My first appointment, before the interview, was a 10 a.m. at an Applicant´s Attention Center (CAS, according to the acronym in Spanish) in Bogota. I do remember there were other available slots but earlier, but I preferred the 10 a.m. slot so I could take a little bit more time for organizing in the morning. I also remember that the day before the interview it took me a little longer to fall asleep, probably because of my nerves and because I constantly imagined how the following day would be like.
Embassies generally recommend you arrive at the rendezvous at least 15 minutes before the exact time. Streets in Bogota are usually filled with traffic at that time so I decided to leave home about two hours before, just in case anything came up on my way there. Fortunately, nothing did, but I arrived a little too early to the CAS, around 9:20 a.m. I remembered that one of the recommendations was not to arrive too early, so I decided to find someplace where I could buy a cup of coffee, or something similar, while I waited. There was a place just a couple of blocks away, so I decided to kill some time there. I paid for my coffee and left the place around 9:40 a.m. since the walk to the CAS was about 5 minutes long. I arrived 15 minutes before the exact time.
There are some rules you have to comply with if you want to be granted access to the place. I, for instance, was carrying some bottled water and before entering the building the guards asked me to drink some before going in. Once I drank, they told me I could go in. They probably wanted to make sure it wasn´t acid I was going to pour in the consular official´s face if my visa got denied? With so many enemies around the world, I guess being extra careful about whom you let into your country isn´t out of line. There have also been attacks against US embassies in the past.
You cannot take bags or purses of any size with you. You also can´t take any electronic device or any other device that is battery-powered (mobile phone, digital camera, tablet, Cd´s, etc). You also cannot bring a lighter or any other device that produces flames, and you cannot carry any sharp objects such as multi-purpose knives or any kind of weapon, of course. You also cannot carry any crayons or markers, or any device that has an on and off button. Don´t bring any food or beverages, including chewing gum. I, evidently, had forgotten about that rule.
Keep in mind that the entry to the CAS will be denied to applicants that take any of the banned elements. Also, the receipt of those applicants will be frozen and they will not be able to schedule another appointment at least for 30 days. So it´s best you follow instructions strictly, I was lucky with my bottled water incident, but you may get a guard having a bad day. Once you pass that security filter, then you may access the main building.
Before going in I noticed there was a sign that said that they were now admitting people with a 10 a.m. appointment. I followed the signaled path and reached my destination. There was a long line and CAS employees were asking questions to some people in the line. The CAS officials that actually conducted the interview were behind a protection window, spread through the room´s borders. I think there were around 20 officials conducting interviews, but I could be mistaken. The waiting time in the line wasn´t too long, around 15 or 20 minutes. When you´re about to reach the part when you have to speak to the official, one of the CAS employees approaches you and asks if you´ve been to the USA before. I remember that the person that went before me said yes.
Then the CAS employee asked the type of visa she had entered, and she answered that she had entered with a single entry type of visa. The employee said that visa was obviously expired, and the candidate agreed. They also asked her if she had brought that visa with her, and she said no because she had lost that passport. The employee said that wasn´t a problem since the visa was expired. Since it was the first time I was traveling to the USA, the employee only verified that I had all the necessary documentation with me.
I passed on to the next step, the interview with the official. He asked for my passport and asked some basic question such as my birthday, the reason for my trip, when I planned to travel, if I had any relatives in the United States, how much money I earned, what I worked at and if I had a travel itinerary, among others. There were several questions but I answered every one with security and everything seemed to flow.
Then the officer asked me to put four fingers in a fingerprint scanner. Then I had to put both thumbs in the same device. I remember that the official made me repeat the sample a couple of times, and asked me to put less pressure over the device. Then he analyzed his computer screen and said that I was ready for my interview in the embassy.
I´d like to point out once again that you have to arrive 15 minutes before the time of your appointment. There aren´t any kind of benefits to people that arrive before and the embassy actually recommends not to do it, to avoid crowds. In case your photo doesn´t meet the requirements, the good news is there´s a place where you can take the photo nearby.
So, there´s two appointments you need to ask, the first one in the CAS and the second one at the embassy, where you´ll need to pass another interview. At the embassy, you also have to go through a security procedure and you have to do a line. The day I had my appointment the place was packed. When you reach the end of the line an embassy official will ask for your passport and ask some basic questions about your trip. I specifically remember this official asked for my travel itinerary. He wanted to know which cities I was visiting specifically.
I answered I was traveling to several citied and told him which ones. When I told him I was traveling to Boston I remember he smiled. I was standing the whole time and the official is behind a security window. There are actually people waiting in the line a couple of feet behind, I believe they can probably hear what you say. Imagine my joy when the official, which I´m pretty sure was from the US because of his pronunciation, said: your visa has been approved. And he stayed with my passport. I left the embassy with a big smile on my face.
Here are some pointers so your interview goes as smoothly as mine:
- Prepare yourself and even if you get some support from friends or family, try to carry out the procedure by yourself. The latter is especially true at the moment that you fill out the DS-160 form, considering there are questions there that only you can answer.
- Be confident. Always remember that you plan to visit the USA for touristic reasons and the USA, like any other country, is happy to receive tourists. The thing is they face different threats and social phenomena such as illegal immigration, which force them to take additional precautions. If you know your plans don´t include any illegal activity in the United States, then everything will probably end up well.
- Review your travel history. Even though they do not request this at the embassy, nor do they state it´s important for your application, I personally believe this does help. If you have traveled to other countries before and haven´t broken any laws, then this proves that you are a tourist after all, with the intention of going back to your country of residence.
- Respond honestly. Remember that the embassy employees and consuls are trained to spot lies. If they catch you lying then it´s highly likely your visa will be denied, maybe for life. So don´t take any unnecessary hazards.
- Dress appropriately, with comfy clothes