Getting to BronyCon 2019 Part 1 - The Details Explained Frankly
As some of you may have noticed in the brony community, the largest, de facto flagship convention of the fandom, entitled BronyCon, has recently announced that it will be closing its doors for the last time next year in 2019. BronyCon, the fandom’s historically largest and most remarkable convention by sheer size, longetivity, and its impact towards the paradigm of the fandom itself, has stated that it will not continue in the motivation of parting with the convention at its height. It has also captured the attention of the international community far and wide to join their last sortie together next year.
Now, I’ve been seeing many people are trying to make a pact to join BronyCon, but they currently are completely wary or unfamiliar with the required financial and logistical discipline of attending such a convention at a distance from their homes - whether they are situated in North America or beyond. As much as I’d really love to see many, many more people doing the final run and give it a good sendoff, while also seeing the same people being active with any other convention in the world, we must all admit that it is a challenge for most of us to get there. In this blog post, I want to outline my knowledge and experiences in the world of planning out travel. The challenge differs for all of us - from international to domestic American audience, there are so many differences in how we can approach the goal of attending the convention.
This article is intended to give everyone (with higher relevance to the international audience) that I can think of a very frank and direct information on what to prepare and what to expect when you are out there, planning to attend the final BronyCon. This guide even works as a general guide on attending any other convention, or on how you may want to plan your leisurely vacations. Of course, most of the article is informed on the basic assumptions on financial capital considerations, and obviously some people may go and not consider much of the factors that I have written in. It is also not intended to dissuade you nor is it in anyway an endorsement or otherwise of BronyCon and any other conventions - it is a guide, frankly and openly, on what is and what isn’t possible, and how you’d have to weave your way with your financial disciplines to get to the final party. All of the information here is based only on my current, best understanding and should not be taken as absolute facts by itself - do your research as well and see if the things I say match up. This is an article of advice and opinions - they are not necessarily 100% truthful information.
Since this compilation of is going to be very extensive and thorough, I have
If you’re interested, click on Read More to start.
Choose Your Own Adventure
Firstly, if any of the following describes your nationality/passport issuance country/citizenship, click on them to jump through information that is not relevant to you:
- You are a US citizen or permanent resident/green card holder
- You are a citizen, or a passport holder of, Canada, Bermuda, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau
- You have an existing US Visa of any class and will travel primarily following the purpose/class of your visa
For everyone else, you should definitely read on - the next section is the most important ordeal in the entire article.
Take a look at this map.
And then, click on the corresponding anchor link below that defines who you are, or where you are on the map:
- Your country, or the country where your passport is issued, is highlighted in green on the map
- Your country, or the country where your passport is issued, is highlighted gray on the map
- You have an existing US Visa of any class and will travel primarily following the purpose/class of your visa
- You have no idea what I’m waffling on about
The United States of America requires every single person who holds a foreign passport to apply for a visa to travel into the United States. A visa is an instrument that provides an authorization for you to enter a country for the purpose that you outlined and applied the visa for. US visas are issued for tourism or business purposes, studying purposes, temporary migrant (work or study) purposes, permanent residency, or other special cases.
There are several foreigners that do not require a visa to enter - those who are eligible for an ESTA or those that live in a select few countries. If you already have a visa that won’t expire by the time you plan to enter the United States, you can skip this part.
In general, international visitors who will need a visa must start preparing very well in advance their visit to the US for BronyCon, so I’d like to stress that it is very important for you to start planning as soon as you can possibly can.
Now this would be a very hard part for some people, while considerably easy for some others, depending on your background and your qualifications. I can also definitely say that this is the absolute most important part of considering travel to the United States, so if you are unfamiliar with it, please read carefully.
I am going to assume that all that you will do in the US is to fly in, attend the convention and perhaps go around the country to sightsee and take a well deserved vacation. In this case, you are applying for a particular class of visa, the B2 Class Tourism Visa visa. It is also called the B1/B2 visa because generally, tourism or work visit visas are combined under the same class. I might slip my tongue and say B1/B2 below, but make sure you know that you are applying for the B2 Tourist Visa solely.
