The United States, a dream destination for many in the United Arab Emirates, has seen a surge in visa applications. However, UAE residents eager to set foot on American soil face a significant hurdle – visa appointment slots are being deferred by a year.
This bottleneck is due to an unprecedented demand among UAE residents to travel to the USA. Current reports indicate that the earliest available date in Dubai is 18 October 2024, while in Abu Dhabi, appointments are only open from November 2024. With daily inquiries exceeding a hundred, industry insiders predict that the slot unavailability could extend to March 2025.
Wego got in touch with Rony, a UAE resident who recently went through the process of obtaining a US visa appointment. He described his experience as a journey of “Waiting. Long and anxious.” He applied in December 2021 for his brother’s wedding in April 2022, but his visa appointment was scheduled for October 2022. Attempting to reschedule due to a conflicting commitment, he encountered a further delay with the new date set for October 2023. In his words, it was “literally 2 years of waiting.” This highlights the importance of planning well in advance when applying for a US visa.
But don’t lose hope! If you’re a UAE resident with the USA on your travel radar, there’s an alternative route to bypass these lengthy wait times. In this article, Wego provides a comprehensive guide to help you navigate this challenge.
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Who needs to apply for a US visa?
If you’re a citizen of the UAE or most other countries, you’ll need to apply for a visa to enter the United States. The only exceptions are if you already hold a valid US visa, green card, or a UK or EU residence visa. Otherwise, applying for a visa at the US embassy or consulate general in the UAE is necessary.
There are two principal categories: nonimmigrant visas, intended for temporary visits such as tourism, business, educational pursuits, and employment, and immigrant visas, designed for individuals seeking permanent residence, encompassing family reunification and employment-based considerations.
There are two common types of visit (nonimmigrant) visas in the US:
- B1 visa: Recommended for business travel, the B1 Visa is often referred to as the US Business Visa
- B2 visa: Known as the US Tourist Visa, the B2 Visa is designed for tourism, permitting a stay of up to six months. It can be obtained by completing the online DS-160 form
Electronic Travel Authorization (ETA) eligibility
The US also has a system known as the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA), which assesses visitor eligibility for travel to the US under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). The VWP enables citizens of specific countries to visit the US for tourism or business for up to 90 days without a visa.
At present, there are 41 countries listed under the United States visa waiver program, including countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan. However, please note that the UAE is not currently included in this program. Therefore, UAE citizens must follow the standard visa application process for travel to the United States.
An alternative solution: US visa appointment in GCC countries
For UAE residents facing long wait times for US visa appointments, there’s a viable alternative – scheduling an appointment in any other GCC nation. All GCC countries extend this privilege to UAE residents.
Reflecting on his experience, Rony suggested that he would “apply from a different center, like fly to Oman or do it from India,” instead of applying from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.
While citizens of the UAE can easily visit GCC countries without needing a visa, people in the UAE with a residence permit must undergo a visa application process to enter any GCC country. The specific visa requirements may vary based on the individual’s nationality and occupation, and some expatriates may be eligible for visa-free entry or visa-on-arrival access to these countries. It is advisable to research the specific requirements for each GCC country before planning your trip.
GCC countries uniformly adhere to a standard set of visa application requirements for travel to the United States. These requirements encompass the following key elements:
- a valid passport for the intended travel to the United States
- a completed DS-160 form
- proof of payment for the requisite application fee, substantiated by a payment receipt
- a recent 2×2 photograph meeting specified criteria
- an interview appointment letter confirming the scheduled visa interview
Additionally, applicants are encouraged to provide supplementary documents that may support the information presented to the consular officer during the visa application process.
Estimated wait times
The estimated wait time for an interview appointment at a US embassy or consulate can change weekly based on the actual incoming workload and staffing. This aligns with Rony’s experience, who had to plan two years in advance for his visa appointment. He also provided insight into the various challenges associated with the process. As Rony put it, the difficulties lie in the “Long wait time. Lack of appointment dates. Lack of flexibility to change the center location.”
The following table outlines the wait times for visitors from various GCC countries, according to data obtained from the US Department of State’s travel information. Please note that these wait times are accurate as of November 2023 and may be subject to change.
|Country||Wait Time (Days)|
Visa application procedure
The procedure for applying for a US visa remains consistent across the various GCC countries. The visa application and interview scheduling procedures are primarily facilitated by a third-party entity known as US Travel Docs.
To apply for a US B1 or B2 visa from any GCC country, these steps must be followed:
- determine the type of visa required for your particular purpose of travel
- complete the Non-immigrant Visa Electronic Application (DS-160) online form
- log in to the applicant system hosted by US Travel Docs to establish a personal profile
- make the visa application (MRV) fee payment
- schedule an appointment for the visa interview
- gather the required supporting documents
- attend the scheduled interview
- retrieve your passport and accompanying documents upon completion of the process
The following are the costs associated with visa applications in each GCC country, including the costs for a night’s accommodation, meals and local transportation. None of the countries charge any reciprocity fee for visa applications.
Please note that these prices are accurate for the period of November – December 2023 and are subject to change. It is advisable to verify these prices with official airline and hotel websites.
