Visas, Permits and Paperwork for the Pacific Crest Trail

Applying for permits and getting the relevant paperwork and a Visa is highly important if you wish to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Unfortunately, my Visa was declined in 2016 and in 2017 so I won’t be attempting the Pacific Crest Trail in 2018 but I am still hoping to do this hike one day. I’m writing this in a rather dramatic way so that hopefully you’ll research lots and your Visa won’t be declined like mine was. Read my post about that if you would like to.

Visa, Permits and Paperwork for English people hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

 

  • The official PCTA permit page is worth reading a couple of times ~ “We are only issuing permits for 2017. If you’re wanting to hike in 2018, we’ll make announcements at a later date. We do not have any 2018 details yet.”
  • Mount Whitney ~ “There is no fee, nor any additional permits needed”
  • California campfire permit must be obtained at the start of the year and is effective until the 31st of December of the year it was acquired in ~ I’ll apply for one of these in January 2018
  • Complete the entry into Canada permit application form ~ This requires a scan of your passport, drivers license and Visa. You should fill out the document, print it, sign it, scan it and then send it

You might want to consider hiking Mount Whitney as you’ll be in that locale, and it doesn’t cost any extra which is nice.

The Pacific Crest Trail Association have made most of the paperwork process pretty painless. I cannot thank them enough for this. Here in England, we get charged a lot for most things. Excluding any costs associated with food, gear, injury, bribing bears, etc. hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is incredibly cheap. When I’m allowed a US Visa and have stepped foot on the Pacific Crest Trail, I am going to donate more money towards the Pacific Crest Trail Association (I have donated a little but it’s a tiny amount.) I’m generally wary of how philanthropic charities really are, but The Pacific Crest Trail Association are an awesome bunch.

Applying for a US Visa

The Visa application process is a necessity if you wish to do a through-hike and I believe it might aid you in terms of finding sponsorship as you can show your dedication towards hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. However, I believe you should get an ESTA beforehand (please do your own research) as you will most certainly be denied an ESTA if you apply for a Visa and get denied.

  • nonimmigrant visa will allow you to stay in the country for six months at a time. This is a bore if you do not live near the US Embassy in London. The Visa can be used for up to ten years and it can be used for multiple visits within that ten year period, assuming the person that interviews you hasn’t decided on issuing you with a “B visa”, if that’s the case, you’ll be given a six month single entry Visa.
  • A DS-160 form must be completed
  • After you have filled in the DS-160 form, you will have to complete the second stage but this doesn’t have to be filled in there and then
    • The second stage involves setting up a drop off location for your passport with the Visa in it
  • After paying for the Visa, you can pay a further £18 to have the passport delivered to your home address
  • At the time of writing, the visa costs about £135 but this will fluctuate depending on the GBP to USD ratio

The DS-160 form takes quite a while to fill out; it asks silly questions like “do you plan on blowing up America?”, “have you ever engaged in a sexual activity with a prostitute?”, “do you plan to be a prostitute?” as if the majority of criminals are either terrorists or prostitutes. Fair enough, I guess. Questions like this make it easy to skip over bits or not read the form properly. Take your time and get it right as you will regret it otherwise.

Purpose of Trip to the U.S

If I was an alien with an extraordinary ability, I think I’d use it to avoid this process. My god. Why isn’t there a simple, “I like America and I want to walk a bit”? I don’t know who I should thank for Visa’s being overly complicated these days. I didn’t’ actually pick “alien with extraordinary ability”, I just thought it sounded funny.

Once you’ve spent a while on this drivel, it gets far worse. It’s all pretty smooth–time consuming but still smooth–up until you’ve parted with your cash; moreover, you aren’t entitled to a refund! If you can’t make any of the appointment slots available, then you’re screwed. The latest you can select from, on any day at all, is 10:30am! I didn’t see them mention this until I had parted with my cash. You should be at the embassy by 10:00am, and if you’re several hours away from London like I am, you’ll be wishing there were more US Embassy’s in the country. The receptionist told me they might be opening time slots up until later in the day eventually, but we’ll see. The good news is that the earlier you go in, the earlier you are likely to be seen. It seems as if they don’t abide by the time slots, because I arrived nearly an hour early the second time I went to the US Embassy.

For both appointments (I’ve applied for a Visa twice) I selected the best appointment time available, (10:30am) but it’s still atrocious. Prior to the interview(s), I was obviously thoroughly excited to spend 8 hours travelling to talk to different people for a combined total of a whopping 20 minutes.

Photographs for a US Visa

I took my own photograph for the application and my cousin was kind enough to provide me with her contact details (she lives in America.) I did not use her address as a place of residence–contact form only. The US Embassy does have a photo booth but I didn’t use it.

Finding a photo booth that will do a US Visa photograph shouldn’t be too difficult, but a standard UK passport size is not big enough. The US Visa instructions say to wear normal clothes and not smile.

The Asda “Photo Me” booth does one for £7. It’s a rip off obviously, but it’s fairly trouble free. I think Tesco’s also has a “Photo Me” booth. Check them out if you’re struggling to find one. The quality of the photographs is okay :).

