May 31, 2007

Travel Insurance, Packing and Other Preparation

Here are some thoughts for our US Trip...

Travel Insurance
When we applied for Schengen Visa last year, we were required to purchase a travel insurance. I found out that it's very affordable with very good benefits. This time, I also purchased a travel insurance. The cost is $40 valid up to to 20 days. If travelling elsewhere, the cost of travel insurance is $30 for the same duration. The insurance will cover medical expenses incurred while travelling and repatriation in case of illness or death. It may sound morbid it's better to be prepared for unforeseen circumstances.

Cash/Credit Cards
I lost my card wallet (I really don't know if I lost it or someone took it from me) when we went to Paris in 2006. Being a card wallet, it contains all my local credit cards and identification cards in Qatar. It was a disaster. I had to spend for overseas calls to cancel those cards and the replacement fees - I don't want to remember anymore. The time and effort required to personally fill out and sign forms - I surely learned my lessons.

To avoid similar incident, I'll only bring the necessary cards. Definitely, I'll bring a credit card but I don't see the need to bring additional identification cards other than our passports. I find the use of credit card to be very convinient in settling hotel and other bills plus I don't like bringing a lot of cash with me. However, I'll make sure that this time my credit card and cash will be secured throughout our trip.

Packing Light
We haven't started packing yet. I am not planning to bring a lot of clothes as I plan t o shop there. Let's see what happens. While my goal is always to pack light, I always end-up with more stuff than planned.

Planning our Activities
I haven't really planned anything but I listed all the attractions I want to visit. I'm not sure how much we can cover in a week's time but I hope to see as much we could!

I'll keep you posted about our adventure.

May 29, 2007

Planning our First US Trip

We are off to US in a few days. Our point of landing is Austin, Texas where I'll attend a symposium in Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR). My husband has his own plans but has not finalized anything yet. He is supposed to visit a colleague in Houston and he might visit their parent company's petrochemical plant, also in Houston. He is also crazy about NBA and he is hoping to have an opportunity to watch a game.

I'll be in the symposium for three whole days so I don't have much chance to go around Austin and honestly, when I did a little research on the net, I didn't find anything interesting or any famous place/ landmark which can be considered as a "must see" attraction. My colleague told me that there's really nothing interesting in Austin but it would be good to visit and go around Texas A&M University. Now, that's interesting - I'll definitely visit Texas A&M. My boss told me to also visit Alamo but it was in San Antonio!- 2 to 3-hour drive from Austin so chances are - I won't be able to. I'm interested to visit the NASA Space Center, which is in Houston. Now, that needs planning - maybe I can meet my husband in Houston on the 4th day, which is a free day for me. But most probably, I'll just stay in Austin and content myself with whatever attraction they have.

From Austin, we'll fly to New York to visit my friend Jo Anne. I haven't done any research on New York but I bought a Travel Guide, which I haven't read yet. I am planning to go through it in the plane while enduring a long and boring flight. This will be the longest flight in the history of my travel and I really get cranky during long flights and it makes me sick at times.

Hmmmm....I'm excited about New York because I'll be seeing my best friend after two long years. In the history of our more than two decades of friendship, this is the longest time we've been apart from each other. Aside from seeing her (and her husband) and visiting "must see" attractions in New York, I look forward to do shopping with her as we always did in the past be it in the Philippines or in another country.

I'm really excited! I promise to give you more updates later.

May 3, 2007

US VISA Application

Our application has been approved! I already got our passport (stamped with the visa) today from the US Embassy. I'll be attending a training and symposium in Austin, Texas and I'll take this opputunity to vist my best friend in New York. Walter is also joining me in this trip.

I've been hearing a lot of tales on applying for US Visa. Some says it's a matter of luck (which I think is partly true). Some says, they look at your age or marital status. Some says they look at your previous travels. Some says that an invitation (for business travel) would be helpful. Some says that even if you've shown a strong financial standing, etc, application can still be denied. But everything is a speculation and nobody really knows why some applications are still denied despite complying with all the requirements and even if there is no intension of overstaying. I was a bit nervous during the interview because while waiting for our turn, we've seen people who walked away disheartened because their application were denied. I'm glad we walked away with a smile in our faces ;)

The application process was fairly simple and the step by step procedure is published in the US Embassy website. The real challege is to convince them that we will come back to Doha or to the Philippines after our US visit - which we were able to!

To those who are currently holding a resident permit in Doha and whishes to apply for a US visa, information below may be helpful. Also visit the US Embassy website for more details.

Application Procedure

1.) Fill out the on-line application (DS 156) and print a copy after online submission. Then save the file for refrence. This application shall be submitted to the embassy during the interview.

2.) Fill out the supplementary form (DS 157) (hand written) and attached to the printed application (DS 156).

3.) Pay the QR 365 ($100) fee at any Commercial Bank branch in Doha.

The bank will return the second and third copies of the bank slip: one for the applicant and one for the US Embassy. They are also supposed to issue a separate receipt per applicant.

Note: Make sure to bring the passport of all the applicants. Commercial bank will not allow you to pay unless the passport is presented to ensure that names are spelled correctly.

4.) Gather the documents.
  • Passport (at least one year validity) and old passports (if available) to show the previous countries visited.
  • Letter from the company stating the the job title, basic monthly salary, and length of employment and the purpose of their visit to the United States.
  • Three months bank statement.

The embassy also recommends to bring additional documents which may be needed to support my application. In my case, I prepared the following although the Embassy didn't asked for any of them:

  • Company profile (I worked for an American Company so I figured this maybe helpful if they asked information about my company).
  • Approved training request from my company.
  • Travel and accomodation arrangements.
  • Confirmation of training registration.

5.) Have your photo taken.

The Embassy has a specific photo requirements. Make sure to have your photos taken at the recommended studios.

6.) Make an online appointment for the interview.

You will be required to enter your passport number, the barcode number of the application and the Commercial Bank payment receipt number. Make sure these information are readily available when making an online appointment.

During the interview:

Right now, there is an on-going construction in the US Embassy Area. The traffic is unpredictable and the main route to the US Embassy is closed. I will advise applicants to try driving to the US Embassy before the scheduled day of interview to be familiar to the possible routes. Obviosuly, we got lost!!! It's good that my boss was kind enough to get me his Embassy's number while helplessly finding the right way. It will be helpful to keep the US Embassy number handy and if you get lost too, do not hesistate to call the Embassy to ask for assistance.

When you get to the embassy, the security will give you a number and direct you to the waiting area. The applicants will be called in batches of 5, for verification of the document. If the document is already complete, a stub will be attached to the passport and you will be asked to proceed to the first security check. The bags will be inspected thoroughly including make-up kits, etc. Do not bring too many items, which you do not need inside the Embassy. They will also take the mobile phones during the first security check.

Then, proceed to the consular office. Here, there is another security check before you can come in. Go to Window 1 to submit documents and wait for your turn. Before starting the interview, they will get the index finger print (left and right). The questions are really simple and easy to answer, unless you are hiding something.

If the application is denied, they will inform you right away and return your passport. If approved, they will give you stub with the date and time when to collect the passport with the visa.

That's it! As I've said, the procedure was simple but approval can be tricky. I'll be in Austin from June 4 to 9 and we'll visit my best friend in New York before going back to Doha. As usual, I'm already excited!