Guidelines and Important Tips
Carry your immigration documents with you. Do not pack documentation in checked luggage.
Allow plenty of time for security checks at the airport and at the port of entry.
Applications for U.S. Visas
- Applications for F or J visas must be made at U.S. consulates outside the U.S. It is not possible to apply for an F or J visa inside the U.S. It is best to apply at the U.S. consulate in your home country.
- Check the procedures at the consulate where you will apply.
- Allow time for the process. There may be a wait for an interview. There may be a wait of several weeks for security clearance. Visa wait time estimates.
- Initial attendance F-1 visas can be issued up to 120 days before the reporting date listed on Form I-20, but a student can enter the U.S. no earlier than 30 days before the I-20 program start date.
- If your visa is valid, but you would like to apply for a new visa to extend the period, check with the consulate to see when they will accept an application for extension.
- There may be a $220-350 SEVIS fee in addition to the visa fee. Information and payment procedures are found here. Continuing students whose I-20s were issued before September 2004 are not required to pay the SEVIS fee.
Resources and Tips for the Visa Interview
The links below will provide you with a list of generally required documents for the visa application. For specific questions, please contact the consulate or embassy directly.
- Prepare a few sentences to express how you intend to use your degree in your home country once you finish your academic program.
- Bring bank statements and financial documents for accounts that you and your family maintain in your home country.
- Ensure that your financial documents show funding (liquid assets) to cover tuition, living expenses, insurance, and travel for the first academic year as well as a clear plan in place to finance the remainder of your education.
- Bring copies of deeds to any property that you or your family may own in your home country.
- Bring your job offer letter if you have an employer who intends to hire you upon your return home.
Visa Denials and Administrative Processing
Visas can be denied for a variety of reasons. Applicants should listen carefully to what the visa officer has to say when the visa is denied because the denial letter will only explain the section of law pertaining to the denial and not the reason why the law was applied to the applicant. Applicants who are denied visas for showing insufficient non-immigrant intent can re-apply if they can provide new documentation that demonstrates non-immigrant intent.
Some visa applications may be placed under Administrative Processing. The visa officer will give the applicant clear instructions on additional documentation that is required to continue processing the application. Applicants can also email the consulate to get instructions on how to submit the documents. DSOs and schools cannot do anything to help with Administrative Processing. There is no set time-frame for resolution of applications that undergo Administrative Processing. Applicants can follow-up with the consular office if they have not heard back within 60-180 days.
Entry to the U.S.
- Present passport valid for at least 6 months, visa stamp, and I-20 or DS-2019. You may also want to carry your financial documents.
- Students, scholars, and dependents who are citizens of Canada do not need a visa stamp when entering the United States from Canada. F or J visa status Canadians must present the I-20 or DS-2019 when entering.
- If you are a new F-1 student, with an "Initial Attendance" I-20, be sure the school listed on the visa matches the school listed on your passport.
- If you are a prior student and you have applied through International Student and Scholar Services for re-entry to the U.S., check in with our office in Marquis Hall 110 after you have re-entered the U.S.
- If on OPT, you must have your EAD card and employment or offer letter.
- Be a "good consumer." Before you leave the CBP official, check to make sure you have your passport. If you are issued a paper I-94, make sure it has the proper notation - F-1, F-2, J-1, or J-2. If it is not correct have the officer make the correction there. Make sure you have your I-20. If you will have an electronic I-94 record, ensure your information is correct online as soon as possible after entry. Make sure it has the correct visa status and D/S under the "Admit Until" date.
- OBIM (Formerly US-Visit): If you get a receipt after having your fingerprints and picture taken, keep the receipt.
Exiting the U.S.
- In general, if you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean islands for 30 days or less and have an expired F-1 visa, you will keep your I-94 card.
- If you are traveling elsewhere, you will hand in your paper I-94 card upon exit.
- If you are traveling elsewhere and have an electronic I-94 record, CBP will record your departure using manifest information from the airline carrier. There is no document to turn in.
Continuing Students - Know Before You Go
- F-1 Students and F-2 Dependents: I-20 must be endorsed for travel. This endorsement is valid for entry for 1 year.
- J-1 Students and Scholars, and J-2 Dependents: DS-2019 must be endorsed for travel. This endorsement is valid for 1 year.
- Check passport expiration. Passport must be valid for 6 months into the future upon entry to the U.S. Agreements between the U.S. and certain countries allow for less than 6 months. We recommend that you apply for an extension of passport before it expires.
- If you will be applying for a visa stamp, check the instructions for the consulate where you will apply
- Bring a transcript.
- If on OPT, I-20 travel signature must be less than 6 months old; you must have an EAD card and you must have an employment letter or offer letter.
If you are traveling with a musical instrument, it is recommended that you complete CBP Form 4457 for each instrument. Have the form stamped at a U.S. Customs Office (located in most major airports) prior to departing the U.S. to document proof of ownership. CBP will confiscate musical instruments/accessories that contain banned substances/products (for example ivory or tortoise shell).