How to get a B-2 Visa for the Appalachian Trail

In this post I’m going to walk you through the process I went through to acquire my B-2 Visa for the Appalachian Trail. So, put the kettle on, grab a pen and paper to make notes and get comfortable, because there’s a lot to take in.

Why get B-2 Visa for hiking the Appalachian Trail?

Check your eligibility

As a British national, I am eligible to enter the USA under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) for business or pleasure. Sounds pretty simple, but there’s a catch. This only allows stays of up to 90 days and then I’d have to sling my hook.

The Appalachian Trail takes roughly 6 months to complete, therefore this visa just wouldn’t make the cut (unless you plan to sprint the entire way, like an absolute lunatic).

What is a B-2 Visa?

The B-2 Visa is a nonimmigrant visitor visa which falls under the tourism category. With this visa, you can be granted a stay of up to 6 months at a time in the USA, with the potential to apply for an extension. Moreover, this visa may last up to 10 years before it expires!

With this in mind, many foreign hikers go for the B-2 Visa for the Appalachian Trail. Granted, it is a bit more of a faff and a touch stressful (you’ll see why as you read on). But if you just so happen to be bitten by the backpacking bug whilst you’re out on the AT, chances are you’ll want to come back and give the PCT and CDT a whirl in the future. With the B-2 under your belt, you won’t have to worry about any of this stuff next time.

Completing your DS-160

The DS-160 is the first hurdle in the visa application process. I say hurdle, because it had me wanting to poke my own eyes out before I’d even started filling in the online form. Let me explain:

Website issues?

When I visited the site, it looked like it hadn’t been updated since the very dawn of the internet. Every time I logged in and began filling in my details, the page would suddenly and inexplicably expire and log me out. Every time I then proceeded to log back in, it would take me straight to the expired page. It forced me to create a new application each time and go round and round in circles until I felt a migraine coming on.

A quick Google search reassured me that this was a common problem. One commenter suggested switching internet browser. So, I toggled from Safari to Firefox; alas, nothing. Firefox to Chrome; bingo!

Form DS-160

The DS-160 is an online form and its length of completion will depend on your own personal experiences. For example, if you have visited America in the past (I’d never previously been), then you will have more digging into your personal records to do. They’re keen to hear all about the type of burger you ate in Wendy’s, circa 2013. The information you enter into this form will be used in conjunction with a personal interview to process your visa application.

Take your time, enter everything correctly and definitely don’t lie.

It’s relatively straightforward, and as long as you are not criminally inclined, completing your DS-160 should be a doddle. But bear in mind…

You’ll need a photo

You will have to upload a passport-like photo and use the websites cropping tool to adjust it to 2 x 2 inches (this was the faffy part). I’d suggest having a few photos ready on your computer before starting the application, to make the process smoother. I used my camera and took the photo myself, because I have no friends, but you could also ask someone for a helping hand.

Once your photo has been suitably cropped and approved, you will get to a confirmation page displaying your details, photo and a barcode. You need to print this out and take it to your interview, which is the next step of your application.

Organising your Interview

The next stage is to schedule an interview and pay for your visa. This requires some more online form filling, but again, it shouldn’t take too long. My interview would require a trip down to the Embassy in London and at the time I applied (June, 2018), the visa cost me £123.20.

Once done, you’ll need to print off the confirmation and instructions pages. They also contain a couple of barcodes and detail what you need to bring to your interview.

What to take to your Interview

The first available interview was in exactly 3 weeks, at the delightful time of 8am. After almost choking on my own tongue at the sight of train fares down the London from Manchester (well over £100), I bit the bullet and booked myself onto a 5 hour bus ride the day before. At £15 return, I was willing to sacrifice my comfort, dignity and sanity.

The interview instructions page lists off a number of things to bring as default, as well as an accumulation of evidence. This will act in your favour in case your interviewer is having a particularly bad day and doesn’t want to make your life easy. So here’s everything I took:

By default:

  • DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Interview confirmation and instructions page.
  • Passport (make sure it’s not due to expire for a very long time).
  • Two 2 x 2 inch photos (I used the same photo from my DS-160 as it was already sized and simply printed it out in colour on photo paper).

Why am I visiting and what are my intentions:

  • Information about the Appalachian Trail (I lazily printed out the entire Wikipedia page on the AT).
  • Hypothetical flights and transport to and from America/the trail (I wasn’t willing to book my flights pre-interview, in case I was rejected).
  • Receipts of gear I had already purchased for the trail.

Proof of financial support:

  • Savings account bank statement.

