Prospective international students and exchange visitors who reside abroad are required to obtain an F-1 or J-1 visa from a U.S Embassy or Consulate General's Office to enter the U.S. Once the student/exchange visitor has received the admission/invitation letter and I-20/DS-2019, the student/exchange visitor may proceed with scheduling the visa appointment. A visa appointment should not be scheduled until after receiving the I-20/DS-2019. If an appointment is scheduled too early, the student/exchange visitor may need to cancel or reschedule the appointment if the I-20/DS-2019 is not received on time. If an appointment needs to be rescheduled, the request must be made prior to the date of the interview with good cause for rescheduling. The U.S. embassies or consulates will generally begin issuing visas up to 120 days in advance of the program's start date on the I-20 or DS-2019. Although consulates may allow the applicant to submit the visa application prior to the 120 days, they may not issue the visa until the 120 day time frame occurs. The student/exchange visitor should schedule an appointment to obtain the visa as soon as he/she is eligible and has all the required documents for the application.
There are two fees involved with obtaining a visa. One is the I-901 SEVIS Fee and the other is the DS-160 Visa Application fee. These are separate fees and the student/exchange visitor will need to pay both of them prior to applying for the visa.
The I-901 SEVIS Fee can be paid using one of three methods. Payment of this fee will activate the student/exchange visitor's SEVIS record that was created by the school when the I-20/DS-2019 was issued. After payment, the applicant will receive a receipt to have for the visa interview. In the event the applicant pays the fee using the I-20/DS-2019 from one school but later decides to attend a different school, a transfer of the payment can be requested. To transfer a payment made on one SEVIS ID to another SEVIS ID click here.
I-901 SEVIS fee payment options:
Following is a general list of the documentation needed for the application:
- valid passport for the applicant and any accompanying dependents
- proof of funds to support studies for at least the first year in the U.S.
- admission/invitation letter and I-20/DS-2019 from the school the student/exchange visitor will attend
- receipt for the I-901 (SEVIS Fee)
- DS-160 Visa Application form and applicable fees
The above is not an all-inclusive list. Different embassies and consulates may have slightly different requirements. It is important to check directly with the embassy or consulate where the student/exchange visitor will apply to make sure the applicant has all required documentation prior to attending the visa interview. The applicant should be prepared to prove that he/she does not intend to immigrate to the U.S. and has ties to his/her home country. Evidence that may be helpful to prove ties to the home country includes: letters of intent to continue employment upon return, documentation of economic, social and/or family ties to the homeland, post-graduation plans for the future in the homeland, etc.
Canadian students/exchange visitors: are not required to obtain a visa but need to receive a stamp on the passport to verify F-1/J-1 status at the United States Port of Entry. Contact the local United States Embassy or Consulate for details.
For additional questions directly related to the F-1/J-1 visa application, the applicant should contact the United States Embassy or Consulate where he or she will apply. The Department of State web site contains helpful information about applying for student and exchange visitor visas.
Even after obtaining a visa, entry to the U.S. is not guaranteed. Applicants seeking entry should be aware that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authority to permit or deny entry into the U.S. To mitigate the risk, we encourage the traveler to review guidance provided by CBP regarding admission into the U.S. When entering the United States with an initial I-20/DS-2019, the student/exchange visitor may only enter the United States within 30 days before the program start date listed on the I-20/DS-2019. Students and exchange visitors must be sure to carry their immigration documents with them. Documents must NOT be packed in checked luggage. At the U.S. Port of Entry, students/exchange visitors may have to prove again their intent to return home upon completion of their program.
Travelers should make a full declaration using the Customs Declaration Form (obtained during the flight). When carrying more than $10,000 in cash, the traveler must fill out a report with the customs official. Since certain articles are forbidden or restricted, visit the Transportation Security Agency's (TSA) website for a list of prohibited items and current travel regulations.
All students/exchange visitors should have available the passport (valid for at least 6 months) with the F-1/J-1 visa stamp, the I-20/DS-2019, the I-901 SEVIS fee receipt, the DS-7002 form (for J-1 Student Interns only) ,and proof of funds. It would also be useful to have names and contacts for the University of Florida International Center and the academic department. The U.S. Port of Entry (POE) official should stamp the passport only, with the date, visa type and D/S (Duration of Status). An electronic I-94 Entry record will be generated and can be retrieved on the I-94 Official Website. If a student/exchange visitor has difficulty retrieving the electronic I-94, UFIC should be contacted. The electronic I-94 Entry record is required for certain processes in the U.S. such as Driver's License and SSN applications. Additional information about these processes will be provided during the mandatory Check-in.