The B2 visa is for people who are going to the US for:
- Vacation (holiday)
- Visit with friends or relatives
- Medical treatment
- Participation in social events hosted by fraternal, social, or service organizations
- Participation by amateurs in musical, sports, or similar events or contests, if not being paid for participating
- Enrollment in a short recreational course of study, not for credit toward a degree (for example, a two-day cooking class while on vacation)
So a pony con is in the ball for it.
Assess If You’re (Likely) Eligible
I’ll be completely frank - as young adults, we are some of the least likely people to be given a visitor visa. Due to the high number of misuse of issued visas, the US government is infamously strict and final when it comes to visa decisions.
Your likeliness of getting a visitor visa is generally determined by at least one of the following conditions:
- You are currently an active student of any institution, whether it is school or university, and have parental or guardian figures to support your travel
- You have worked for at least 3-5 years in your home country, or any country where you have the rights to do so permanently
- You have heck-tons of cash, preferably in illiquid investments such as property, bonds and long term investments under your name
- You will apply for the visa along with your parents, which in turn must satisfy the work commitment and/or financial resource requirements
If you cannot see yourself as any of the above points, then I really, really, really regret to inform you that it is highly unlikely that they’d give you a visitor visa. As far as the US Department of State is concerned - you are the stereotypical grounds of a potential illegal migrant since, in their terms, you cannot demonstrate adequate evidence that you are tied to your home country.
I’ve seen it myself. Three times. And it really did make me feel eternally upset. I urge you to only try when you are sure you can meet any of the above pointers to avoid disappointment. There’s no shortcut that you can take to get a B1/B2 visa, and I do not recommend lying to the United States of America.
Of course, if you somehow get a job or admitted to university in the United States at any time as we approach to BronyCon, you’d apply for a different visa since your primary purpose is either work and study - and you can definitely travel freely in the US once admitted in. But that’s an entirely different visa, and hence process, that I won’t discuss here. You are welcome, however, to skip ahead.
Applying for a Visa
The application for a visa is a long and ardorous process, and you should apply as soon as you are able to get all of the documentation that you need.
Before you start, please note that the following documents:
- A finalized, non-refundable, non-exchangable flight ticket
- Any finalized, fully paid fares such as lodging, transport, etc
SHOULD NOT be made before you apply for the visa. You have ABSOLUTELY NO GUARANTEES THAT YOU WILL BE GIVEN A VISA and you might find yourself losing a lot of money. If you really think you need to, make sure any reservation you make can be canceled in full.
To apply for a visa, you have to apply online at the State Department’s website and disclose all the information that is required on the application form.
The documents that you primarily need are, but not limited to:
- Your passport information
- Your proof of identity, such as
- national ID, if any
- birth certificate
- household registries, if any
- Photo, following the provided photograph requirements
- Additional documentation that acts as proof of:
- Purpose of your trip (e.g. itinerary, cancellable hotel bookings)
- Intent to depart the United States (e.g. enrolment in school/university, letter of employment, financial and investment asset records, anything that demonstrates you must go home after your trip)
- Your ability to pay for the costs of your trip (your bank statements, or your parents’)
As it says verbatim on the State Department’s website, evidence of your employment and/or your family ties may be sufficient to show the purpose of your trip and your intent to return to your home country. If you cannot cover all the costs for your trip, you may show evidence that another person will cover some or all costs for your trip.
It’s really tricky since you are not advised to book tickets but you are required to demonstrate your intentions in the US and your intentions to leave - here’s where the itinerary, plans, and your financial and intent of departure is most important. Therefore, very early on, you should definitely have an idea of your financial situation, how you will finance your visit, and how much money you’d have to support yourself during your visit. These are critical documentation that evaluates your financial decision and the seriousness of your plans.
After you apply for your visa, you must pay a flat fee of 160 US dollars to process the application in the means provided on the website, and schedule an interview to your nearest US consulate or embassy. Ensure that you follow all instructions, and bring all the documents that you disclosed for the visa application.