Proof I intend to leave after my visa expires:

In other words, ties to my home country, such as family, spouse, property and work. I struggled with this one a bit. I intended to quit my job, I’ve only ever rented, I’m unmarried and saying that I’ll come home because I miss my mom and dad just didn’t sound that convincing. So I had to get creative:

  • I took my old passport with the stamp for my 2014 trip to Australia in it (I went for two years on a working holiday visa) and a copy of a new tenancy letter upon my return to Manchester in 2016, in the hope that I could use it as an example of my obedience to visa expiration rules.
  • I also included a copy of an email conversation between me and my boss, who rehired me after my 2 year trip. This could potentially back up the previous point, showing that I actually came home when I claimed to, as well as highlighting that I was re-hireable and maybe had a job to come home to after the AT.
  • Baxter State Park hike completion recommendations, just to show that I had a ‘looming’ deadline and ‘wasn’t there to mess round’.

Finally, I stuffed in a copy of my work contract and university qualifications for good measure. This was highly unnecessary and I was clutching at straws by this point.

The Interview

On the day of the interview I was absolutely bricking it. I had read numerous accounts online detailing how stressful the process was for getting a B-2 Visa for the Appalachian Trail. I naturally feared the worst.

The US Embassy in London

The US Embassy moved at the beginning of 2018 and is now located closest to Vauxhall tube station on the Victoria Line. My interview was scheduled for 8am. Armed with my mountain of paperwork and evidence, I made my way to the South Pavilion Consular Services for about 7:30am to find people of all nationalities already queuing.

After a quick check of my printed DS-160 and passport by an impatient young man who sounded like he had come straight off the set of Eastenders, I was moved to a second queue to get through security.

Security was quick and the guys were fairly relaxed. It was very much like going through an airport with the bag and body scanners. To my surprise, they didn’t take my phone off me. They did however, make me and another girl take a swig from our bottles of water, to ensure they weren’t filled with some kind of lethal liquid; we all had a nervous chuckle about this.

Still feeling tense, I then walked across an open area and into the Embassy itself. I gave my DS-160 and passport to a couple of glamorous receptionists. They handed it back with my ticket number and directed me to some lifts.

The waiting room

On the first floor I came out into a massive waiting room overlooking the Thames. It was lined with comfy chairs and TV screens on one side and numbered booths with glass windows on the other. The atmosphere was so much more relaxed than I had anticipated and people were laughing and chatting and playing on their phones. I was completely thrown by this. I expected complete silence, no electronics allowed and a security guard patrolling the room ready to shoot anyone who even sniffed.

By 8am, numbers began to pop up on the screen accompanied by a bell sound every few seconds and before I knew it, I was heading to my window. A really friendly Texan briefly took my DS-160 and passport and got a scan of my fingerprints. He then told me to take a pew across the other side of the room because my interview would be coming up within 10 minutes.

I was thrown for the second time of the day; ten minutes? I was expecting to be waiting here for hours like all the other accounts had detailed online. Still nervous, I shuffled across the huge waiting room to join a couple of other people.

The moment of truth

As promised, my number punctually popped up on the screen. Clutching my folder of paperwork tightly to my chest, as if trying to contain my frantically beating heart; and ready to plead my case, I made my way to a new window. A slightly more serious American man took my fingerprints, DS-160 and passport once more, and the questions began.

Within no more than 12 minutes, I was granted my visa. I was out of the building and back on the streets of London by 8:40am.

What questions was I asked?

The questions were straightforward and I didn’t need to show him an ounce of evidence. He didn’t even ask for the photos, which they specifically request you bring. Some of my answers were worryingly vague, for example my plans for when I finish the trail, yet that didn’t seem to bother him.

He was very keen to hear about who I’d be travelling with, what my plan was, how long the trail would take me, how I could afford it, what my job was, if I’d purchased gear already or would be doing so in the States and what I’d do when I came home.

All the while, he typed away into his computer and kept an unshakable poker face as I chatted away as casually as I could muster. After he asked me his final question, he typed for an uncomfortably long time in silence. Then, he slid my paperwork towards him and slapped a big ol’ stamp on it and said something like; ‘Congratulations ma’am, your visa has been approved’.

Sweet, sweet relief. I left the Embassy as burst into tears in the middle of the street.

My advice

  • First and foremost, don’t get as wound up about it as I did. I literally couldn’t eat or sleep for days beforehand. Don’t fear the worst, it’s not worth the stress.
  • Get your paperwork, evidence and photos together and organised in a folder. It will make you feel more prepared and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Try getting an early interview, perhaps that’s why mine took less than an hour?
  • But take snacks, water and some things to amuse you, like headphones or a book, in case you aren’t as lucky as me.
  • I opted to have my passport and new visa returned to a secure location in Manchester for free, as opposed to paying a fee to have it delivered to my door by some kind of passport delivering ninja.

