Our yearly July vacation to the Philippines is just months away so I decided to look into air ticket prices. When we first came to Doha years ago, our main airline was Qatar Airways but has been using Etihad for the past 3 years due to the fact that even though it meant we had to go to Abu Dhabi for a quick layover, we also saved some money in the process. If I wasn’t being given airfare allowance by my company and was just given plane tickets to use Qatar Airways, then I would have been fine as I had no choice in the matter. Since I’m given airfare allowance, I decided to save a little in the process.
Qatar Airways do offer direct flights to the Philippines but don’t come cheap. They have daily flights to Manila and now even have flights to Clark Airport which is nearer to my home. From Manila, we used to spend another 3-4 hours travelling to Angeles, Pampanga due to the traffic. Landing at Clark Airport means we’re literally 15 minutes from home. Aside from Qatar Airways, Emirates has also opened flights to Clark from Dubai. This somehow eliminated Etihad from our sights as a closer airport would be better even if it means spending a little bit more.
I visited both their sites to compare the difference in airfare between Qatar Airways and Emirates for the same days in July and the results were quite surprising. I wasn’t surprised that Qatar Airways proved to be more expensive than Emirates but was surprised at how huge the margin is!
Let’s do the math! For a single adult, Qatar Airways charges 3,850QR while Emirates charges 2,810QR. The price difference is a whopping 1,040QR or roughly 12,760 Pesos.
Since we would basically travel together, that’s 2 adults and 1 child. For the whole return trip, I would have to pay Qatar Airways 11,530QR while the same flight dates would cost 7,970QR with Emirates. The difference is 3,560QR or 43,678Pesos (285.59 USD). Wow. Just Wow.
Of course, one also has to consider several aspects in the picture. For one, Qatar Airways provide a 9:35 hour direct flight to Clark, Philippines. Emirates takes you longer as you have a quick layover in Abu Dhabi and the total travel time would be 11:55 hours. That is a mere 2 hours and 20 minutes more. Also, flight times vary although departing and arriving on the same date. You leave Doha a bit earlier and arrive at Clark at 10 AM the following day with Qatar Airways while you are on a red eye flight from Doha to Abu Dhabi and you arrive 4:40 PM in the Philippines instead of morning.
Still, I do feel that one is really paying a premium price for Qatar Airways flights. If the flights are probably 300QR more expensive than competition, I wouldn’t bother paying the extra. But for a difference of 3,560QR, that is something else. What gives?
In our case, the layover isn’t really much of a bother as we’ve been used to travelling with Etihad and with the close proximity of the Clark Airport to our home, a 6 hour difference in arrival isn’t much so I don’t see why I would spend an extra 3560QR using Qatar Airways.
For Nonimmigrant Visa applicants:
Determine your visa type by reading Common Nonimmigrant Visas. Each visa type explains the qualifications and application items. Choose the visa type that applies to your situation.
Be sure to also review the Visa Waiver Program. If your country participates in the Visa Waiver Program, you do not need to apply for a visa if you are traveling for business or pleasure and will only be staying in the Unites States for 90 days or less.
The next step is to complete the DS-160 Form. Be sure to read the Guidelines for Completing the DS-160 Form carefully. All information must be correct and accurate. Once the form is submitted, you cannot make any changes. If you need assistance, please consult an immigration lawyer or translator. The call center cannot help you complete your DS-160. You will need your DS-160 number to book your appointment.
Once you have determined the correct visa type and completed the DS-160, you must pay the visa fee. The visa fee page lists the visa types and correlating visa fee in U.S. dollars and local currency.
To pay your visa fee, read the Bank and Payment Options page. This page explains how to make your visa fee payment. You will create a profile and must keep your receipt number to book your visa appointment.
Now you will need to log in to your profile with the same credentials you used to pay your visa fee. Once you are in the system, you will see your dashboard.
Click on Schedule Appointment on the left-hand side menu.
