Applying for a B2 Visitor Visa at the Singapore U.S. Embassy  

While I’ve been accepted for a visitor visa and two student visas before, I was afraid my recent marriage to a US citizen would be a problem for the “visitor” visa. I’d read in the deepest trenches of the Internet that some spouse applicants were rejected because marriage may suggest “immigrant intent”. After scouring the Internet for other experiences, I thought I’d add mine to the collective pool. So, here are my notes for applying for a B2 visitor visa.

Application Stage

  • Filled out the DS-160 application form, available online. Useful information to have that might take up some digging: the visa number of your previous US visas, dates you visited the U.S. previously
  • Generated a unique CGI code on website and paid the application fee. The fee was USD160 at the time of application, but this had to be paid in local currency. Of course they use a conservative exchange rate, so I paid SGD232 at a SingPost branch. Instead of a Standard Chartered receipt, a post office receipt was given, which worked fine. There are plenty of options on how to make payment on the CGI instruction sheet.
  • After submitting the application, I made an appointment online. The CGI fee needs to be paid to make an appointment.

Arriving at the Embassy

  • Sitting in the Queue: When I got there, the guard didn’t ask what my appointment time was and directed me to a general (outdoor) seating queue for entrance into the embassy. The appointment confirmation advises arrival 15 minutes prior to appointment, so I only came 15 minutes early. For all I knew, the people in line had later appointments but just wanted to get a head start at the queue (TL;DR: come to queue early). The guard calls people in the queue about 4-5 at a time to go through security. Bring reading material.
  • Going through Security: While the website mentions to leave cell phones at home, and to not use shoulder bags, if you do bring your cell phone (you rebel, you), you can leave it at the guard house. After walking through the scanner, the guard exchanged my phone for a token. Also, my tote was allowed inside. Most people seemed to have their bags. If you bring a beverage, the guards have you drink it, then let you take it in.
  • Walking Inside the Embassy: Everything is so guarded at the embassy, that after passing security and walking up a long-ass ramp, you can’t help but feel like Jack Bauer/a badass. Although Jack Bauer probably wouldn’t be walking through the front door. There’s another security desk, after which you turn left into a room and take a queue number for Nonimmigrant Visas.

Inside the Embassy

There are three windows to go through. But if you don’t remember, fret not, the waiting room has an informational video about the procedure on loop.

  1. Check-in: Submission of DS-160 confirmation, appointment confirmation, passport, and 1 photo. Very fast. Also, if your photo doesn’t cut it, there’s a photobooth in the waiting area. Bring cash/coins.
  2. Fingerprinting: Your ten digits will be scanned, and you’ll be given a folder with all the documents you submitted at the first counter.
  3. Interview: Probably the longest part to wait for. A consular officer asks probing questions (ranging from personal, professional, and financial), while the rapt waiting room audience listens to every word of your interview. The room is basically a waiting area with seats and 7 windows, so don’t expect privacy–it’s really difficult not to eavesdrop. I brought papers with the intention of reading them, but it was more interesting to hear about the outcomes of others’ visa applications. The number of rejections was surprising and slightly nerve-wracking. The bottom line from all this kepo eavesdropping is the officer wants to see you have no immigrant intent, and will be sure you’ll be leaving the country. An applicant was rejected because she had more immediate family members in the U.S. and didn’t have enough convincing ties to Singapore. Another, a recent graduate who’s been in his job for a year and half was also rejected because of weak ties (no property, no family, etc). Some interviews were longer, with vigorous paper checking (so have all your supporting documents with you), some were not more than 5 minutes. But each applicant awaits to hear those golden ticket words: “You can collect your passport in 3 days.”

Passport Delivery/Collection

Aramex manages passport distribution, with the option of pick-up or delivery. No changes are allowed once selected. My passport mysteriously texted me the day it was ready for collection, and for the next two days. Passports have a ten-day pick up window before it gets sent back to the Embassy. I was on thTexts from my passporte ten-day mark after a series of unfortunate events, but called Aramex and requested them to hold it for one more day, and they obliged.

You’re Done! Yay, congratulations on your visa–enjoy the land of opportunity!

