First things first, I need a 6 month tourist visa for America

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I’m eligible to enter America under the Visa Waiver Program, called ESTA. However, the ESTA only allows stays of up to 90 days, which wouldn’t be long enough for me to complete the PCT unless I was going for a speed record!

(The current speed records of the PCT are held by Joe “String Bean” McConaughy for a supported hike (53 days in 2014) and Heather “Anish” Anderson for an unsupported hike (60 days, set in 2013).

To apply for a 6 month US tourist visa called B1/B2, I had to do the following:

  1. Check eligibility

  2. Complete the DS-160 online application (this includes uploading a passport photo)

  3. Print the confirmation page

  4. Schedule an interview, pay the visa fee (£104) & arrange to collect my passport

  5. Attend the interview

  6. Receive my passport with my new visa

The DS-160 online application was an incredibly detailed and long form! I’m terrible at remembering dates, especially things like my last 5 visits to America. Luckily I could save each section, turn my apartment upside down looking for old diaries and passports and keep coming back to the application. After completing the form, the process was very simple to schedule the interview and I was able to schedule one within a week.

The day of my interview came and I was nervous that my visa application would be declined… was wanting to hike the PCT a good enough reason to be granted a visa? I followed the advice of a fellow mYAMAdventure participant (Helen “Cat” Beckers) and took along my PCT bible: Yogi’s Pacific Crest Trail Handbook, as well as my notebook that was full of PCT to-do lists (get visa, permits, travel insurance, first aid course, learn what to do when you see a bear/mountain lion etc)

I arrived at the American Embassy in London at 9:30am for a 10am appointment. I lined up outside the embassy on a freezing cold January day and slowly inched forward toward the entrance as the dozens of people in front of me one by one removed their belts and emptied their pockets to walk through the x-ray machines. It took half an hour to get inside the building. Once in, I was handed a number and told to sit in the waiting room and wait for my number to be called. I sat with approximately 300 other people all staring intently at the blinking number board, all quietly hoping they would be next.

My number was called and I walked up to counter 15. The lady behind the glass asked for my passport and my reason for wanting a 6 month tourist visa. “To hike the Pacific Crest Trail,” I said. She wasn’t American, and had no idea what I was talking about. After unsuccessfully trying to explain what the Pacific Crest Trail was, I simplified my answer and told her I wanted to go for a long walk in America. She held onto my passport, handed me back a different number and told me to sit down again. I sat down and waited, and waited… 2 hours went by.

Finally my number was called and this time I was to go to counter 23. I was interviewed by an American man from California. I know this because when I told him I wanted to hike the PCT he told me he was from California and that I should be careful of the mountain lions! Gee, thanks! He asked me a few questions about what I did for work and what I would be doing when I come back (will I still be wanting to walk or will I be over walking by then?), and then he said “Good Luck, your visa has been approved.” 🙂

My passport was ready to be collected the following week with a lovely new American visa in it. If I’m reading it correctly, it says I have multiple entry status for a period of 10 years, can this be right?! … Triple Crown* here I come! 😉

*Triple Crown is to complete the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail & Continental Divide Trail

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25 responses to “First things first, I need a 6 month tourist visa for America

  1. Congrats! That’s a big first step! Don’t worry about the mountain lions, we have a lot where I live, but hardly ever see them. We only see the tiny bobcats. Bears on the other hand…they like to introduce themselves to your food!


  2. Hi Kate.

    I’m planning on hiking the trail April 2017. How long before your start date did you apply for the visa?
    Thanks and congrats!


