A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting a B2 Visa, the Holy Grail for International Hikers

For us international hikers, it takes more effort to get to the trailhead than for the average American hiker. If you want to go hiking in the United States for more than three months, you will need to apply for a B2 visa. An ESTA is only valid for three months, and only for residents from certain countries.

I just got my B2 visa after months of waiting, and I’m here to give you a rundown of everything I had to do to get the Holy Grail. If you are an international hiker stressing out about the process like I was, I hope this blog post finds you and helps you be more at ease.

Also, this is the worst ID photo I’ve ever taken, so I swear I don’t actually look like that. Please be nice. 

Step 1 – Getting an interview

To get a B2 visa, you need to complete an Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160), and then attend an interview at the US consulate closest to where you live.

Last August, after having read on a Facebook group that some people in London were struggling to get a visa appointment before March, I decided to check that I could get an appointment in Sydney for myself. I wasn’t really in a rush, as I will be going SOBO and only looking to get to the US in late June.

My heart dropped when I realized the first slot was June 15th, 2023. This was way too late. I would have left Australia to go back to my home country, France, by then.

Panicking, I checked if I could do the appointment elsewhere. I wasn’t against traveling to the Melbourne or even Perth consulates to do the interview. I even had a trip scheduled in New Zealand, could I squeeze it in then? But after reading about it more online, I learned that because I live in Canberra, I could only take the interview in Sydney.

You have to take the interview either in the country you reside, or in the country you have citizenship. I’m French, and I’ve been living in Australia for the past two years. Could I  take the interview in June when I’m back in France? After checking, the next available slot for the interview in Paris was in October… of 2023. Over a year later. Oh well.

At that point, I had to make peace with the fact that my hike would not happen in 2023. I was heartbroken by this prospect, and felt stupid for having prepared so much for the hike. To be honest, I spent that evening crying in bed like a child. The next day and from then on, I decided to plan a bunch of other hikes that I was excited to do, but not nearly as much as the PCT.  I was still sad, but there was nothing I could do.

A couple of weeks later, I was taking a break at work and thought maybe I should check if some slots had somehow become available in Sydney. I knew the chances were pretty slim: who would cancel their appointment? But sure enough, when I got on the platform, there were some slots starting in February. I paid the $160 fee to book the appointment in a trance. I grabbed an appointment on February 13th. After someone canceled their appointment a few weeks later, I was able to get an appointment on February 1st.

Step 2 – Preparing for the interview

From all the info I gathered only, there are two big things you need to show the people at the Consulate during the interview: you need to prove that you don’t want to stay in the US after the six months of your visa and that you have enough money to live in the US for the length of your stay. 

I prepared for the interview more than I’ve prepared for the hike itself. To get an idea of what I brought along with me, here are the documents I had:

  • Form DS-160 confirmation page and code (mandatory)
  • Receipt of paid visa fees (mandatory)
  • Interview confirmation page (mandatory)
  • ID photographs (mandatory)
  • Passport(s) (mandatory)
  • Proof that I live in Australia (that’s specific to me, as I’m a French citizen but applied in Australia) and my Australian visa
  • Letters from my boss, a coworker and my parents to say that I had no plan of staying in the US after the end of my visa
  • Proof that I was intending to look for a job in France after my hike
  • Screenshots of my bank accounts balances (I’d recommend having at least the equivalent of US$6,000 in your bank account)
  • My itinerary
  • My budget projections

Step 3 – Taking the interview

I didn’t bring my phone, because it was clearly written on the Consulate website that you couldn’t. However, everyone else had them, and they just had to turn it off before going into the Consulate. If you have a laptop however, you couldn’t bring it along with you. I saw someone having to go and put it in their car before being allowed in.

The first step for me (and keep in mind it might change from Consulate to Consulate), was to go through a check that I did have an appointment. After the mandatory security screenings, I took the elevator up to a big room, lined on one side by seats and on the other with counters. I saw a first person to give them some of my paperwork, and was then given a number and asked to wait. After about 5 to 10 minutes of waiting, reading my book to try not to stress too much, I finally got to the interview part.

Full disclosure, I am very privileged here, in that I work for the Embassy of France. I was fully prepared to answer all the questions they had, but as soon as I mentioned my job, it took about 10 seconds until they said the long-awaited sentence “Your visa has been approved”.

I was surprised because I had prepared so much but hey, I’m not going to complain about it.

Step 4 – Waiting to get your passport back 

This was harrowing but it took about a week for me to get my passport back. I chose the option to have it sent to me, but if you live close enough to the consulate, you might be able to go and fetch it yourself.

Step 5 – Shit’s getting real

Technically, you should wait until you have your passport back to book your plane tickets but I couldn’t wait anymore. After my interview, I went to a café, ordered a celebratory green juice and got to work. $700 later, my flights are booked. I also got a booking for my hostel in Seattle and paid for my travel insurance. Now, I can focus on saving for the money I’ll need on trail and getting mentally and physically (as well as financially) ready!

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