DS-160 Visa Form: Complete Guide

Coming to the United States often requires navigating the complex world of visa applications. One of the initial hurdles you’ll encounter is Form DS-160, the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application.

Consider this guide as your roadmap to filing the DS-160 form. We will explain the form’s purpose and guide you through the various questions you’ll face. Whether you’re a seasoned traveler or a first-time applicant, we’ll provide helpful tips and address common pitfalls to ensure a smooth and error-free application process.

Remember, this guide is just the first step on your visa journey. In the following section, we’ll delve deeper into the specifics of Form DS-160, providing a detailed overview of its structure, the DS-160 fees, where to find it, how to fill it out, and what to expect next. So, let’s begin your nonimmigrant visa application with the essential first step: understanding the DS-160.

What Is the DS-160 Form?

Form DS-160, “Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application,” is your first step toward obtaining temporary permission to enter the United States. It’s an electronic form filled out online and submitted directly to the U.S. Department of State. This document is vital in determining your eligibility for various nonimmigrant visas, including:

  • B-1/B-2 Visitor Visas: These are the most common types, allowing temporary stays for business (B-1) or tourism (B-2).
  • K Visas: For fiancés(ées) of U.S. citizens planning to marry within 90 days of arrival.

Why Is the DS-160 Form Important?

The information you provide on the DS-160 form represents the foundation of your visa application. Consular officers rely on it to assess your eligibility, background, and intentions for visiting the United States. The DS-160 gathers a wide range of information, including your details, travel history, employment, education, and family background. Completing the form accurately and thoroughly is crucial for a smooth and successful application process.

Where to Find the DS-160 Form

Access the official DS-160 application form online at the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website. Hosted by the U.S. Department of State, this secure platform is your one-stop shop for online accessing and submitting the DS-160 form. There’s no need for third-party websites or downloads. Stick to the official CEAC website for guaranteed authenticity and data security. The website offers clear instructions and helpful, frequently asked DS-160 questions to guide you through the process seamlessly.

IMPORTANT! Before completing DS-160, use a supported browser like I.E. 11 or higher, Mozilla Firefox, or Google Chrome 58. Safari and Microsoft Edge are not currently supported.

Eligibility Criteria for the DS-160 Form

Embarking on your U.S. visa journey requires clarity about eligibility – and the DS-160 form plays a crucial role in establishing it. This section delves into who needs to complete the DS-160, ensuring you approach the DS-160 application process correctly.

Who Should Complete Form DS-160?

The DS-160 applies to anyone seeking a temporary visa to come to the United States. This encompasses a diverse range of individuals, including:

  • Visitors: Those applying for B1/B2 visas for business, tourism, or pleasure purposes.
  • Fiancés(ées): Individuals holding K-1 visas intending to marry a U.S. citizen within 90 days of arrival.
  • Mexican T.N. visa holders: Unlike their Canadian counterparts, Mexican citizens applying for T.N. visas (professional occupations under NAFTA) require the DS-160.

IMPORTANT! Each applicant, including children, needs their own separate DS-160 form. A third party can assist minors aged 16 or younger or those physically unable to complete the form themselves. However, this assistance must be disclosed on the “Sign and Submit” page of the DS-160.

Who Should Not Complete the DS-160 Form?

There are some important exceptions to the DS-160 application. They include the following:

  • Canadian TN visa holders: Canadian citizens seeking T.N. visas do not need to submit the DS-160.
  • Diplomatic and official visas: Individuals applying for diplomatic or official visas typically follow a different application process and may not require the DS-160.

IMPORTANT! While eligibility is a crucial starting point, understanding the specific visa category you’re applying for and its requirements is equally important. If you plan to visit the United States on a temporary visa listed above, including B1/B2, K-1, or Mexican TN visas, completing the DS-160 is mandatory. Understanding this eligibility criterion means you’re on your way to a successful Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application journey.

The DS-160 Form Timeline and Process

Completing the DS-160 online is a crucial first step in getting your U.S. visa, but it’s just the beginning. Here’s a comprehensive breakdown of the DS-160 timeline and procedure to ensure a smooth experience:

Stage 1: Submitting the DS-160 Form Online

  1. Review and follow the visa fee payment instructions provided on the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will be interviewed. These directions vary depending on your location.
  2. Answer all questions: Take your time and fill out the DS-160 accurately and completely. Mistakes or omissions can lead to delays, requiring corrections and potentially rescheduling your interview.
  3. Attach a photo to your DS160 application. Ensure you follow the government’s photo requirements
  4. Submit the DS-160 form online: Remember, the U.S. Embassy or Consulate only accepts online submissions. Paper applications are not accepted.
  5. Print the confirmation page: After submitting your DS-160 application online, keep the confirmation page. While you won’t need to print the entire application, the confirmation page plays a crucial role in identifying your application throughout the process. Bringing this page to your interview is essential as it is your reference and ensures a smooth experience.

