11 November 2009

Travelling to the USA

As most of you know, Katherine and I are traveling to the USA for December / January.... in order to get this trip going, we are going to need to have our paperwork in order. One of the requirements for any South African visiting the USA is the acquirement of a VISA for the US. Kat already has one (expires in ten years from date of issue), and I need to get one (as of writing this post, I found my British Passport, so I don't need one, but for the rest of the South Africans, you can follow my advice below)

If you need to know information about getting a US VISA for South African citizens ("seffers"), check out this website for all the US VISA information relating to South Africans. I have to admit, I do get very skeptical when websites don't look very slick, and I always suspect it's some third party site that's doing their best to rip us off, but I found this URL from an independent source (Emirates), so I suspect it's dinkum.

I've compiled everything I needed to know about the US VISA into a GOOGLE DOC that is published as an HTML file over here. This document will also include the ESTA stuff (which is for Visa Waiver Program applications).

The basic principles in a nutshell are as follows (step-by-step highlighted afterwards):

  • Setting up an appointment can take up to 2 days (at the time of writing this) so factor that in! Thereafter, it can take a few more days to receive your VISA, so you should get everything in order at LEAST one week (two to be safe) before making your flight booking.
  • Have your passport handy when doing this stuff! 
  • Set up an appointment with one of the US embassies in South Africa; this can be done either telephonically or electronically (via the internet)
    • The internet site http://www.usvisa-southafrica.com/rsa/index.jsp is the required site to visit to do the procedure online, but it will cost you US$10.00 to obtain a PIN (VISA / MASTERCARD)
      • The benefits of this site is that it is faster, cheaper (at today's exchange rate) and your necessary forms are filled in for you through the system's fields that you're prompted to enter. Trust me, to enter everything once and let the system fill in the blanks on the DS-156, DS-157, and DS-158 (if necessary) forms is much better and less prone to mistakes!
    • The telephonic details are: Toll-free within the Republic of South Africa: 0-800-980-444, but only from Mon - Fri 8am-8pm (EXCEPT South African holidays), so the internet option is a lot more widely available.
    • To do this method, you need to purchase a telephone service PIN for R86.00 from any Pick 'n Pay branch or by calling the Live Visa Information Service and paying with VISA or MASTERCARD.
    • The internet and telephone service PINs are NOT interchangeable (I found the Internet one is faster and cheaper based on today's exchange rate).
    • Any questions, contact RSAAgency@csc.com.

  • Finger printing requirement means you need to show up in person by appointment to have biometrics taken.
The step-by-step skinny:
  1. Learn about the process (I've covered the basics above, but check if you need one)
  2. Make an appointment with the US Consulate General that covers your region (the website above will help with that)
  3. Complete the Visa application forms (do it online if you can; much faster)
  4. Get your supporting documentation together (the websites above should help with that)
  5. Pay the non-refundable Visa Application Fee. It must be cash deposited at any FNB branch
  6. Have a 50mm x 50mm photo taken (very specific; go to a reputable photography store and tell them it's for a US Visa)
  7. Submit your application in person to the U.S. Consulate General that covers your region
 At the time of print, the cost of the application fee was $131 = R1,000.00 (give or take). You need to confirm the actual cost first, because it's subject to fluctuations.

Check out my published doc to get more information. Good luck!

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