You must then go to the US embassy or consulate at the day you selected with all the documents you used to apply for the visa. You will then surrender them past security, get your biometrics taken, and attend an interview. The interview is basically a chat between you and a consular officer that will be the one who accepts or denies your application. Only speak when questioned, and reply with what is necessary and try not to waffle too far. Stay truthful to your intents and documents and do not lie. You will be informed if you are approved or denied on the spot. If you are approved, they’ll tell you when you can pick up your passport and documents. If that happens, congratulations! You can go down to the rest of the article now.
If you must be rejected, they will give you a reason why and you cannot reprocess the application for reconsideration on the spot. You should evaluate why you are denied, and see if you can do anything to mitigate it in the short run. If the reason you are rejected is due to insufficient ties to your home country (the most damning, and common, of them all), then I regret to inform you that your journey ends there, except if you really forgot to disclose all of your assets, work engagement, and whatnot, and can provide a more definitive proof of your ties to your country. This would usually take a few years for most people to get enough documentation, but if you truly forgotten you can try again.
The hard part is, this is entirely abstract and up to the assumption of the consular interviewing you. However, if you choose to retry with all the documents, make sure you don’t lie from your statements you made in the first interview (e.g., disclosing a work record even though you clearly say you have not been employed) - they have everything noted down and lying will only make things worse for your future travel plans to the United States.
If you somehow blurted out an intention of staying in the US for an extended period of time (e.g. saying “I might tour around for like a year” or “I might stay over with a friend for a while”) be prepared to be rejected - that is clearly against a tourist visa condition!
You cannot get your 160 USD application fee back once you are rejected.
All of the information I postulate here is peppered with my knowledge and advice on how you should prepare a visa application. The actual verbatim is of course at the State Department’s website
If you think you might be able to get some sympathy or leeway from the US embassy or consulate, I’m sorry to inform that they have explicitly stated the following:
Letters of invitation from conventions or friends, or Affidavit of Support, do not provide you with better chances of getting a United States visitor visa. While these are completely valid documentation for some other countries, it is not one that is accepted as evidence by the United States. As it says - your own qualifications and capabilities, as well as your answers to the visa interview questions, are the primary basis of your application outcome for a visitor visa.
I’m really, really sorry if this is very hard to take in, but I need to write this down to make sure you know exactly how hard it is to get to the United States even to visit, to avoid disappointment and to raise awareness on just how distorted the world is.
Don’t Think Of It As A Lottery
The US embassy will have a record of every visa attempt, the information disclosed alongside your visa application, and the outcome. Retrying again and again will cost you a lot of money and will not improve your chances, unless if your circumstances have demonstratedly changed (you’ve held a job for longer, you got more money, you gained more investment property and liquid capital, etc.) Otherwise, you’d just be harming your own name.
Oh, and don’t try to lie your way to the United States. Please.
Validity of your Visa
Your visa lasts as long as your country’s passports generally last, even if it would expire after your passport does. It is usually available for multiple entries (denoted by the M symbol under the Entry field) so you can go back to the US again and again as a tourist under that visa - you only need to apply once, and it’ll be good for as many visits as you can cram in the validity of your visa, so you can go to other cons in the next few years as well with it without dealing with the whole application process again.
A visa that is still valid, but resides on your old, expired passport, is still valid for entry to the United States, as long as it’s not damaged by your local immigration office when the passport is canceled. Just make sure you carry both your current, valid passport and your expired passport with the visa when you travel to the US.
If your country is highlighted in green, congratulations - you just skipped the bulk of information that is presented in this article that isn’t relevant to you. Congratulations, all you need to visit the US is a simple electronic authorization called the ESTA.
An ESTA is kind of like a lighter B visa, that is given to countries that has the fewest rejected US tourism/business visa applications. Needless to say, most of them are usually first world countries, so if your passport is issued from some of the most developed economies, then you are most likely entitled to an ESTA. ESTAs allow you to enter and remain in the US for 90 days at a time for visitor purposes.
An ESTA only allows you to enter the US for the same reasons that is entitled under a B Class visa. In our terms, it would be for tourism purpose and attending a social convention. If you are going to enter the US for any other reason, such as work or full time studying, you’ll need to apply for a corresponding visa.
To get an ESTA, all you have to do is simply plug in your details to the DHS’ ESTA application website. ESTAs cost 10 USD each application, and you’d most likely be accepted unless if you answer “yes” to the most questionable things they ask you. Once granted, you’re all set - just use the passport that you have registered with the ESTA system to fly in to the United States.
