VISAs at the American Embassy, London
I’ve been preparing for my bachelorette party in NYC for a month now. After debating dates forever, I finally made up my mind to call the American embassy and book an appointment. The website says that the average waiting time is 38 days – from my experience, it could be even longer. I wish I had booked an appointment the moment I even considered going to the US because the waiting time is so long.
The first appointment I was given was the end of June. You have to ring a number that charges you on the phone – a BT landline is best for phone calls like this or else you will just have to carry about £30 worth 1 pound coins to a phone box (been there, done that)
Taken from their website:
Callers from within the United Kingdom should dial 09042-450-100. Calls to this line are charged at £1.20/min from BT landlines; some mobile and network providers may charge more. In addition, callers from outside the U.K. and some mobile and network providers cannot access this number.
Callers from within the United States should dial 1-866-382-3589. Callers are charged a fixed rate of $16:00 which is payable by credit card – Visa, MasterCard, American Express only. Please ensure that you have your credit card details available when making the call. You will not be charged for the call until payment has been taken. Please note that you will be required to provide the agent with a U.K. address when scheduling the appointment.
Have your Credit card and passport details with you as soon as you make this call or else you’ll waste valuable time and money on that phone call asking the operator to hold.
The staff are extremely efficient and within minutes of selecting your appointment date, you receive an email with confirmation. If you are not happy with your dates, you can keep calling the embassy on that hotline and see if anyone has cancelled. Although they say it is unlikely, I was lucky enough to secure an appointment date 2 weeks before my original date on my second attempt. So it works!
The operator will take your credit card details to charge $131 (around 87 pounds) to your account. This is non refundable even if you miss your appointment or if your VISA is not granted.
The day before your appointment, make sure you have all documents and photos ready. The American embassy has a specific requirement for their passport photos – has to be about 2 inches, against a white background and the dimensions of the face are very specific! I took my photo at home, only to be rejected at the gate. There is a photo booth inside but I didnt want to take the chance that it wouldnt work. If you enter the embassy premises, you are not allowed to leave and return. There is a pharmacy a street away and they charge £4.50 for 2 photos or £6.50 for four and they print it out immediately.
The American embassy in London is located at 24 Grosvenor Square, London, W1A 2LQ. The nearest tube is Marble Arch. Walk out on Park Lane Street, turn into Upper Brook Street, walk towards the park with trees.
On the appointment letter, you will have your appointment time stated but I realise that the guards dont really follow them to the T. You are advised to arrive half an hour before your appointment. I was there early but when my passport photo did not match their standard, I arrived a little later than the appointment time and it was fine. I think they have that requirement to make sure everyone spaces out and there is not a huge line at the embassy. I think the embassy opens around 7 or 7.30 and booking an earlier appointment is better.
On the topic of documents, you should fill in the VISA application online. If you cant print it, there is a computer and print inside. In fact, I saw many people printing their VISA application inside.
Once you pass the guards and the security measures, you are given a slip of paper with a number. You wait in a massive hall for your number to be called. The first involves an officer checking your documents, photo and your application. It takes no more than 5 minutes but I spent about 2 hours waiting. So take a big book with you and some water, snacks if possible. There is a stand for drinks, sandwiches, and muffins. Suprisingly, the stand did not charge ridiculous rates.
After the first check, you wait another 3 or 4 hours for the second stage – which is an interview. There are screens to look for your number. I noticed that the numbers do not follow in a logical numerical order, they switch between numbers so even if you are number 2 in line, they may call out number 3, then 6 then 2.
The second interview is about 10 minutes long. They ask lots of questions. I was asked about my employment, when I came to the country etc and any supporting documents. And they informed me that I was granted a 10 year VISA
Finally, you take your documents (originals) and head to the courier counter. This external company arranges the delivery of your passport after the embassy has stamped their VISA on it. I was horrified to see that we had to pay an extra charge for this – and other visitors were equally horrified that this was not included in our VISA fee. The cheapest option is the standard delivery which is around £14. Ironically, I found that American Express does not work at the American Embassy.
I arrived at the embassy at 9 am in the morning for my 9.30 appointment. When I left, it was 3.30 so I spent a total of 6 hours!!!!
The embassy is quite efficient in dealing with the VISAs. I went in for my appointment on tuesday and on thursday I received a text that the passport is being delivered to me on friday so expect about 3-5 working days. I wouldnt book any travel within a week of going in for the American embassy appointment. I’ve had the experience of cancelling flights for this exact reason in the past.
Hope this was useful to someone. I spoke to another applicant who said her husband was waiting outside. Due to the embassy rule of no cellphones, she was unable to contact her husband. I think by outlining the waiting times, I hope someone can plan their trip better. Good luck!
PS – I heard a rumour a few years ago that the Candy brothers were planning to buy out the US Embassy and convert them into luxury flats due to its unique location in the heart of Belgravia. WOW.