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Applying for a Visa

What Is a Visa?

A visa is a stamp or sticker that is placed in your passport and is used only to seek entry into the U.S. When someone wishes to come to the U.S. temporarily (whether for a number of weeks as in the case of a tourist or a number of years as in the case of an H-1B worker), he or she must obtain a visa.

Visitors must apply for a visa at an embassy or consulate outside of the U.S.  The application includes specific documents that show you are qualified to apply for a specific type of visa (such as an I-20, in the case of F-1). However, this only entitles the visa holder to travel to a U.S. port of entry and ask to be admitted to the U.S. The inspector at the port of entry, upon examining the visitor's documents, will decide whether or not they may enter the U.S. If the inspector does admit the individual into the U.S., this admission confers status to the visa holder. At the same time, the visa becomes insignificant.

All Canadian citizens. Canadian citizens (passport holders) do not require a visa to enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 student status, but do require an I-20 or DS-2019. Canadian citizens must present a valid I-20 or DS-2019 and SEVIS fee payment receipt at the airport or border to be admitted in F-1 or J-1 status.

When can I apply for my F-1 or J-1 visa stamp?

If you were issued a Form I-20, you may apply for an F-1 visa earlier than 120 days before the program start date, to allow for visa processing and security clearance delays. Even if you apply earlier than 120 days, though, the consulate still cannot actually issue the visa until 120 days before the program start date.

Unlike F students, J exchange visitors issued as DS-2019 are not subject to the 120-day limit on how long before their program begin date they may apply for a J visa.

How and where to apply for your F-1/J-1 visa:

1) Choose a U.S. consulate or embassy where you plan to apply for your visa. You must apply for your F-1/J-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate; it is recommended you apply in your country of citizenship.

2) Schedule a visa appointment. Visit the U.S. Department of State's website to for the post at which you plan to apply.

3) Review these helpful resources on applying for a visa:

Overview of the Student Visa Process
Travel.State.Gov: Study & Exchange Student Visas
10 Points to Remember When Applying for a Student Visa

4) Practice Visa interviews last between 90 seconds and 3 minutes. In that amount of time, you will be asked about what you intend to study, plans after graduation, and your ties to your home country. The resources linked above can help you think about answers to these questions. Truthfully answer all questions, but avoid offering additional information.

5) Attend your visa interview. Don't forget your original I-20 or DS-2019, and all other required visa documentation. Specific information about required documents will be provided when you schedule your interview.

Preparing for the Visa Interview

Be sure to have all appropriate/required documents with you at the time of your appointment:

  • Valid passport (valid for at least 6 months after your entry into the U.S.)
  • Original form I-20 or DS-2019 (signed by you)
  • Financial documents you used to qualify for your I-20/DS-2019
  • Copies of your academic credentials
  • SEVIS I-901 fee receipt
  • Photos
  • Any other document(s) required by your specific U.S. embassy/consulate's website

Visa applicants are required to disclose social media use, and prior contact information.  Applicants should be prepared to provide:

  • A list of social media platforms they have used within the previous five years, and their  username(s) for each platform - passwords are not required and should not be provided; and
  • Their current email and phone number details, as well as a list of additional email addresses and phone numbers used in the previous five years.

Consular officers may use social media information – including professional profiles and public personal information – during the visa adjudication process. Profiles, postings and details that appear inconsistent with the purpose of a visa applicant’s trip, other information in the visa application, or past immigration benefits applications could result in additional security clearances and even visa refusals.

For the "Top 10 Things You Should Know about the F-1 Visa Interview," view the following presentation given by immigration attorney and former U.S. Consular Officer Mandy Feuerbacher on May 5, 2021.


Expiration of Visa vs. Expiration of Status

Although your passport and I-20 or DS-2019 must remain valid while you are in the U.S., it is okay to remain in the U.S. with an expired student visa. The visa expiration date is separate from your length of authorized stay in the U.S. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S. and/or its number of entries has been used, or if you have changed your nonimmigrant status while in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must apply for a new F-1 or J-1 visa in order to return to the U.S. Visas can only be obtained outside of the U.S. at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate. (Canadian citizens are not required to have a visa stamp to enter the U.S.)

Fequently Asked Questions