IMPORTANT! If you lose your Nonimmigrant Visa Application confirmation page, you can reprint it. Head to the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) website, select your embassy/consulate, choose “Option C-Retrieve Application,” and enter your application I.D. You can view and reprint your confirmation page from there, ensuring you have the crucial barcode and information readily available for your visa interview. Keep your application I.D. handy and consult the CEAC website for country-specific variations.

Stage 2: DS-160 Interview Confirmation and Scheduling

Once you submit the DS-160, contact the embassy or consulate where you’ll apply. This crucial step confirms whether an interview is required and allows you to schedule an appointment.

Stage 3: The DS-160 Visa Interview

Consular officers can request an interview from any applicant regardless of age. However, here’s a general overview:

Age Group

13 and younger


80 and older

DS-160 Interview Requirement

Generally not required

Required (exceptions for renewals may apply)

Generally not required

Scheduling Your DS-160 Interview

  1. Get an appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate in your home country (location). Scheduling outside your home country is possible, but qualifying for a visa can be more challenging.
  2. Appear for your scheduled visa interview: If informed by the embassy/consulate that you need an interview, attendance is mandatory for most applicants. This in-person meeting with a consular officer is crucial to the visa application.

IMPORTANT! Completion requires an interview. If an interview is mandatory, remember that your DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application cannot be finalized until you participate.

What Is the DS-160 Processing Time?

Completing the DS-160 online is a swift and straightforward procedure. However, it’s essential to understand that the processing timeline for your Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application doesn’t begin until after you submit the form. Here’s a breakdown of what to expect:

DS-160 Completion

IMPORTANT! There is no processing time. Once you’ve diligently filled out and submitted the DS-160 online, there’s no additional processing involved. You’re ready to move on to the next step.

IMPORTANT! Schedule your interview appointment directly through the U.S. Embassy or Consulate website where you will have your interview. Country-specific instructions are available on their website.

DS-160 Visa Interview Scheduling

Understanding the DS-160 interview requirements and processing timelines is crucial for a smooth experience. Let’s break it down:

DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Interview Wait Times

To better understand what you should expect, here is a simulation of appointment availability and processing times if you request a nonimmigrant visa from Paris, France.

DS-160 Visa Category

Students/ Exchange Visitors (F, M, J Visas)

Petition-Based Temporary Workers (H, L, O, P, Q Visas)

Crew and Transit (C, D, C1/D Visas)

Visitors (B1/B2 Visas)

DS-160 Interview Required?





Average Wait Time

10 days

57 days

8 days

397 days

Interview Waiver Option?





Waiver Wait Time

1 day

1 day

1 day

1 day

By comparison, if you request the DS-160 for a B1/B2 visitor visa from Buenos Aires, Argentina, the average interview wait time is 98 days. You can check the wait times for a nonimmigrant visa interview appointment in your location here. Type your city in the yellow field (U.S. Embassy or Consulate) and hit the G.O. button. 

Remember that these estimates fluctuate based on the embassy/consulate workload and staffing. Moreover, they are only relevant for specific locations with document submission procedures. They don’t include the time for the consular officer’s review or passport delivery.

IMPORTANT! Administrative processing can significantly extend DS-160 processing time for individual cases. Always refer to your specific embassy/consulate website for details.

Can You Expedite the DS-160 Interview Appointments?

In some situations, yes, you can. Medical emergencies, funerals, or school start dates may qualify for expedited appointments. Proof and procedures vary, so check the embassy/consulate website for specifics.

IMPORTANT! Weddings, conferences, or last-minute tourism don’t qualify for expedited appointments. Schedule a regular appointment well in advance if you travel for such purposes.

How to Make the DS-160 Processing Times Smoother

  • Apply early: Avoid last-minute delays by submitting your DS-160 application and scheduling your interview as early as possible.
  • Wait 180 days after your interview or submit additional documents (whichever is later) before inquiring about administrative processing status, except in some emergencies.
  • Always refer directly to the official U.S. Department of State website and your chosen embassy/consulate website for specific local procedures and instructions for interview scheduling, additional processes (students or exchange visitors), and more. These resources are your go-to solutions for the most up-to-date and location-specific information, including exact DS-160 interview wait times and current processing timeframes.

Can I Use My DS-160 Application for an Interview at a Different Location?

