Form DS-160: What you need to know

Here’s the step-by-step process for this application for temporary travel to the U.S.

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What's Inside

What's Inside

When you apply for a temporary nonimmigrant visa outside the United States, you must go through consular processing. Part of that process is submitting a DS-160, Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, with the U.S. State Department.

This article explores the DS-160 and its role in the nonimmigrant visa application process. We cover what happens before the DS-160, when you submit it and what happens after the DS-160.

What do you do before you submit Form DS-160?

The road to the DS-160 varies based on the underlying visa. 

Temporary work visas with labor certification

Many temporary work visas require an employer sponsor to obtain labor certification from the Department of Labor (DOL). This includes:

  • CW-1 visas: Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) transitional workers
  • E-3 visas: Australian specialty workers
  • H-1B visas: Specialty occupations, Department of Defense researchers and fashion models
  • H-2A visas: Temporary, seasonal agricultural workers
  • H-2B visas: Temporary, seasonal nonagricultural workers

After obtaining labor certification, the employer files Form I-129, Petition for a Nonimmigrant Worker, with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). 

Temporary work visas without labor certification

Other temporary work visas begin with the employer sponsor submitting Form I-129, bypassing labor certification. These include:

  • H-3 visas: Trainees and special education exchange visitors
  • L-1 visas: Intracompany transferees
  • O-1 visas: Extraordinary ability or achievement
  • O-2 visas: Supporters of workers with extraordinary ability or achievement
  • P-1 visas: Athletes and entertainers
  • P-2 visas: Performers
  • P-3 visas: Artists or entertainers coming for a culturally unique program
  • Q-1 visas: Cultural exchange
  • R-1 visas: Religious workers

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Student visas

Students and exchange visitor applicants, including M and F visas, must apply and be accepted to a program approved by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

Financé(e) visas

Those applying for a K1 fiancé(e) visa first file Form I-129F, Petition for Alien Fiancé(e), with USCIS.

When do you use Form DS-160?

When you can file Form DS-160 also depends on your original visa.

Temporary work visas

Upon USCIS approval, temporary work applicants receive an I-797A, Notice of Action. Then they can submit Form DS-160. 

Student visas

Upon approval, student or exchange visitor applicants receive a Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. After you pay the I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee and receive a receipt, you can file your DS-160.

Other visas

Several other visa types begin by submitting the DS-160. This includes:

  • A visas: Diplomat or foreign government officials
  • B-1/B-2 visas: Visitors
  • BCC visas: Border Crossing Card
  • D visas: Crewmembers
  • G1 to G5 and NATO visas: International organization workers 
  • I visas: Media workers
  • TN/TD visas: NAFTA workers
  • C visas: People transiting the U.S.
  • E visas: Treaty traders and investors

How to file Form DS-160

You must complete and file Form DS-160 online. The general steps are as follows.

1. Collect support documents

When filling out the DS-160, it may help to have several documents available to reference. This includes your:

  • Passport
  • Previous visas
  • Resume or curriculum vitae (CV)
  • Approval notice or I-20
  • Previous I-94s 

If you’re unsure about your previous trips to the U.S., you may look up your previous entry and exit dates. You’ll likely need your old passport number if you renewed your passport since your last trip. Note that, while it’s a good resource, the I-94 travel history tool may miss some entries and exits.

2. Create an account

As soon as you begin the DS-160 online application process, write down or store your application ID. The website times out after 20 minutes of inactivity and is prone to crashing. If your webpage times out or crashes, you’ll need your ID number or you’ll have to start over. 

Storing the number is also helpful if you plan to apply for nonimmigrant visas multiple times. You may import some of the answers from your previous DS-160 if you have the number.

3. Complete and submit the form

The DS-160 requests several pages of information, which you should respond to in English. Be prepared to provide information about your:

  • Identity
  • Spouse’s identity
  • Parents’ identities
  • Country of birth
  • Passport number and nationality
  • Address
  • Current and previous employers
  • Previous entries to the U.S. and U.S. visas
  • International travel outside the U.S. in the last five years
  • U.S. employer’s address and business information, if applicable
  • Secondary and post-secondary education
  • Relatives living in the U.S., if any, and their immigration status
  • Criminal history, if any
  • Approval Notice or SEVIS number, if applicable
  • Preferred U.S. consulate or embassy

At the end of the DS-160, you must answer several questions to ensure you’re not a threat to U.S. security or inadmissible under U.S. immigration law. If you have a history that could raise concerns, like immigration violations or criminal history, you may explain the circumstances on the application. 

