Bohol)

1 About two million years ago, most of the island of Bohol was below a shallow sea. Coral reefs, similar to those now found offshore of northern Bohol, thrived and extensively covered the sea floor. During stormy days, fragments of corals and shells derived by waves from the reefs were deposited mostly at the landward side of the reefs. The coral and shell fragments formed relatively thin layers (brown) surrounding the live coral reefs (pink).

2 Slowly, the land rose causing the coral reef formations to emerge out of the sea. The taller arrows shown in the diagram indicate that the southern sections of Bohol island had been uplifted more than the northern sections. 

3 The chocolate hills had been carved out from the relatively thin layers of coral and shell fragments. During the initial stage, the surface may have looked like as shown in the diagram which covers the brown rectangular patch in the previous diagram. Gullies were developed in the low lying areas and lakes occupied the existing depressions.

4 Coral and shell fragments are largely composed of calcium carbonate. A chemical compound which can be dissolved by acidic solution. Rainwater becomes slightly acidic by dissolving some carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Thus, rainwater can dissolve coral and shell fragments. But this happens very slowly. With rainwater acting on the layer of coral and shell fragments for tens to hundred of thousand of years, gullies were deepened and widened to become streams. Lakes were emptied by underground rivers and interconnected conical hills were formed from the original flat surface.

5 When the base of the soluble formation was reached, downcutting ceased and later erosion became dominant. Valleys were widened. The remnant of the layers in the highly dissected areas were dissolved away. And the connections between neighboring hills were also dissolved away. Thus, the chocolate hills that you now behold are products of the patient laboring of rainwater on a thin soluble limestone formation.

6 Based on geological studies conducted by the Mines and Geosciences Bureau of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, there were parts of Bohol that used to be under the sea. These are shows as the blue colored areas in the map. The parts above sea level, which were confined mostly in the north, northeaster and eastern sections, are color-coded green.

The location of the area covered in the first and second block diagrams shown on the left is the rectangle outlined in the map.

7 Declaration

The unique landform known as the "Chocolate Hills" of Bohol was formed ages ago by the uplift of coral deposits and the action of rainwater and erosion.

These hills are scattered throughout the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan and consist of 1,268 mounds of the same general shape. 

In recognition of its special characteristics, scientific importance, uniqueness and high scenic value, the national committee on geological sciences declares the chocolate hills of Bohol a National Geological Monument.

19 June 1988


Department of Environmental and Natural Resources

General Manager
Philippine Tourism Authority

National Committee on Geological Sciences

Sub-Committee on Geological Monuments