Navigating nonimmigrant visa applications can be confusing, mainly when unexpected travel arises. This section addresses a common question: what happens if you need to attend your interview at a different embassy or consulate than the one you selected in your DS-160 application?

The working premise is this: when you complete your DS-160 online, you choose the intended location for your visa submission. This information is linked to the barcode on your confirmation page.

While your initial DS-160 location choice isn’t a binding contract, scheduling an interview at a different location can have implications:

  • Accessing your form: Generally, the embassy/consulate you visit for your interview can access your DS-160 using the barcode on your confirmation page, even if it differs from their location, so everything should be fine.
  • Potential delays: Accessing a DS-160 submitted to a different location might take additional time, leading to delays during your interview process.

EXAMPLE: You originally submitted the DS-160 petition and intended to appear at the interview at the U.S. embassy in Paris. However, you must travel to Marseille unexpectedly and stay there for a long time. Scheduling an interview in the Marseille U.S. consulate with your existing DS-160 is possible, but you must consider potential delays.

How to Manage DS-160 Interview Challenges When You Change Location
  • Plan carefully: Choose your interview location early when completing your DS-160, considering potential travel needs.
  • Contact the embassy/consulate: If an unexpected location change arises, contact the embassy/consulate where you plan to interview beforehand. They can advise you on any potential delays or requirements.
  • Bring your confirmation page: Always bring your printed DS-160 confirmation page to your interview, regardless of location.

Clear communication and proactive planning can help you navigate changes and ensure a smooth visa interview process no matter where you are when your interview time comes. 

DS-160 Processing Time After the Interview

Assuming your interview goes smoothly and your application receives a favorable decision, the actual processing time for your visa kicks in. The average wait for tourism/visitor visas and processing time typically falls within 7-10 working days.

Remember to consider the additional time to deliver your passport containing the approved visa, depending on your chosen method and location.

How Much Does the DS-160 Form Cost?

While submitting the initial application form, DS-160 is free, obtaining a visa isn’t. The price depends on the type of visa you need. For common nonimmigrant visas like tourist, business, or T.N. visas, the fee is $185.

Applying for a nonimmigrant visa requires a processing fee, but the amount depends on the visa category you’re applying for. Here’s a breakdown:

Visa Category

Non-petition-based (most common)

Petition-based (requires sponsorship)

E Treaty Trader/Investor, Australian Professional Specialty

K Fiancé(e) or Spouse of U.S. Citizen

Processing Fee






Includes B (Visitor), C-1 (Transit), D (Crew), F (Student), I (Media), J (Exchange), M (Vocational), TN/TD (NAFTA Professional)

Includes H (Worker/Trainee), L (Intracompany Transfer), O (Extraordinary Ability), P (Entertainer), Q (Cultural Exchange), R (Religious Worker)

Specific categories with a higher fee

Specific categories with a higher fee

It’s important to note that while this information provides a general overview of nonimmigrant visa processing fees, there are additional considerations to ensure a smooth DS-160 application process.

Firstly, certain applicants may qualify for fee waivers, such as participants in official U.S. government programs on J visas, victims of human trafficking or criminal activity, and witnesses or informants. Detailed information on eligibility and application procedures can be found on the official U.S. Department of State website.

Secondly, remember that the processing fee is not the only cost of obtaining a visa. Depending on your specific circumstances, such as mandatory medical examinations or visa issuance fees, you may incur additional expenses. Be sure to research all potential costs involved before applying.

Always double-check the exact visa fee for your specific visa category on the official U.S. Department of State website before spending 90 minutes filling out the DS-160. Visa categories and associated fees are subject to change, so verifying current information ensures accurate budgeting and a streamlined application process.

What Documents Are Required to File DS-160?

Completing the online nonimmigrant visa application requires gathering specific documents to ensure a smooth and efficient process. Here are the documents you’ll need:

Document Category


Travel Information

Personal Information

Travel Companions

Special Visa Categories


Temporary Workers


Essential Documents

  • Valid passport with a minimum of 6 months remaining after your intended stay.
  • Government-issued photo I.D. from your home country.
  • Social Security Number/Taxpayer ID (optional, if applicable).
  • Detailed travel itinerary with arrival/departure dates, locations, and purpose of visit.
  • Basic biographical details: full name, date of birth, contact information.
  • Information about any accompanying family members/travel companions: names, birth dates, and relationship to you (family, friends, etc.).
  • SEVIS ID (from I-20/DS-2019 form) and school/college address.