Except for L and H-1B applicants, you also have to prove you have “nonimmigrant intent” to receive a nonimmigrant visa. Having nonimmigrant intent means you don’t intend to stay in the U.S. after your temporary stay expires. You show this by demonstrating you have strong ties to your home country.

Providing information about where you live and work in your home country may help. You may also want to submit documentation of a lease, property ownership or statements about family and friends who live in your home country.

When completed, many applicants save a PDF copy of the entire DS-160 and the DS-160 confirmation page. This may help if there are any website glitches. Also print your confirmation page to bring to your consular interview.

Attending an interview

After you submit your DS-160, you generally have to pay a visa application processing fee. This fee currently ranges from about $185 to $315 depending on the visa.

Then you typically need to attend an interview at the U.S. consulate or embassy. Some visas have been exempted from the interview requirement based on the COVID-19 pandemic, and some returning visa applicants may also be exempt. Otherwise, you must usually attend an interview unless you’re younger than 14 or older than 79.

You can schedule your interview through the consulate’s preferred website. Typically, consulates use US Travel Docs or the Official U.S. Visa Information and Appointment Services website.

On interview day, bring your printed DS-160 confirmation page, your passport, two passport-style photos and any other documents required for the specific visa you applied for.

While the exact questions your officer asks will be specific to you and your application, be prepared to answer questions about the visa you’re requesting and how and why you’re qualified to receive it. Interviewers also usually ask questions about:

  • How you’ll support yourself in the U.S.
  • Whether you have specific travel plans
  • Whether you intend to depart the U.S. after your visa expires
  • What ties you have to your home country 

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After the interview

Often, the consulate keeps your passport until they officially issue or deny a visa. This may take hours or a few days, depending on the visa and the consulate. If they issue the visa, they’ll print it in the booklet and return your passport. If they deny the visa, they’ll return your passport with an explanation. 

Once you receive your visa, you may generally travel to the U.S. Some visa categories, like student and seasonal work visas, limit how soon you may enter the U.S. based on your program or labor certification start date. Your visa may include this information, or you may need to consult your Approval Notice or SEVIS information.

If your visa is denied, the consulate should provide a reason. If the denial was based on incomplete information, you often have a chance to provide the information without reapplying. Otherwise, you may attempt to remedy whatever problem the consulate identified and reapply, submitting a new DS-160, paying a new filing fee and attending a new interview.

If you don’t hear from the consulate promptly, you may check your DS-160 status online through the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). To use the CEAC visa status check tool, select “nonimmigrant visa (NIV)” from the pull-down menu. Then choose the consulate you applied through and enter your DS-160 Application ID, passport number and the first five letters of your surname.

The CEAC status check tool is often updated before you’re notified of action on your visa. If the checker says “administrative processing” for more than a handful of days, though, you may want to contact the consulate to see if they need more information.

How an attorney may help

You may choose to complete Form DS-160 on your own, or you may hire an immigration attorney. An immigration attorney could offer advice to help tailor your application to maximize your potential for approval. They may also help you fill out the form, ensure you have all the documents you need to complete it and review it for errors or incompleteness. Having an attorney is especially helpful if you have any history that might raise red flags, like criminal convictions or previous U.S. immigration violations.

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Frequently asked questions

What are the fees for filing Form DS-160?

Your fee for filing DS-160 depends on the type of visa you’re requesting and whether your country’s consulate requires you to pay an issuance fee. Generally, the current fees are $185, $205 or $315. Your employer often covers this charge if you’re coming to the country on a temporary work visa.

How long is the DS-160 processing time?

Most DS-160s are submitted in connection with an interview, where you’ll likely receive a visa or learn more about the timeline if you don’t. You may consult the State Department’s list of global visa interview wait times ( or consult the wait times for your specific consulate ( to get a sense of your expected wait prior to your interview.

Where can I find the Form DS-160?

Form DS-160 is available online on the State Department CEAC website:

What documents are needed for the DS-160?

When you file your DS-160, you may need to refer to your passport, any approval notices from USCIS or information from SEVIS, any previous I-94s and any previous visas. It often helps to have your resume or CV on hand as well.

Disclaimer: This article is provided as general information, not legal advice, and may not reflect the current laws in your state. It does not create an attorney-client relationship and is not a substitute for seeking legal counsel based on the facts of your circumstance. No reader should act based on this article without seeking legal advice from a lawyer licensed in their state.

This page includes links to third party websites. The inclusion of third party websites is not an endorsement of their services.

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