This will start the process for scheduling your appointment. You will need:
- Your passport number.
- The ref. transaction number from your bank receipt. Click here if you need help finding this number.
- The ten (10) digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation page.
As you go through the process you will be able to select your visa type, enter personal data, add dependents, select your document delivery location, confirm visa payment, and schedule your appointment.
If your visa is approved, the visa will be available for pick up at the U.S. Embassy.
The interview lasted not more than 5 minutes. ¼ of the time, the interviewer was just noting some stuff on his computer or checking the documents he asked for. My wife didn’t even have to really speak up but answered probably where she was working and how long she has been working. Here are more questions I remember which were asked:
- Where are you going and why? How long will you be staying there?
- Where do you work? How long have you been working with the company? How much is your salary? Do you have any bank accounts in Doha? (Submitted my Letter of Employment, Bank Statement, Company Pay slips which I printed myself)
- Does your wife work (Submitted here Confirmation Letter as she didn’t have time to get her Letter of Employment)
- Do you have relatives in the US? Are you going to visit them?
- Who will be paying for your trip? How much do you expect to spend? How much are the tickets? Where would you be planning to stay?
- Where else have you travelled the past 5 years? ( actually missed 1 country on the DS-160 form but added it to my answer on the interview)
Since my daughter was granted a full summer program scholarship in July by Qatar Academy, we had to get visas to the US. I’m writing this article for those who would like to apply for Non-Immigrant US Visa in Qatar based on my experience. This mainly discusses getting a tourist visa and not more than that. For those reading, you will get more answers by visiting the US Embassy site at http://qatar.usembassy.gov/visas.html which will give you details of requirements and other types of visas you may apply for.
Misconceptions and Advice:
You DON’T have to have a confirmed booking with a hotel or a booked flight to apply for a visa unlike getting a Japanese or Schengen visa. Have at least a general idea when you are going, where you are going and what will you be doing. Do your research in where you would be going, what would you be seeing, how much you would be spending including flights etc. This is important when being interviewed as they would see what your plans actually are. In applying for a Japanese Visa, you actually have to write down a day by day general itinerary when applying. You don’t have to do it while applying for a US Visa in Qatar.
The interviewer can deny you your visa for any reason he deems so be truthful. I know of some people, Qataris specifically, who took them months before their passports/visas were released. They were not denied but due to some administrative processing, it took them at least 2 months before they got their passports back. In our case, after the interview, we were told to come back the next afternoon to get our passports/visas. Luckily, we were given 10-year multiple visas.
Be honest. Have a good purpose for visiting the US. Have a strong reason to return to Qatar as proven by your Employment Letter and bank statement or family ties in Qatar.
Basic Steps on Applying for a US Visa in Qatar (Non-immigrant)
- Complete the DS-160 Form online. Print the confirmation page with the barcode.
- Create an account on the Visa Application site, and print the payment forms.
- Pay the fees in any Commercial Bank, making sure you get a payment Receipt number.
- After at least 1 business day, go back to the Visa Application site so you can place the Payment Receipt number and schedule your interview.
- Bring all pertinent documents to the interview.
Filling up the DS-160 Form
- If you are applying for your family as well, you can opt to use the option of filling up another DS-160 form after you complete yours. In this case, most of the information you have on your form gets retained on the new DS-160 so you don’t have to type as much.
- Remember that the filling up the DS-160 is not the same as applying for the Visa itself. When I first submitted the DS-160, I went back at my printed copy to see that I made a mistake on my wife’s birth year. I called the visa office and was told to just create a new DS-160. For each DS-160 you create, a new confirmation with barcode is given to you. This is what you will use to apply for your visa at http://www.ustraveldocs.com/qa/index.html?firstTime=No
- You will need to fill a DS-160 form for every member of your family including your children.
- If you’ve been working for a company for 5 years, you need not place your other work history.
- As a tourist, you should choose B2 (Medical/Tourism) as the type of Visa to apply for. B1 (Business) is for business purposes.