Recent digital photo meeting U.S. Department of State specifications:

  • Color, neutral background.
  • Head centered, filling 50% of the frame.
  • Full face view, no sunglasses/headwear
  • Size: 600 x 600 pixels.

Additional Documents (if applicable)

IMPORTANT! For an efficient DS-160 application process, gather all required documents well before your Form DS-160 submission. Double-check the U.S. Department of State website for specific requirements based on your visa category. Don’t forget to save all documents electronically for easy access during the online application. Finally, meticulously review all information for accuracy before submitting it to avoid potential delays or complications!

How to Fill out Form DS-160: Instructions and Tips

The DS-160 form is your digital doorway to the U.S. visa interview process. Obtaining a nonimmigrant visa requires completing the online. Let’s see the step-by-step guide!

1. Before Starting the DS-160 Application

  • Start early – gather all required documents beforehand. 
  • Double-check visa type, application info, and answers throughout.

IMPORTANT! Save your progress regularly (every 20 minutes). Remember that you can’t use special characters in your answers (except for your native name).

2. Start Your DS-160 Application

  • Visit the CEAC website and choose your application location. 
  • Remember your Application ID and security question for future access. 
  • Complete the form in sections, saving your progress regularly.

Navigating Form DS-160 online might seem intimidating, but each section focuses on specific details. Let’s see the main DS-160 form sections, how to complete them, and what to pay attention to during the 90 minutes you will spend filling out this application.

Part 1-8 of DS-160: Personal Information & Travel Details

This section lays the foundation for your application, gathering essential details like:

  • Personal data: Full name, birth date, marital status, and gender.
  • Travel details: Purpose of your visit, intended arrival/departure dates, and U.S. address where you’ll stay.
  • Contact details: Current address, phone number, and email address.
  • Social media handles: List your social media accounts used in the past five years (handles/usernames only, no passwords required).
  • Passport details: Passport information, including number, type, and issuance/expiry dates.
  • U.S. contact: Details of a U.S. contact who knows you and can verify your identity.
  • Family information: Basic details about your parents and spouse (if applicable).

Part 9 of DS-160: Work, Education & Travel History

This section delves deeper into your background:

  • Work & Education: Details about your occupation, educational background, and employment history for the past five years.
  • Travel history: Information about any previous international travel in the past five years.
  • Special skills: Any specialized skills or training you possess.
  • Memberships: Any professional organizations, social groups, or military service memberships you’ve been involved in.

Part 10 of DS-160: Security & Background Questions (Answer Carefully!)

This section asks “yes/no” questions about your security background and history. Read each question carefully and answer truthfully, as inaccurate responses could impact your application.

Part 11 of DS-160: Upload Your Photo

Submit a recent digital photo meeting strict U.S. Department of State requirements:

  • Color photo with a neutral background.
  • The head is centered and fills 50% of the frame.
  • Full-face view with no sunglasses or headwear.
  • Size: 600 x 600 pixels.

Part 12 of DS-160: Review, Confirm & Submit

Carefully review your entire DS-160 application for accuracy. Confirm your chosen application location and ensure you’ve completed all sections. Read and agree to the terms and conditions before submitting your completed form.

3. The Next Steps After Completing Form DS-160

Once you’ve submitted your Form DS-160 online, here’s what happens next:

  1. Print your confirmation page: This is your receipt and contains the barcode needed for your visa interview. Don’t worry if you forget to print it initially; you can always log back in with your Application ID and security question to retrieve it.
  2. Your application is processed: Your DS-160 travels to the relevant embassy or consulate for review.
  3. Schedule your visa interview: Contact your local embassy or consulate to learn their specific procedures for scheduling an interview. Remember, some visas may not require an interview.
  4. Prepare for your interview: Keep your DS-160 confirmation page closed, along with any additional documents requested for your visa type.
  5. Track your application status: For peace of mind, you can monitor your application’s progress anytime on the U.S. Department of State website using your Application ID.

What Else Should You Know About Completing the DS-160 Form?

While navigating the Form DS-160 online application, here are some key points to remember for a smooth and successful experience:

1. Collaboration with Assistance in Filing the DS-160

Although others can assist you in gathering information and completing the form, remember the legal requirement: you, the applicant, must electronically sign and submit the application yourself. Even with assistance, clicking the “Sign Application” button remains your sole responsibility. Failure to do so can result in application rejection.

2. Patience is Key with the DS-160

Depending on the internet connection speed in your location, download times for DS-160 can vary. The U.S. government asks you to remain patient and allow sufficient time for the process to complete.

3. Always Remember Your DS-160 Application ID

This unique identifier, displayed on the top right corner of the page, is crucial for accessing your saved application if you need to close your browser window. According to the U.S. government, you should note it down for safekeeping.