 

Exploring: Pulau Ubin

If there’s any place to get away from the concrete jungle that is Singapore, Pulau Ubin is the place to be, and this is exactly what we did this past weekend. Of course my camera decides to konk out the minute we reached the island (I had checked the batteries to be full in the morning, but by the afternoon there wasn’t enough juice to take one photo. Perhaps turning off the camera is a good idea too), so all that remains are iPhone pictures.

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We took bumboats from the Changi Ferry Terminal (accessible by bus 29 from Tampines MRT station) which cost S$2.50 per ride. The boat ride was an adventure itself: boats left at the operators discretion, so there was no set schedule. If there weren’t enough passengers, you could always buy out the entire boat? Lucky for us, we barely waited 5 minutes before boarding; no tickets were issued and payment was collected on the boat. The boat ride wasn’t longer than 10 minutes.

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It seems tenacious property developers have not reached Pulau Ubin (thankfully) and what we found were remnants of kampung livin’ in Singapore. The island is peppered with old-style kampung homes surrounded by nature, a picture of a quieter and idyllic life before the all the hustlin’ and bustlin’. Apparently, weekends are a busy time on the island, but it wasn’t overly populated with nature-seeking city dwellers on this occasion. Cycling is probably the most favoured activity on the island, and there are a number of trails to choose from. Bike rentals are available everywhere and this is clear the minute you get off the boat. We paid S$20 in total for 2 cruisers and 1 mountain bike.

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We ran into a wild boar (which was pretty scary, it may have been only 10 feet away from us) on a narrow path to Chek Jawa Wetlands, but there were some local dogs who tried to keep the boar at bay. We also spotted some monkeys hanging out in the trees. No bikes were allowed in the wetlands, so a lock would have been useful, but we made like other bike renters and left our bikes with crossed fingers to walk along the wetlands boardwalk. The mangrove loop was part of the route and we caught a few glimpses of mud crustaceans. Since the recent lack of rains, the water levels were probably lower than usual and several plants looked dried up, much like the rest of the city plants. On the path, the Jejawi Tower is 21 meters high, and once you make it through the endless flight of stairs, is a breathtakingly gorgeous panoramic view of the greenery.

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The boardwalk included a Trash Loop. And what views! Eye-catching sights such as the great red plastic chair, the plastic bottle army and flying bags amongst other things. Our mangrove walk was accompanied by music, via styrofoam stuck along roots. Trash littering parts of such a beautiful place was sad to see: a reminder that taking care of the environment is everyone’s job!

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When our legs felt like jello from an excess of uphills, we ended our day with cold Tigers at one of the eateries before journeying home. Despite Singapore having a good amount of green lining the city, being at Ubin was different. It was refreshing to unplug and escape to all the flora, fauna and wild things running around. I will be back; next time with a camera full of charged batteries!

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Eating Out: Chinatown Food Street

The other day we explored Chinatown in search of food and crafting goodies. Chinatown hosts a multitude of eating places offering local and international fare, nestled in between rustic shop houses, and is home to some of Singapore’s trendier social gathering places (Club Street or Ann Siang Hill anyone?). This time we opted to dine at Chinatown Food Street.

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The stalls were designed to give an “old-timey” feel. It’s borderline kitschy but somehow it works. A majority of the vendors offered variants of Chinese food, from steamed fish head to chicken rice, though there was an Indian vendor as well. We circled the stalls indecisively multiple times…

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… before deciding on Kung Pao Chicken (S$15, Large Portion) and Baby Kai-lan in Oyster Sauce (S$10, Large Portion). It was a good decision, namely because it had been one of the best kung pao chicken dishes I’ve had. The chicken was very tender and the sauce actually spicy, though I wouldn’t recommend eating the chili pepper unless you’d like to cry for the remainder of your meal (or, if you decide to, at least do it at the end of your meal). The kai-lan in oyster sauce didn’t disappoint, though this is a hard combination to mess up.

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Mother told me to eat my greens.

We worked off those calories walking along the rows of shop houses that line the area. I used to scour stores in Chinatown (and Arab Street) for unique cushion covers, and found some beautiful embellished ones for S$10.