In the event that your ESTA application is somehow denied, then I regret to inform you that you need to apply for a tourism visa.
I will not say much about existing visa holders or ESTA holders, other than to remind you to ensure your visa and ESTA is still valid on the day that you are planning to arrive in the United States. You do not need to make sure your visa won’t expire during your planned stay in the US, but that’s a gray zone that would fall entirely in the hands of the US Customs and Border Protection, so if you only have limited financial resources to do this, don’t risk it and renew your ESTA or visa if it is indeed bound to expire when you are in the US for the con.
To the visa holders, I know there are different classes other than B1/B2 that grants multiple reasons of residing in the US, whether you are a student, temporary worker, special field of work (journalist visa being one of them), ensure that you have all the necessary documentation to back your visa when you enter. If you have held these visas before, you know better than me how it works.
To the B1/B2 visa holders, your primary purpose is indeed attending a convention, but since you’re not normally paid to do so, you should state that you are having a vacation in the US when you are briefly questioned at the border. Articulate nicely your intentions and you’ll be fine.
Please note that, if you hold a B1/B2 class visa or an ESTA, and somehow you’re being paid to attend a con or anything, you are by law not permitted to be paid to be a guest in a convention. You may need another visa if you are paid to attend. Otherwise, you should not mention that you are being paid, but rather prove that you will be able to cover the costs of the travel yourself without reliance of anyone paying it for you onshore. For more information, please visit the State Department’s website.
Also, I’d like to remind you that a visa that is still valid, but resides on your old, expired passport, is still valid for entry to the United States, as long as it’s not damaged by your local immigration office when the passport is canceled. Just make sure you carry both your current, valid passport and your expired passport with the visa when you travel to the US.
As for the ESTA, you need a new one for every two years, for every new regular or emergency passport you’ll use to travel, and every change of identity (e.g. change of name, gender, or nationality to other ESTA eligible countries.)
If you have any questions, you’re best off to look it up in the State Department’s website, or talk to me directly and see if I can help you with these ordeals in any way.
If you got here as a US citizen, green card holder, or a citizen of Canada, Bermuda, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Palau, or someone who’s familiar with temporary, nonmigrant travel to the United States, congratulations, you skipped the hardest part of the entire ordeal!
However, do me a favor, and hug and congratulate anyone which has a passport from countries that are highlighted in gray from that map. Hug them, welcome them warmly, and keep them company - they have come a damn long way to get to BronyCon, and are indeed the true MVPs with how difficult it can be for some people.
Now let’s get down to business - we’re confident in sorting the international travel requirements and documentation, so let’s go to the next most important part - actually having the money to go there.
I’d like to reiterate that some financial schedules that I advise here may not be sufficient to the purchasing power of everyone, and is written as a guide only. Additionally, I understand that some of you may already have better financial scheduling or purchasing power, which would pretty much render this section redundant or even unecessary.
For this section, I’d like to assume that most of you are interested in saving up in a discipline that would require you to deposit money at regular and scheduled basis, outlined for every group of expenditures up until your travels to the United States. There may be some figures that I would include in the next section, but please do not let the numbers be daunting - they are only there for illustrative purposes.
At the end of the section, I would recommend you to schedule your financial expenditures according to which usually would be bought first before the other. This is not a strict pattern of affairs, but it gives you a very nice idea of how you are going to control the spending of your savings.
In general, the best practice is to look up your required spending now
If you need a visa…
As stated above in the visa section of this write-up, always remember to never actually commit to non-refundable, large expenses such as accomodation and hotels as you are not guaranteed a visa even if you already have any of these booked and finalized. Therefore, a visa would be the first thing that you need to budget for - all 160 USD for one application.
Other than that, you also need to demonstrate that you have the money to maintain yourself during your stay in the United States. This is part of your visa application, so you’d want to have a good budget estimate estimate very well in advance, even before you apply for your visa, as documentation that you can support your travels in the US, backed with your bank statement(s) if possible.