    • Hi Gareth,
      I had my interview at the American Embassy in mid-January and started hiking on the 13th April, so 3 months before but I only decided at the beginning of January to do the PCT so I didn’t have more time than this 🙂


  3. Hello guys,
    i’m not sure if this went through…I’ve tried posting already?!
    Anyways,I shorten it up…
    How long is the B2 visa valid?
    I mean,does it start on the day of issue or on the date you put down that you want to enter the US?
    Or,is the visa valid for 12 months,so you basically have 12 months to get there ,then once you arrive the 6 months starts?
    Is this how it works?
    My 1 year Aussie visa was valid for 12 months.I had to go there within 12 months,then once I entered the 1 year visa started.
    Thanks you,


    • Hi Ian,
      I used my British passport to apply for the B2 visa and was given a multi-entry visa valid for 6 months for each visit for a total of 10 years.
      My 6 month period starts each time I enter the country.
      The validity might be different for different countries – my Aussie friends using Aussie passports were given 5 year and not 10 year visas.
      I hope this helps 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This post is really helpful, thank you. I’ll get my visa ASAP. By the way, your link for the “DS-160 online application” no longer works.

    I am a bit overwhelmed by all the documentation, permits, etc. that are required for the hike (I plan to through-hike starting April in 2017).


    • Hi Philip,
      Thanks for letting me know about the link, I’ll try to update it with the new link. It can be quite daunting, but just make a list and tick everything off as you go – I started my planning in Jan the year I hiked so you’ve got plenty of time 🙂 & happy trails!


  5. Hi, really helpful post, thanks for posting!

    Just in the process of filling out my application for a 2017 thru hike. Wanted to know what you put as your “address where you will be staying” section? Obviously as I’m hiking I wont have a fixed address…. What are the chances you remember what you put for that section?


  6. Hi there Kate,

    I was just wondering, did you also need to have documentation of possible housing, finances, or job (or a letter saying you have a job when you return?) and do you mind me asking if you had those?
    because it’s really tricky when you don’t have enough ‘ties’ do you country like me I heard, to get the B2 visa. I don’t have a house, job or partner to come back to! So very risky for me to apply.


    • Hi Trish,
      I took a bank statement with me but didn’t have to show this or any other evidence of housing or a job. I wasn’t working at the time so I wasn’t coming back to a job at the time and this didn’t seem to be a problem. I did take with me a guidebook to the PCT and my journal with all my research and scribbles and plans for resupply etc but also didn’t have to show this. I hope all goes well with your visa application, Happy Trails!


  7. Hello Kate!
    Sorry to bother you, i will be doing the PCT in 2018, i am coming from New Zealand and have started filling out the B2 Visa application (ET-160??) it asks me to note down the address where i will be staying, which i put PCT, it also asks what city and state..what did you put down for that? and it has asked me the Port i will departing from, i put Vancouver, but should i Manning Park? Canadian border?
    any help is much appreciated,
    Cheers, Glen.


    • Hi Glen,
      I think I said “Hiking the PCT, starting from Campo, San Diego, CA. I had a return flight in and out of San Diego, so I think I wrote leaving from San Diego, but I’m really sorry, it was a few years ago now and I can’t be sure. You could maybe try asking in the PCT 2017 facebook group for people who filled it in this year?
      Happy Trails!


  8. Hi Kate,
    Thanks for answering everyone’s questions here about the process.
    I was wondering if you know anything about whether the permit is needed to apply for the visa? I am visiting home for a few weeks but will be travelling all the way up until the pct hike in 2018. This means I will be applying for the visa before the permits are released and so i will not have any proof that I am going.

    Many thanks


    • Hi Derek,

      I applied for the visa first before anything else (on the off-chance I didn’t get it) and also because it takes the longest out of anything to come through and the permits were only released about a month before I started, so in my case it was fine and what I would recommend.
      My ‘proof’ was a guidebook and a notebook with lists of resupply details that I took with me to the interview but I was never asked to show anything.

      Good luck!


  9. Hi Kate,

    Did you buy your flight-tickets before applying for the visa? I’ve heard of people doing this, as proof of them hiking the PCT and actually leaving the country afterwards.

    Many thanks,
    -A potential 2018 PCT hiker (first get that visa! 🙂 )


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