How Hard Can It Be?
So in my extended family, it has always been said to be a big thing and not easy to get a visa, especially to the USA. With urban legend saying you need to get an official letter from family in the states and have a proof of hotel accommodations before you even apply for visa.
That was people making a big deal out of a small thing. It’s a little complicated to find the right website (yes I do all of my research from the comfort of my bed or my home office) which http://www.travel.state.gov turned out to be a good starting point.
I had to put down a non refundable deposit of R1920 which scared the heck out of me. And fill in a looooooong questionnaire as to my criminal and work and family background as well as reasons for wanting to go to USA. With questions such as “where you will stay while in the states” to “have you ever been involved in prostitution or racketeering?” And “are you planning on engaging in criminal activities while in the USA?” (Like anyone would actually cop out to that if they had. No, I have never and will never be involved in that sort of thing!) Anyways, it was the questionnaire, then about two days and a response that I was then allowed to book an interview appointment.
The Dreaded Interview
The USA embassy, is not in the embassy building in the cbd of Durban, but rather just across the south road from the city hall. Now going for that was nerve wrecking! You go through a security check before being allowed to enter the building, where they want to see your proof of id and passport. They also tell you to immediately turn off all your gadgets, so no cellphones, iPads,or anything else. Was nice to be radio silent for a couple of hours.
Then you go through the turn stiles to the lifts bank (in South Africa we call elevators lifts, because we’re rebellious like that), the strangest lifts I’ve ever seen. No simple “up” Arrow but rather a key pad where you need to give the floor you are going to, it then tells you what lift to get into. I was going to 31st floor and got into lift number 6.
You get out the lift,and there is a queue of people, each person has to now present their proof of payment of the application, along with a bank statement, passport, recent mug shot – I mean photo.
They then go into the main door where another two security guards put your bag and anything from your pockets through an X-ray machine. Now here’s where I had forgotten something vitally important and had to tell them quickly, lest they make to not go in at all, I keep on my person 3 to 6 pocket knives at any given time. It’s not for self protection mind you, just for working on the farm and for fun. I fully intended to leave them in the car, but forgot (face palm). They got big eyes but didn’t kick me out (yay), and told me to leave all weapons in a locker which I could collect on exit. Worked for me.
From I walked through the metal detector and the wait began. You sit for a good 30 minutes in the waiting room, then get your fingerprints taken and have to hand over your passport, which was really scary because this is the first time I have ever gotten a visa and didn’t know how it works. And then you wait some more. As each person gets called in, they spend between 5 and 10 minutes each with the person doing the interview, as they exit, there is no indication as to whether it’s positive or negative.
The whole atmosphere is rather somber and muted. Now I’m no terrorist and never will be (I love life too much) but oh boy it was tempting to start cracking inappropriate jokes. And trying to strike up small talk with others in the waiting room, they are rather non-conversational.
About ten minutes after the “handing over my passport” ordeal, I got called in for my interview. The heavy American accent of the gentleman doing the interview was somewhat calming. He asked why I’m going, who I know there, what work I do, and who will be paying for my trip. I must have only been there for 3 minutes or so before he simply said my visa was approved and I can collect my passport in a few days from the local DHL offices. And that was that.
So, a couple of days later I received a text that my passport was at the local DHL office (which was a bit of pain for me as the DHL office is all the way across at Riverhorse Valley about 30 km away. I went up there, got my passport and the visa printed onto a page in my passport and am now legally permitted to enter USA for 3 month periods any time in the next ten years.
So thats the story of how I got the passport. Not so hard after all. In my opinion, things I would have done differently, or think would have been nice to know before, or that the USA consulate could do differently.
- Please know that going for the interview takes at least 3 hours
- Its a pain to go to the only DHL office in Durban, perhaps the USA consulate could consider other locations possible to pick up?
- Leave my pocket knives at home
- Take a book with to read while waiting.
- Dont fret so much, its actually not as stressful as you imagine
- Ok, its stressful because you have no guarantee that your R2000 is going to go in and you may or may not get a visa.
- Joke and chat to others who are also there. Get to know your neighbours, they might be sitting next to you on the plane over for all you know.
Mostly, just know that this giant adventure starts from the moment you decide you are going to go visit wherever you are going. You have the choice, you can make it a stressful time – panicking about everything, or you can embrace the adventure from the get go and take things as it rolls.