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A day in Chinatown is always a good day! Have a lovely day!

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Gigs: The National at Hostess Club Weekender Singapore 2014

One of the hardest parts about leaving Milwaukee was knowing I’d be leaving a vibrant music scene. Milwaukee boasts beautiful historic concert venues, namely the Pabst Theater, The Riverside Theater and Turner Hall Ballroom, a vast array of craft local beers with great prices (~US$5.50 per pint) to enjoy your show with, and of course, choice selection of bands passing through. So, before leaving I was excited to find out that my favourites, The National, would be stopping by Singapore for the Hostess Club Weekender. I saw them three times in Milwaukee, three times in Chicago, and this was my first in Singapore (#fangirl4evaaa). Still have regrets over not seeing them in Madison, but I was in the thick of thesis writing. They never get old.

The Hostess Club Weekender, originating in Japan, recently washed up on Southeast Asian shores, including Singapore. I’m not sure why it’s called Hostess Club Weekender, and still haven’t been able to find out why. Escort service first comes to mind when hearing the name. Anyway, the lineup on February 22nd included The National, Mogwai, King Krule, Asegir and Buke & Gase. Tickets were S$118 for the day (+ S$3 processing fee) and Singapore was the last stop of their Asia-Pacific tour. The promoters touted all bands played full sets, which is really nice for a festival setting. The event was held at Fort Canning Park, against the backdrop of a glimmering Singapore skyline.

We only made it in time for Mogwai and The National, because my sister and I were too busy drinking all the wine before the show. This is our first reunion show since catching The National in 2010; the last time she saw them (without me, sniff) in Singapore, she ended up meeting them at a bar.

She flew in from Jakarta to see them.

Mogwai had a pretty chilled out set. The frontman was very polite, thanking the crowd after the applause following each song.

Mogwai at the Hostess Club Weekender Singapore

Inching closer to the front; the promoters gave out fans (1/4 shown here) that said “I’m a Fan Of The National” bahah

The National played 8 songs from their Grammy nominated album Trouble Will Find Me (which should have won, as good as Vampire Weekend are). Unfortunately, their setlist was shorter (19) than usual (25), so a lot of classics were axed, including Apartment Story and All the Wine, amongst others. Nevertheless, there was never a dull moment with what they did play, keeping the crowd energized. Scott Devendorf was missed (he just had a baby), but the bassist did well. The night ended with fan favourites including About Today, Fake Empire, Mr. November, Terrible Love (in which Matt flubbed up some of the lyrics, hee hee), an unplugged version of Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks and Matt’s walkabout in the crowd. The thing about The National is, they make beautiful music and are incredible to see perform. There’s a few things I get excited about and they are definitely one of them.

And if you want/To seriously/To see me cry/Don't swallow the cap

And if you want/To seriously/To see me cry/Don’t swallow the cap

What a fun night! Thanks to the roadie who gave me the setlist; I had to keep it close and battle snatchy hands. Also, on a side note to the organizers: please have a better selection of adult beverages! Only canned Bud was available for S$10, which is not the worst price considering Singapore’s ridiculous alcohol prices. But BUD. Some wine would be nice too. Looking forward to next year!

 

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If you haven’t had a chance to see them live yet, check out their full performance recording at the Sydney Opera House earlier this year. And they were on SNL the other night too.

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Happy Trails with Mimi

Mimi is in town briefly, so we did what we always do: take photos and paint the town red. I’ve known Mimi since the eighth grade, and while we may not see each other for extended periods of time (~4 years), it feels as though a day hasn’t even passed (so cheesy, I know). Throughout the years I’ve subjected her to plenty of stupid poses in my wild photography experiments, which she always graciously agrees to do for some reason.

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We have a lot of fun together.

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The Search Continues

Behold, the king of fruits.

Behold, the king of fruits.

My favourite way of eating the durian is after freezing it for a few hours. It’s like eating durian flavoured ice-cream that actually tastes like durian. Getting it home to a freezer is a challenge. Have to figure out how to cart around durians through public transport without getting dirty looks or fines. Hmm.