How to avoid being a twit & doing the Customs walk of shame

by Friday, July 20, 2018

I had an anxious moment this week: My big interview for my United States media (I) visa at the U.S. Embassy – so I can enter the country to film my “Getaway” stories for my upcoming ‘Arctic Circle Special’.

So, I turned up early, joined the queue of other nervous travellers, and never in my life have I seen such a lovely bunch of genuine twits.

I’m sorry, but apart from just two other people in the queue, I was the only one not ‘returning’. Why? Wrong photos, forgotten passports, no money… the list went on, so that by the time I made it to my interview, I thought “I’m going write a ‘tips list’!”.

When I asked the lady doing my interview if such a ‘tips list’ may help this situation, she said, “Please!”. So, I double-checked with the security guards and they said, “We beg you!”.

Applying for visas for international travel is a necessary evil. Most websites are confusing, but it must be done or you’ll be turned away at the border (sometimes amid a Twitter tirade) that more often than not reveals… you are a twit.

At the US Embassy…

So, here are a few tips, mainly pertaining to the I-visa, but hopefully they’ll help you avoid doing the Customs walk of shame…
  • CHECK the U.S. Consulate website for where you are going, find out what you need, and then make a checklist of everything you need. I’ve found most consulate sites are tricky to navigate but, ultimately, you follow the prompts and will find a way through. Making a checklist helps when there are quite a few documents you need for your interview. Cross off each point as you pack it all in an envelope to ensure you have covered it all. It helps with the stress of preparing for your interview as well, by knowing that everything you need is in an envelope.
  • TAKE all the supporting documents you can. Whether that be a one-page bio, information about your employer, and samples of your work. The more information you have, the better!
  • KEEP CALM during the application process. There’s a lot to fill in so take your time, carefully inputting all the information.
  • PLAN. Give yourself six weeks before the time you want to depart to start your process, and contact the Embassy, pronto. Interviews can be tricky to book; it can take up to 30 days to acquire an interview. The more time you have to apply for the I-visa, the better.
  • ASK. If you are unsure about something, give your local Consulate a call. Don’t trust everything you see on the internet, especially if it’s not from the official US Consulate website. Ask as many questions as you can think of!
  • PHOTOS. Your passport photo cannot be a selfie taken sitting on the loo and yes, that is an example straight from the U.S. Embassy. It MUST have a white background and be the correct size. The passport photo can be a bit tricky at times (I get mine done at the Post Office) as I scanned a physical copy into a digital copy and the result was that it created more shadows on my face. It wasn’t accepted at first so, all I did was open a photo editor site I found on google, and just increased the brightness by a few points. I submitted the photo again and it was accepted!
  • ARRIVE EARLY for your allotted time. The security process can take 15 minutes and yes, there is a cafe nearby.
  • DON’T FAKE any documents. Only submit official documents, e.g., a letter from your employer or employment contract. Be honest on your application.
  • DON’T FORGET YOUR WALLET! This is the number-one thing people forget to take to their interview. You have to leave your handbag at the security desk (it’s just like at the airport) so, when you go upstairs for the interview make sure you have your money, your credit cards that you have access to, your passports and documents – ALL that you need. Once again, the lady in front of me (there are a few queues) got to the final stage and remembered her husband had frozen her credit card. Take cash if you like (mine was $105) but if you take U.S. currency, it must be precise.
  • NO BAND-AIDS. You will be asked to do a fingerprint ID so, don’t have a bandaid on your finger like another sweet twit in front of me. You will have to take it off.
  • DOUBLE CHECK you’re applying for the correct, non-immigrant Visa. Call the Consulate if you have questions about which one to apply for. A green card is for those who want to reside in the US. An I-Visa is generally for a short stint of work. ESTA’s or visa’s for holiday makers are done online so you only go to the Embassy if it’s denied. The most important thing an Embassy will want to know is when will you be returning home. Asked with kindness, of course. Oh and always be nice to the Security Guards. They let me take this pic, so I promised I would add that.

THIS WEEK, ON JOURNEYS TO COME…

GUEST TRAVELLER: Melbourne model/mum on returning to Bali – with kids

“An absolute must is Seminyak’s new hot spot – Mrs Sippy! We based ourselves at this heavenly place on our last day for about seven hours! We just could not get enough of it! And nor can we wait to go back…” READ MORE


ASK THE CONCIERGE: Regina Márquez Saurí, Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, Havana

“Havana is a year-round destination. Personally, I prefer to recommend the summertime despite the higher temperatures. It’s a good time to connect with the Cuban people.” READ MORE

COME FLY WITH ME: Author & Artist Meredith Gaston’s travel heaven – Turkey 
“Set between the mountains and the sea, garlands of bougainvillea against blue sky, cobblestone streets with the most beautiful shops and markets nestled in, kind, welcoming people and a deliciously unhurried pace of life…” READ MORE
TRAVEL TIP: Catriona’s Top 10 Tips to keep you glowing from take off to touch down
Pack, re-pack, un-pack. Repeat. I always seem to be preparing for, or unpacking from, some kind of trip and I’m often asked for my top tips for packing carry-on bags for long-haul flights. READ MORE
PODCAST: A passion for cruising

In this week’s episode of Journeys to Come, Catriona Rowntree explores the Queens of the sea and gets tips on planning a cruise. Aboard the Queen Eleganza, Catriona chats with Carolyn Owen about the life of a cruise director. LISTEN HERE

P.S. Catriona’s Scoopon Deal of the Week is a Blissful Pamper Package at Werribee Mansion in Victoria. And don’t we all deserve one of those!

Main image: @allabroadau Diane and Adrian. One writer, one photographer, two cases full of wanderlust. Travel bloggers. Tour hosts – @twosacrowdtravel. Life’s an adventure. All pics our own.