4. Save Your DS-160 Progress Regularly

The system automatically times out after 20 minutes of inactivity, leading to lost data. To avoid frustration and starting over with the application, save your progress frequently throughout the application process.

DS-160 Form Frequently Asked Questions

Stick around and read the answers below to our clients’ frequently asked questions if you need further clarification and assistance regarding the submission of form DS-160.

How many days before the visa interview should I submit DS-160?

Complete your Form DS-160 48 hours before your interview for a streamlined visa process. Ensure you accurately select the embassy or consulate where you plan to apply, as errors can cause delays.

Convenience is essential when paying your nonimmigrant visa application (NIV) fee. The most streamlined option is using a debit card directly through your online profile. Log in, navigate to the payment screen, and select the debit card option for a quick, hassle-free transaction.

Yes, Form DS-160 has a validity period of 30 days from when you begin filling it out. This means you have a month to complete and submit the application electronically. You must start over completely if you don’t finish within that timeframe.

Absolutely! Whether you’re applying for a new U.S. nonimmigrant visa or renewing an existing one, completing Form DS-160 is mandatory for everyone. This online application form gathers essential information from all applicants. So, whether it’s your first foray into visa territory or a familiar process, don’t forget to dedicate time to completing your DS-160 accurately and on time!

Yes, you can pause and resume your application! When you start Form DS-160, you’ll receive a unique I.D. and answer a security question. Remember both; they’ll be your key to returning later. To save your progress within 30 days, click “Save” at the bottom of each page of the DS-160 form. This allows you to pick up where you left off later. However, it would be best to be careful. After 30 days of inactivity, your application will automatically expire. In that case, you’ll need to start over.

Just the confirmation page is enough! While you complete your entire application, the interview only requires the confirmation page with the unique I.D. number. This helps authorities easily access your completed DS-160 for review. Remember, this page is crucial throughout the entire process, so keep it safe and bring it to every interview stage.

Yes. You can create a family or group application for your DS-160 forms. After completing your application and reaching the confirmation page, select “Email Confirmation.” This will lead you to a “Thank You” page with an option for a family/group application.

By choosing this option, particular details like destination will automatically populate individual applications for each group member. However, it’s important to remember:

  • You still must create separate applications for each person.
  • Ensure everyone completes their individual sections accurately, even with shared information.

Absolutely! Even though destination and other shared details auto-populate individual applications, you have complete control over individual information. This means you can modify details like different surnames or nationalities for dependents, ensuring each application accurately reflects the unique information of each group member. So, go ahead, create those group applications, and personalize them!

If you need help navigating visa forms for Treaty Traders (E-1) and Treaty Investors (E-2), here’s the breakdown:

  • E-2 Treaty Investors: You only need to complete the online DS-160 form.
  • E-1 Treaty Traders: You must complete both the online DS-160 and the paper DS-156E form.
  • E-1 Executive/Manager/Essential Employee: If you fall under this category, the same applies – complete both DS-160 and DS-156E forms.

Remember that your employer might need to complete the DS-156E if you fall under the E-1 Executive/Manager/Essential Employee category.

For further clarification and specific instructions based on your situation, always refer to the official embassy/consulate website or consult a visa attorney.

While completing the online DS-160 form independently is ideal, assistance is available in specific circumstances:

  • Illiteracy or inability to complete: A third party can assist you if you cannot complete the form yourself due to illiteracy or other limitations. Remember, this individual must be identified on the “Sign and Submit” page. While they can help you answer questions, ultimately, you must electronically sign and apply yourself by clicking “Sign Application.” This ensures you understand and are responsible for the information provided.
  • Minors and individuals with physical limitations: For applicants under 16 or with physical limitations, parents, guardians, or legal custodians can complete and sign the application on their behalf. If no parents or legal guardians are available, anyone with legal custody or legitimate interest in the applicant can complete and sign the form.

Remember, in all scenarios, you are ultimately responsible for the accuracy of the information provided in your DS-160 application. Ensure you carefully review and understand all information before signing and submitting.

Get Started with the DS-160 Form Today to Get Your Nonimmigrant Visa!

Do you feel that Form DS-160 is a daunting process? ImmigrationDirect empowers you with clear, concise information and helpful resources. From navigating each section to understanding requirements, we’ve got you covered. Do you still have questions or need personalized guidance? Don’t hesitate to reach out! Our team of experts is available to answer your inquiries and provide legal advice tailored to your unique situation. Let’s work together for a successful nonimmigrant visa application!

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