The First Steps of a Long Journey

Applying for our US Visa

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” – Lao Tze

Not really the first steps of our journey, but they are very positive steps towards it. We have finally submitted our DS-160’s for our US visa application.

The next step for the visa is the interview but due to Covid-19 they had all stopped for a few months. They have restarted now here in Hong Kong, but there are no schedules available at the moment for our class of visa. Apparently they are working through a backlog of more important applications. Of course, I would consider our application is pretty important but I guess that’s not for me to say. We still have plenty of time so we are not worried as yet.

Just getting the photos for the visa was an ordeal! We needed to submit the picture online as well as having hard copies to submit when we attend for the interview. It seemed easier to have them taken properly by a professional rather than trying to do it at home. Messing around with getting the picture the correct size, lighting and background is too much trouble. And besides that, we don’t have a printer.

So, pictures in hand and the soft copies in my email I proceeded to the website for the visa application. Nope, that’s no good. I spent an hour trying to find out just where to start before I figured I had to submit the DS-160 first. First page of the DS-160 process you can test your picture to see if it’s acceptable. It’s not. Both of our pictures were rejected. Arghhhh!

Finally I found a website called where you can submit your picture to them. They will fix it up to the correct size, colour, brightness etc. It’s not so expensive and they certainly helped me out of a jam. If you need to get a picture for a passport or visa application I can recommend them. helped to fix our pictures and they were then at last, accepted by the website. 

Fast forward two months.

Well I wrote the above at the end of Oct 2020. 

Here we are now in the first week of 2021 and we are very excited that we had our visa interview this morning and the lady at the US Consulate told us

“your visa is approved”.

Four simple words at the end of the interview but it was amazing to hear! I even got a little emotional and we had a big happy hug in the winter sunshine outside the consulate.

In the weeks since submitting our application I kept on checking the interview wait times on the Visa website. Tourist visas always were at 999 days meaning they were still not doing them. Until Dec when suddenly they were giving wait times! We got in on the first available day – 7 Jan 2020.

We prepared a folder full of supporting documents to support our application. Another folder contained photos of some of our travels, our family and home. As it turns out I think our interview was going well from the first question “why do you want to go to the US?” Well telling the lady about a tandem tour to the lower 48 state capitol buildings certainly put a smile on her face! In an attempt not to waste the documents we printed I at least did open up the folder to show her the route but she barely glanced at it and politely told me she appreciated it.

I twice mentioned that we would expect the trip to be up to a year and hence we had requested a year-long stay. She kindly explained that the length of allowed stay would be decided at border control but she would put a remark on the visa of our request.

That is just fantastic! Exactly the result we wanted and my thanks to the gentleman on who suggested that I can ask for such a remark to be added.

Happy hugging selfie at US Consulate

Happy, very happy to hear “your visa is approved”.

About the US Visa and length of stay.

Researching about the US Visa I learned some interesting things. In particular the difference between Visa validity period and the allowed length of stay. Also what a Visa is actually for!

Visa Validity

Refers to the lenght of time the visa is valid. I hear it’s typically ten years but that is not always the case. You will need a valid visa to travel to the US.

Length of Stay

This is separate from the visa and is only given to you once you are at the border. For a tourist visa the length of stay given is often six months. However this is not always the case although the maximum stay allowed is one year. How much you are given depends on the officer at the border. It is possible to apply for an extension but the maximum stay is still one year in total.

Visa – What’s it for?

I saw it well explained as being:

The visa gives you the right to approach the door of the country and knock.

That’s all it gives you.

Whether or not the door is opened to you depends on the officer at the border. Be nice to them when you get there! Same goes for the length of stay you receive. In our case we will tell them about our planned tour. Hopefully, explaining about our tour will be enough to get us the one year stay that we need.