Enclose your itinerary, financial plans, as well as pay slips or bank account statements. If your parents or other family members will be assisting you to pay for this trip (whether entirely or partially or whatnot), enclose their bank statements, any identification that links you to your parents (birth certificates, household registers, and whatnot) as proof of relationship and/or next of kin.
To my best knowledge, the United States does not consider sponsorship from overseas, non family members, as valid proof of financial ability for a tourist visa. You may need to apply for another visa class if somehow a convention is sponsoring you (a.k.a. you’re a paid performer). If you enclose sponsorship on a tourist visa, this may cause further questioning of your intentions of returning from the US and hence a bigger potential to be rejected.
Flights are certainly the first few things that you’d like to figure out, as they are potentially the most expensive portion of your budget when traveling internationally, and would also be the first one that you’d spend your money on, so it’s crucial for you to have a good estimate from the very beginning.
It’s best to even start searching and looking up fares now, before anything, across different flight search engines.
There are many, many flight search engines out there, from Google Flights, Skyscanner, Expedia, Kayak, Rome2R io, to many smaller search engines that are known locally such as Traveloka, Webjet, and local tour agencies. From what I notice, these engines either quote their own price (acting as agencies) or reroute to even more obscure sites, and search engines can have varying prices, so you’d want some time to sit down and crosscheck prices and get an estimate.
When you already find a particular flight, I also recommend you to crosscheck with the actual airline’s website itself. In my personal experience, I sometimes find the difference to be negligible if you’re lucky enough, and you’d sometimes score more perks when booking direct with the airline (i.e. different ticket class that would grant you more points, if you’re so inclined in hoarding as many points as possible), so always keep that in mind.
Keep in mind that prices of airline tickets do change over time, and the general consensus is that things are usually cheaper when you book way in advance. In general, however, I usually hear that the best time to book for an international flight is between six to three months before the departure date to get the most definite prices, so it gives you some room to save up until you
When you are inclined to book with a budget carrier, you’ll also need to think ahead about the baggage that you’d want to check in. Full-service international airliners usually provide generous complimentary baggage space for travel to the US, but the game pans differently with budget airliners, so think ahead about how much merchandise, posters, and personal apparels such as clothing, existing pony swag, and cosplay/fursuits you want to pack, as you wouldn’t want to be caught with too much luggage at check-in (budget airlines can triple their baggage fees on check-in!). If you are interested in flying budget, it would probably be wise to invest in a portable baggage scale to have better confidence.
As it is with flights, accomodation tends to be cheaper the further from your date of stay you book. This time, I do not have good heuristics of the best time to book, but knowing the fact that the entire harbor area will be filled by a few thousand bronies, I’d advise you to book as soon as you can commit to one. If this is your first time in BronyCon, and/or you’d love to make the most of the convention experience, I strongly suggest you
While the prices of the hotels around the Baltimore area may look daunting at first, this is actually the easiest to overcome, given that you have a group of people that would be interested to share the room with you! By taking in as many people as you (and the others) would feel comfortable with, you can slash your spending on accomodation in the inner harbor area hotels by a significant number.
With special regard to BronyCon, they usually partner with the harbor area hotels for discounted special rates when you book directly with the hotel’s websites. When I was at BronyCon 2016, I took advantage of this offer and it really had better rates than some of the search engines that I looked up for, so give that a shot before you venture anywhere else!
I strongly recommend you to use booking services or fares that allow you to cancel your booking for absolutely free. While it would usually cost a bit more per night for the luxury, it gives you the easiest flexibility for changes and security for your accomodation. Additionally, it gives you flexibility of where to go, and to hold a room from very well in advance with cheaper rates. If anything happens you can always rebook in the future at another hotel or for another room and cancel the booking for absolutely nil. However, always ensure you take note of the last cancellation date of the room before they would start charging a penalty into your card, so that you’re well aware of the time window you have for any changes. If you need a visa, you can even enclose your cancellable hotel bookings as proof of intent to travel.
Food, Transport, Expendables, etc.
This is the part where you should start assuming just how much you want to spend, and how luxurious you want your experience in the convention to be.
Packing and Allowance
Summary of Travel Procedures
This section is primarily intended for
Travel Safety Tips
At The Convention
After the Convention