Getting to the US Embassy

On the 18th of November 2016, I had my first Visa interview. I did not sleep the night before I was due to leave, and I stayed in bed with my eyes wide open. I got out of bed at about 3am to get ready, and my coach departed at 5:20am.

The coach was lovely; after about ten minutes had passed, I realised that sitting there was comparable to laying in a pool of ice. The heating wasn’t functional but the fans were, and I enjoyed a few hours of shivering. I’m not used to public transport, apparently this kind of thing is common.

I struggled not to vomit on the coach, and I’m not sure if that’s a symptom with being extremely cold or if it was anxiety; I experienced something similar when I nearly drowned in the sea (I was cold then too.) Not to worry, there’s a bunch of toilets at the station when you arrive in London–they’ll charge you 30p not to make a mess in a public area. It’s definitely a “welcome to London” sign when you’re charged to go to the toilet. If you’ve read this far, you probably think of me as a downer Dave. I’m really not; I’m just bitter because my Visa was denied twice, for unfair reasons and clearly the system doesn’t work properly or they would have accepted my application.

Walking across London, if you’re unfamiliar, is a bit complicated but I’m sure you’ll manage :). The US Embassy is large but it’s not that easy to find. I suggest getting a map or using a GPS device; I made a tracklog on my Garmin watch as I am a nerd. I asked various people for directions; none of which were English but one of them had a map on her, and she was really kind. I believe you will struggle if you rely solely on strangers, and you probably won’t be able to find the US Embassy in time. I asked enough strangers to know that they will generally point you in the wrong direction. It takes about 40 minutes to get to the US Embassy from Victoria Coach Station.

  To US Embassy (unknown, 9 hits)

  From US Embassy (unknown, 8 hits)

If you own a Garmin device and you’re travelling to Victoria Coach Station from the US Embassy or to the US Embassy from the Victoria Coach Station, these files should help you out–feel free to download them.

US Embassy Arrival

I arrived at about 9:55am.

I spoke to a guard and told him I had a Visa appointment; he pointed me towards two queues. I joined the shorter queue on the left and a friendly and polite woman marked my visa confirmation form and told me to join the second queue–the one on the right.

I had done everything they asked, was on time, brought relevant evidence to support my case and I believed this was the first major step towards hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in 2017.

The interview and where it all went wrong

The second queue took about 30 minutes to go through. I was checked again and joined a third, smaller queue which took me towards a glass room with a metal detector and some workmen. I handed in my belt, wallet and personal belongings. I walked through a metal detector and from there I was handed back my belongings and told not to put them on until I got inside the building. I considered bringing my camera but I am glad I didn’t–they treat your stuff rather poorly because they’re in a hurry. It’s a shame, because that part of London has beautiful architecture.

Do you know why I wear a belt? Because I need to. There’s this mini walk of shame leading up to the main building, and it was difficult juggling all of my items up the steps while trying to hold my jeans up and avoid showing everyone my boxers. No one said “Shame. Shame. Shame”, so I guess it wasn’t too bad.

After the mini walk of shame, it became quite obvious they want to get through as many people in a short space of time as possible. At 10:28am (my memory is good to the point it’s weird; don’t ask…), the receptionist gave me a ticket number (“N 408”) and I joined another queue. This one was in a room full of many, many chairs and some worker bees behind windows. I finished getting dressed and waited a while. The signs in the room state how important it is to turn off your phone, and the main screen gives you a WiFi password for your phone they encourage you to use or not to use? I don’t know.

I spoke to a guy behind “Window 8”, he was friendly and asked why I want a visa. I stated I’m hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. He said “oh, the Pacific Crest Trail?” and I said, “oh you’ve heard of it? Cool!” and he replied with “yes, I’ve read a book about it.” I wanted to ask him if it was called “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed, but we were in a hurry. He said I had not stated what school I went to, and I discussed that with him. During this process, my fingerprints were also scanned.

Everything was going so well

My passport and the Visa confirmation page were put into a transparent plastic folder and I was told to he was done. I said “have I been approved?” and I was so, so happy. He said “no” and I had to have an interview; I was pointed in roughly the right direction of a final queue leading up to an interview.

I then had my interview and it was denied, you can read more about that on a separate page I’ve made for it. To summarise, the consular officer claimed I had been denied an ESTA, and said I need to build further ties to the country. The former point was a complete fabrication of the truth, and the latter point didn’t seem to make a difference (I wrote down many charities and companies in my second Visa application and I included a letter from my family, etc.)

A delightful end

When I left the building devastated, I asked where do I exit and the guy in the metal detection room said “the door on the right.” I began to open it and he raised his voice. Ok, he meant the door on my left. In fairness to him, it was right in front of me but I was too upset to think properly.

Some guy tried to mug me that day but I don’t know how common that is. I don’t live in London, it’s not as nice as where I live. Spoiler: don’t pick a fight with someone from the internet, we are tough.

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