Skip to Content

Please read this information for general information on how to apply for an F-1 student visa or J-1 exchange visitor visa. All foreign students and scholars (except citizens of Canada and Bermuda) will need a visa stamp in their passports to enter the United States. In most countries, first time visa applicants are required to appear for an in-person interview.

Each embassy and consulate sets its own procedures regarding visas. Students and scholars should consult embassy web sites or call for specific application instructions (Go to usembassy.state.gov for a list of embassies). Although visa applicants may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the visa if you apply outside the country of your permanent residence.

Keep in mind that June, July and August are the busiest months in most consular sections, and interview appointments are the most difficult to get during that period. Applicants need to plan ahead to avoid having to make repeat visits to the embassy. To the extent possible, bring the documents suggested below, as well as any other documents that might help establish your ties to the local community. You can find the average wait time as well as a link to each consulate or embassy at travel.state.gov/visa/temp/wait/wait_4638.html

When Do I Need to Apply for My Student Visa?

It is important to apply for your visa well in advance of your travel departure date to provide ample time for visa processing. The consular officer may need to get special clearances depending on the course of study or nationality of the visa applicant. This can take some additional time. It is important to plan ahead.

Students should note that embassies and consulates are not able to issue an F-1 visa more than 120 days in advance of the program start date on the Form I-20. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date, the embassy or consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time to accomplish any of the necessary special clearances or other processes that may be required.

Scholars can apply for the J-1 visa anytime after receiving the Form DS-2019.

What is Needed to Apply for an F-1 (student) or J-1 (exchange visitor) Visa?

It is important to remember that applying early and providing the requested documents does not guarantee that the applicant will receive a visa. Because each person’s personal and academic situation is different, two people applying for the same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different documents. For that reason, the guidelines that follow are general. You should check with your local embassy for additional documents you should bring with you to your visa interview.

All applicants for an F-1 or J-1 visa must provide:

  • A Form I-20 obtained from a U.S. college, school or university or Form DS-2019 obtained from the institution of sponsorship
  • Form DS-160 . These can be obtained in hard copy from your local embassy or on the internet at travel.state.gov/visa/forms/forms_1342.html
  • A passport valid for at least six months after your proposed date of entry into the United States
  • One (1) passport-style photograph. The photo should measure 2 inches by 2 inches (50 mm by 50 mm) in size for each applicant, showing full face, without head covering, against a light background
  • A receipt showing payment of the visa application fee for each applicant, including each child listed in a parent’s passport who is also applying for a U.S. visa
  • A receipt for the SEVIS fee. As of September 2004, a SEVIS fee is required of all new students and exchange visitors. This is in addition to the visa application fee. You must show proof of payment of the SEVIS to obtain your F-1 or J-1 visa. You may pay the fee online at https://www.fmjfee.com
  • All applicants for a student visa must provide evidence of ties to your home country.
  • Students should provide: financial documents, test scores (for example, your TOEFL scores), transcripts and diplomas from any previous institutions attended.

For more information about the visa process, visit this website:
www.travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html