- the approximate costs of the visa applications are QAR 673.68 (AED 675.66)
- direct flights start at AED 1,168, and connecting flights start at AED 258
- accommodation starts from AED 191 in and around the Doha City Center
- food prices start from AED 25.22 for a typical dinner
- transport starts from AED 3 for taxi fares in Doha
- the approximate costs of the visa applications are SAR 694.02 (AED 679.48)
- direct flights start at AED 565
- accommodation starts from AED 256 in Riyadh
- food costs around AED 48.96 for a typical dinner in Riyadh
- transport starts from AED 3.92 for daily public bus passes in Riyadh
- the approximate costs of the visa applications are BHD 69.75 (AED 679.55)
- direct flights start at AED 739, and connecting flights start at AED 538
- accommodation starts from AED 302 in Manama, Bahrain
- food starts from AED 39 for a meal in Manama
- transport starts from AED 6.82 for the daily cost of public buses in Manama
- the approximate costs of the visa applications are KWD 59.20 (AED 704.30)
- direct flights start at AED 396, and connecting flights start at AED 245
- accommodation starts from AED 203 in Kuwait
- taxi fares start from AED 11.9, varying based on distance in Kuwait
- food costs around AED 23.80 for a single, inexpensive dinner
- the approximate costs of the visa applications are OMR 74.00 (AED 706.05)
- direct flights start at AED 610, and connecting flights start at AED 192
- accommodation starts from AED 131 in Muscat, Oman
- food starts from AED 19.08 for a meal for one across various cuisines
- bus fares from AED 2 – 4.77 in Muscat, with charges based on distance traveled
Day trip flight suggestions
Traveling to a GCC country can be a viable and time-saving alternative for UAE residents intending to travel to the United States.
Below are some of the flight suggestions for traveling to various GCC destinations.
UAE to Qatar
Here are some of the best flight options for traveling from the UAE to Qatar:
- direct flight from Qatar Airways, departing Dubai at 12:00 PM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Doha at 12:15 PM (Arabic Standard Time), available every day
- direct flight from flydubai, departing Dubai at 08:50 AM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Doha at 09:05 AM (Arabic Standard Time), available every day
- several connecting flights available from Etihad Airways, SalamAir, Jazeera Airways, etc
UAE to Saudi Arabia
Here are some of the best flight options for traveling from the UAE to Saudi Arabia.
- direct flight from flydubai, departing Dubai at 07:50 AM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Riyadh at 09:00 AM (Saudi Arabia Standard Time), available every day
- direct flight from Saudia, departing Dubai at 10:40 AM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Riyadh at 11:50 AM (Saudi Arabia Standard Time), available every day
- several other direct flights available from Emirates, Flynas, flydubai and Saudia
UAE to Kuwait
Here are some of the best flight options for traveling from the UAE to Kuwait.
- direct flight from Jazeera Airways, departing Dubai at 10:50 AM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Kuwait at 11:40 AM (Arabic Standard Time), available every day
- direct flight from Kuwait Airways, departing Dubai at 05:05 AM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Kuwait at 05:45 AM (Arabic Standard Time), available every day
- several other direct & connecting flights available from Emirates, flydubai, Etihad Airways etc
UAE to Bahrain
Here are some of the best flight options for traveling from the UAE to Bahrain.
- direct flight from Gulf Air, departing Dubai at 10:25 AM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Manama at 10:50 AM (Arabic Standard Time), available every day
- direct flight from flydubai, departing Dubai at 00:30 AM (UAE Standard Time) and arriving in Manama at 00:50 AM (Arabic Standard Time), available every day
- deveral other direct & connecting flights available from Gulf Air, Emirates, Jazeera Airways, Etihad Airways etc
UAE to Oman
Here are some of the best flight options for traveling from the UAE to Oman.
- direct flight from SalamAir, departing Dubai at 08:05 PM and arriving in Muscat at 09:15 PM (time zones are aligned), available every day
- direct flight from Oman Air, departing Dubai at 11:25 AM and arriving in Muscat at 12:40 PM (time zones are aligned), available every day
- several other direct & connecting flights available from flydubai, Emirates, Oman Air, Etihad Airways etc
Tips for planning your trip
Here are some useful things to keep in mind when planning a trip to the US.
For booking flights:
- booking ahead secures lower fares, especially during peak season
- consider booking domestic and international flights separately for cost-effective options
For travel preparation:
- know the time zone of your destination, especially when booking flights
- pack clothing suitable for the destination’s climate and culture, options like layers and all-around outfits work best
- carry a power adapter and converter for electronic devices
- pack essential items: passport, visa, travel insurance, medications in original packaging
- be aware of US restrictions on foreign-made medications
- carry travel insurance for emergency medical treatment
- avoid bringing prohibited items into the US, such as ivory and counterfeit products
- Muslim travelers can use prayer time and Qibla direction apps
Rony, who went through the process, has some advice for others: “Plan at least a year in advance. For those who want it urgently, dedicate a person in your family to check if any slots regularly open every hour for 2 to 3 months, and then you can take some canceled slots.”