- For the part where it asks you to write where you would be staying, there is no need for any confirmed hotel booking or flights. Just place in where you think you would be staying and that’s it. You might write down a specific hotel that is near the area that you might want to stay at but again, no confirmed booking necessary.
- You need to print out the DS-160 confirmation page with a barcode number as this is important.
Applying for the US Visa/Visa Fees (Machine Readable Visa – MRV)
- The fee for the tourist Visa is 584QR or $160. This is non-refundable and should be paid by every member of your family who is applying, even for minors/children. You also cannot transfer it to another person. You will receive a receipt after paying the application fee.
- This receipt is valid for one year from the date of payment and allows you to schedule your interview at the U.S. Embassy. You must schedule your interview while the receipt is valid, which means your interview must be booked within one year of paying your fee. If you do not schedule an interview within a year of payment then your receipt will expire, you will not be able to schedule an interview, and you must pay the fee again and begin the process anew.
- You create your profile here: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/qa/index.html?firstTime=No .
- Once you add the DS-160 codes you have for each applicant, print each MRV to take to any Commercial Bank with you to pay the fees. Here is a list of Commercial Bank Branches (http://www.cbq.qa/EN/Network/Branches/Pages/Branches.aspx?showAll=1 )
- Remember to bring the MRV Form as well as each applicant’s passport when paying. Make sure that the receipt you get from the bank contains the same information on your MRV. You will need the ref. transaction number from that receipt.
- After paying, it might take 1 business day for the payment to appear on the “US Visa Application” site (http://www.ustraveldocs.com/qa/index.html?firstTime=No). Be patient.
- Once your payment is confirmed, select your schedule for your interview online.
Interview for US Visa in Qatar
- We chose the 7:30 A.M. schedule and were at the office before 7. You can line up before they let people in to get in first or at least earlier than most. Even if your schedule says 7:30 AM, it will probably be another 30 minutes before you even get inside the building as there are some security checks (I remember 3) implemented.
- What to wear on the interview? Anything decent and presentable. You don’t have to wear a suit or tie or be too formal, a collared shirt would suffice. Since I was going to work after the interview, I was wearing a long sleeved shirt and black pants. However, I don’t think it’ll make an impact to the interviewer if I was wearing jeans and any collared shirt.
- What to bring to the interview not really mentioned on the website:
- Letter of employment with your salary from your company. This is also applicable for your spouse if working.
- At least 3 months bank statement. I actually had 6 months. This was printed, stamped, and signed by my bank.
- Company Pay Slips if any, at least 3 months.
- Printed copies of the photos I submitted on the DS-160 Form.
- I have all our birth certificates (not stamped by our embassy) and marriage certificate.
- Previous Passports if any.
- In our case, I printed out small information from a website about the Summer Program that my daughter was attending, nothing really official. If I was applying as a tourist who would want to go to Disney Orlando, I wouldn’t have printed out anything as this is a common tourist place. Ours was more specific so I had to give them something about our reason for going to the US
- What NOT to bring to the interview:
- A copy of the filled up DS-160. You only need the DS-160 Confirmation page with barcode but not the filled-up DS-160 form.
- Any accessories you may have to make it easier for you to go through security including watches, bracelets, rings, sunglasses, and phones. Leave them in the car. The only thing I had in my pocket was my car key and eventually had to leave them at one security point.
- Most of the questions are the same as the ones you wrote on the DS-160 form.
As 2014 begins, we look back at 2013 to recall the never-ending blessings and life experiences that deserve their mention in our year-end letter. This letter marks the 11th year since we started doing our year-end letter and hope that we continue sharing this to our families and friends who have touched our lives in their own way. It’s a little bit later than usual as we’ve been busy with the holidays and also letting you enjoy yours without going through this long email.