That about sums up my experience of getting the B-2 Visa for the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps I was lucky; perhaps I made a mountain out of a molehill. The majority of detailed stories I read online lead me to believe that the experience would be chilling and soul destroying. To the contrary; the only soul destroying thing about it was the amount of good food and sleep I deprived myself of beforehand!

I’d love to hear your experiences in the comment section below. Have you ever applied for a B-2 Visa for the Appalachian Trail? If you’re currently going through this process, good luck, you’ll do great!

Don’t forget to pin me!

B2 Visa Appalachian Trail Canva Artwork

15 Comments Add yours

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks for that. It was all new to me and very informative. How far in advance did you apply? Looks like it was almost a year in advance, is that right?

    1. Hey Chris! No worries, I applied roughly 8 months in advance. The whole process can take up to a month, from booking your interview to receiving your passport and visa back, so I just wanted to get it out the way! Are you planning a hike?

  2. Catdaddyjap says:

    Hey, just wanted to say that I hope everything is going well with planning for your thru hike next year.

    1. Hey there! Thank you so much! Planning is slow and steady but I am getting there! Hoping to jump onto YouTube soon and introduce myself properly, just gotta get over the camera shyness!

      1. Catdaddyjap says:

        No worries. You will get there. I know what you mean. I have already put a few videos up and I’m still having a hard time with it. Planning on going out for a week or two real soon so that will be a better test.

  3. Mel says:

    Hi. Many thanks for helping me answer some q’s. I’ll be coming from Australia and I too could get a visa waiver but that won’t help. Forgive me if you did answer this question but how long were you granted the visa for? Was it only the 6 months? I worry what would happen if you took 6 1/2 months to finish the trail? Do you then have to hop off trail and apply for an extension? Hope you are in your final stages of preparing for your hike this year!

    1. Hi Mel!

      The B-2 visa (which is the best option for us foreign thru-hikers) is a 6 month visa that can be valid for up to 10 years. So after 6 months, you have to leave the country, unless you apply for a visa extension, which I believe can simply be done online. You don’t have to leave the US to do this, and it is recommended that you make the application at least a month before your 6 months is due to expire. So for me, I’m just going to play it by ear, if I feel like my time is running out, I will apply for an extension just to be on the safe side! Hope this helps? Any other questions feel free to shoot them over 🙂

      When do you start your hike?

      1. Grazyna says:

        Hi – thanks so much for the information.

        Would you know what the official website is for the post 6 months extension? I a planning on hiking next year.

        6 months seems a bit on the short side, would rather feel that I can apply for the extension when needed.

  4. Georgia Matthews says:

    Hey! Loved this post – was very helpful. I am an Australian (but also English as I was born there) and I am hoping to hike the PCT solo in 2020, after at least 6 months of being in Europe beforehand. So, I will be applying for my VISA from England, as an English citizen. My main question – is there a specific amount needed in order to be qualified as ‘financially viable’? I think I read somewhere that we need to prove that we have over $200 per day of our stay…. Is this true??? Or is just a substancial savings of 5-7K okay? This is my main concern o.O

    Thanks in advance!


    1. Hey there! Thanks so much for reading my post! I’ve personally not had to prove my finances at all, the only thing I experienced was at immigration in Boston where the man asked me how much I had saved up, but he didn’t ask for any evidence and took my word for it. I would recommend maybe taking a print out of your bank statement as proof to your visa interview just in case and maybe to the US, it’s better to be safe than sorry I suppose! But for me the entire process was very swift and easy! Good luck 🙂

  5. Coffee Man says:

    I found this really useful, I was thinking of using a visa service to ensure there were no mistakes but reading this, I think i can cope.

    I am planning to go out March 2021, that will obviously depend on the Covid situation. Lots of short UK based walks planned before then as I gradually pick up most of my gear.

    1. So glad it has been of some use to you! Fingers crossed that you make it over there next March. What short UK based walks have you got planned in the meantime?

  6. Coffee Man says:

    Hi,my shot list of short walks: foss way, lyke wake walk ( over 2 days not over night !), the herriot way and Lady Annes way .would also like to look at st cuthberts too.

  7. Coffee Man says:

    thank you for all your info on applying for a B2 visa, my application and fee are in , i have an interview date…. 31st august 2021 :(, looks like i will be walking it in 2022 then !

    1. Oh my gosh that’s so far away! But congrats on getting your interview, you now have plenty of time to prepare for your hike! If you have any other questions that I might be able to help with do get in touch 🙂

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