A Guide To Applying for a U.S. Temporary Visa With Form DS-160

In a Nutshell

Form DS-160 is also called the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form. Many people applying for temporary U.S. visa classifications like student visas and fiancé visas will have to file Form DS-160 with the U.S. embassy or consulate in their home country to get permission to come to the United States. This article is a guide to Form DS-160. It explains who needs to file the form, the application process, and what happens after filing.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Updated August 22, 2022

Who needs to file Form DS-160?

Most people who will be visiting the United States temporarily will need to file Form DS-160. If you plan to visit the United States with a temporary visa, such as the F-1 visa, you must file Form DS-160. If you are traveling to the United States with a K-1 visa and will be getting married, you must also file Form DS-160. Citizens of Mexico who are applying for a TN visa (for NAFTA professionals) will also need to file this form. But, Canadian citizens applying for a TN visa won’t need to file Form DS-160. Green card holders also do not need to file Form DS-160.

Each person traveling with you, including your children, will need their own completed DS-160 application. Applicants ages 16 years or younger, and applicants unable to complete the form on their own, may receive assistance from someone else. If you assist another applicant with completing their DS-160 form, you must identify yourself on the form’s “Sign and Submit” page.

How do you fill out Form DS-160?

You must file Form DS-160 online through the U.S. Department of State Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC). There’s no paper version of the application.

On the CEAC online application, you’ll be able to save your progress on the form in case of any time outs. CEAC will save your information for up to 30 days counting from the day you began  the application. You’ll have to submit the form within 30 days of starting. You can access your saved form when you click the “Retrieve an Application” button on the CEAC landing page.

For those completing other Form DS-160s for their family members, you’ll be able to create a family application on the CEAC instead of setting up a new DS-160 application for each individual. To set up your family’s new application, complete your own Form DS-160. Then, on the CEAC’s “Thank You” page after the confirmation page, there will be an option allowing you to begin a family application. Creating a family application will automatically fill in some information for each family member, but be sure to review all Form DS-160s to ensure that they are complete and that each traveling family member has their own form.

What will you need to fill Form DS-160?

To fill out Form DS-160, you’ll need to have your passport and your travel itinerary. If applicable, you will need a national ID number from your home country and your Social Security Number (SSN) or U.S. Taxpayer ID. You should also find past travel and employment documents because you’ll need to answer some questions about your travel and employment history. You’ll also need to complete some biographical information questions on the forms about your travel companions, so be sure you have access to a record of their biographical information.

If you are traveling to the United States for school, you must also know the address of the school you’ll be attending and have a copy of your Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) ID. You can find your SEVIS ID on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.

If you are traveling to the United States as a temporary worker, you should also keep a copy of your Form I-129 close.

Lastly, all applicants must upload a current photograph satisfying government requirements to the online form.

What information does Form DS-160 request?

Form DS-160 will first ask you for the location you’ve chosen for applying for your U.S. visa. You should pick a U.S. embassy or consulate convenient for you, but don’t worry if your plans change. Suppose you have to travel unexpectedly but are still waiting to complete the visa application process. In that case, you’ll be free to schedule your visa interview appointment at a different U.S. embassy or consulate.

The next page of Form DS-160 will show you your Application ID number. You’ll also need to answer a security question. Be sure to keep this information in your records because you’ll need your Application ID and security question answer to come back to the application later.

Your saved form only remains available for 30 days. If you need more time than that to complete it, you may download Form DS-160 to your computer’s hard drive and upload it later. Read on for a breakdown of each part of Form DS-160.

Form DS-160 Part 1: Personal Information

The first part of Form DS-160 will ask you for your personal biographical information, including your full name, date of birth, marital status, nationality, passport or national ID number(s), and your U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or U.S. Taxpayer ID number (if applicable).

Form DS-160 Part 2: Travel Information

The second part of Form DS-160 will ask you about your travel plans. You’ll need to explain your reasons for traveling, provide your arrival and departure dates, and provide the U.S. address at which you’re staying. If you do not have exact arrival or departure dates yet, you should give an estimate.

Form DS-160 Part 3: Travel Companions

The third part of Form DS-160 is where you’ll answer questions about your travel companions—the friends, family, or members of an organized tour group traveling with you to the United States. You won’t need to include information about any work colleagues traveling with you on this part of the form. But, be sure to remember that all travelers will need to complete and have their own Form DS-160.

Form DS-160 Part 4: Previous U.S. Travel

The form will then ask about the dates and details of any past travels to the United States. If the U.S. government has previously denied you a visa or if you have any history of submitting an immigrant petition to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you’ll need to disclose this.

Form DS-160 Part 5: Address and Phone Number

You’ll need to provide your current address, mailing address, phone number, and email address for section five. You’ll also need to list any social media accounts you have had over the last five years. Immigration officials may check your social media activity during their review of your application.

Form DS-160 Part 6: Passport Information

Next, you’ll need to provide your passport information. You’ll need to provide your Passport Book Number (or Inventory Control Number). Some countries do not use this number, so you should check off “Does Not Apply” if you do not have a Passport Book Number. You’ll also need to disclose if you’ve ever lost your passport before on this part of the form.

Form DS-160 Part 7: U.S Point of Contact

This section will ask you to list contact information for someone in the United States who knows you and can verify your identity. If you don’t have anyone in mind to list here, you can also submit the name of a company or organization you’ll be visiting during your trip instead. 

Form DS-160 Part 8: Relatives

You’ll now need to answer questions about your parents and any relatives currently living in the United States. If you have a spouse, you’ll also need to answer questions about their name, date of birth, nationality, and address.

Form DS-160 Part 9: Work, Education, and Training

Next, you’ll need to provide details about your educational and employment history going back to the last five years. You should also disclose your travel history, any special skills you have, and any military, charity, or professional groups you have been involved with before.

Form DS-160 Part 10: Security and Background Information

The form will then ask you 25 questions on security and background information. Be sure to review each question thoroughly and do not make mistakes as this could harm your application.

Form DS-160 Part 11: Applicant Photo

Next, you should upload a photo satisfying government requirements to the online form. See the Department of State website for more information on which kinds of images the U.S. government will accept.

Form DS-160 Part 12: Review, Confirm Location, Sign, and Submit

Lastly, you will have a chance to review each part of your form. The CEAC will ask you which U.S. embassy or consulate you’re applying through. You’ll then need to review terms and conditions and submit the form. Once you complete the form, be sure to save and print out your Form DS-160 confirmation page, as you’ll need it for your visa interview with a consular officer later.

Is there a filing fee for Form DS-160?

Fortunately, there is no filing fee for Form DS-160. However, you’ll still need to pay any applicable filing fees, depending on the type of visa you’re applying for. For many non-petition nonimmigrant visas, like business, tourist, or TN visas for NAFTA professionals, your filing fee will be $160. For most petition-based visas, your filing fee will usually be $190. You can double-check your visa filing fee on the U.S. Department of State website.

What happens after filing Form DS-160?

Once you complete Form DS-160, you must print out the Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC) confirmation page. During your visa interview at your local U.S. consulate or embassy, you’ll need this confirmation page. If you did not print out your confirmation page the first time you completed Form DS-160, you can log into the CEAC with your Application ID number and security question. You will then be able to print out the page. At your visa interview, you must bring this confirmation page and any other supporting documents necessary for your visa application.

Throughout your application process, you will be able to check on the status of your Form DS-160 through the Department of State website.