2013. Where do we start? It seems that we usually feel that the first half of the year pass us by so quickly. After the 2013 holiday break, Mavis, Xiane and I just slug it out and continue with our usual routines in Doha. Qatar is not a big city so after living here for 8 years, it indeed does become boring. Yes, 8 years!
Xiane has just turned 2 when we moved to Qatar. She already turned 10 last June. Still the bookworm, it’s always tough to get her hands off a book (physical and digital). I’ve never known or met anybody who is as voracious as her is when it comes to reading.
As Xianelle continues to do very well in school and as part of the TAP Program: Students with Talents in Aptitude, Creativity, Leadership and Potential, she was invited to take the test for C-Mites. C-Mites stands for “Carnegie Mellon Institute for Talented Elementary and Secondary Students” which provides Summer Workshop programs for academically talented students held in Pittsburgh, USA. We were informed by Qatar Academy early in the year that out of the 40 students from grades 4-6 who took the test, Xianelle got the 2nd highest mark and was offered a full scholarship for the C-Mites Summer Workshop which included airfare, boarding and workshop fees in Pittsburgh. However, since the workshops are held in July, it meant we were also going to spend less vacation time in the Philippines. Xianelle eventually decided that she wanted to spend time with her grandparents and cousins back in the Philippines than spend it on the workshop. We were set for a whirlwind vacation full of travels!
This summer vacation must have been the busiest vacation we’ve had so far. In a span of 3 weeks, we took 8 flights, gone through 6 countries (Qatar, UAE, Philippines, Macau, Singapore and Hong Kong), 1 local destination (Cebu), 8 different airports, and spent more than 24 hours on air. It felt like being in The Amazing Race! We loved going through the Vegas-like atmosphere in Macau while also visiting some cultural spots (Thanks to our friend and tour guide Jake!), mesmerized by Mystic Manor and enjoyed the jaw-dropping Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars at Hong Kong Disneyland, held our breaths riding Battlestar Galactica: Human rollercoaster and Transformers: The Ride in Singapore, swam and snorkeled like crazy in Cebu. It always feels great to be able to share these experiences with family.
From Michelin-starred restaurants to hawker stands, vacation is also about food-binging! We ate at so many different restaurants, joints and holes-in-the-wall that surpass the number of my fingers… and toes We also enjoyed our barbeque and get-together with friends and relatives that involved water balloons and water fights!
We are also very thankful that have been given the opportunity to share our blessings to the less fortunate as what we’ve done in the past years. This year, we decided to go to “Munting Tahanan ng Nazareth” in Mabalacat, Pampanga which serves as a home to abandoned, and disabled and special children. We brought some basic supplies as recommended by the caretakers like powdered milk and chocolate, biscuits, sugar, oil, soap, detergent bars, laundry powder, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, vitamins, medicines, and diapers. “Munting Tahanan ng Nazareth” relies solely on donations so these necessities are sure to help their cause.
Since we know how much the availability of books has contributed much to Xianelle’s thirst for reading, we also donated a number of books and school supplies to our local public school, Sta. Cruz Elementary School, which should contribute to their Learning Center for Learners library.
Sadly, we had to leave home once again and come back to Doha in late August. We are grateful for the time spent with our loved ones, family and friends in the Philippines and glad that we get to enjoy our blessings with them as well.
The sweltering heat and humidity in Doha welcomed us back and soon we were back to doing the same routines before our vacation. The following months were quiet aside from celebrating my birthday in September, while Mavis celebrated hers in November. No fancy parties but just quality family bonding…and eating. We were able to celebrate Halloween with friends and celebrated Christmas for 3 days!
All in all, 2013 has been a great year for us and our loved ones as well. Our prayer is for God to continue to bless us and to give the same to all our families, relatives and loved ones. Most of all may we all stay healthy and safe from harm the whole year through and always.
Here’s wishing you all a Happy New Year that’s full of hope, abundance, good health, love and kindness.
With lots of love from our home and family to yours,
Christian, Mavis, and Xianelle