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What Are the Requirements for Getting a U.S. Student Visa?
Have you been preparing to study abroad in the United States? You probably already know that you must be approved for a U.S. student visa in order to study abroad.
The key to getting your visa is knowing the requirements and having your paperwork in order. Below, we outline the different types of U.S. student visas, requirements for obtaining one, and tips for maintaining your visa status.
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Discover Student Visa USA Requirements
Studying abroad can shift perspectives and broaden horizons in many ways. If you’re looking to further your studies in the U.S., chances are you need a student visa for your time in the States.
Knowing the student visa USA requirements is key to ensuring you have all paperwork in order well before your program begins. Securing your visa is essential for entering the U.S. and starting your education outside of your home country. And every U.S. visa application is closely reviewed, so the more time you give yourself to provide additional information that may be needed, the better.
Some students don’t realize there are different types of U.S. student visas based on the type of program, duration of your stay, and other criteria. On this page, we’ll cover the two most popular types of student visas—the F-1 visa and the M-1 visa—as well as requirements for applying for your visa and advice about maintaining your status.
Which U.S. Visa Do You Need?
What exactly are visas and do you need one to study abroad in the U.S.? The answer is probably yes!
A student U.S. visa, as defined by the U.S. Department of State, is used for foreign citizens who want to come to the U.S. for educational or vocational (or other “recognized nonacademic institution”) purposes. In other words, it’s a visa designed for foreign students who want to study abroad in the U.S.
The two popular U.S. visa types for students are:
- F-1 Visa – What is F-1 visa status? This visa is for students who attend a university or college, high school, private elementary school, seminary, conservatory, another academic institution, or a language training program in the U.S.
- M-1 Visa – An M-1 visa is for students who want to study at a vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program. This is designed mostly for those who want to enroll in a short course of study. Students cannot get a degree or certificate with this type of visa.
These are the two most common types of visas for international students. If you still aren’t sure which visa is right for you, check with your school or guidance counselor. Just know that every international student must have a visa in order to study abroad in the U.S., so it is vital that you obtain this prior to studying.
Next, we’ll review some U.S. visa info and take a look at some of the requirements students must meet in order to apply for a U.S. student visa.
What Is a J-1 Visa?
There is a possibility your education could require a J-1 visa, which is a visa for students participating in an exchange program in the U.S. If this is you, check out our guide to J-1 visas for all the information you need to apply for and get your visa.
What Are the U.S. Student Visa Requirements?
There are several student visa requirements and F-1 visa requirements you must meet to obtain a student visa for the U.S. The U.S. student visa process can be lengthy, so make sure you have everything in order prior to applying.
Here are the requirements for applying for a U.S. student visa:
- Acceptance Into a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-Certified School
Before beginning your visa application, you will need to receive your acceptance letter from your desired SEVP-certified school.
If you’re just starting your school search, use the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s “School Search” function to find a list of certified schools. (You can search by school name, city, state, zip code, education type, and visa type.)
- Receive Your Form I-20
Once accepted into your SEVP-approved school, you are registered on the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). The school will then issue a Form I-20 “Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status” and send it to you by mail. Note: If accepted to more than one school, every SEVP-approved school you are accepted to will send you a Form I-20.
- Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee
Once you receive your Form I-20, you will then need to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. U.S. student visa fees can either be paid online at FMJfee.com or with Western Union Quick Pay. Make sure you keep your receipt of your payment because you’ll need to present it when applying for your visa.
- Hold a Valid Passport
Students applying for a visa must have a passport that is valid for a period of six months after their stay in the U.S. (There are some exemptions based on a country-specific agreement.)
- Complete a Visa Application & Schedule Your Visa Interview
You must complete the online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, or Form DS-160. Once you’ve completed the U.S. visa application, print the barcode page for verification.
- Pay the Visa Application Fee
You must pay an application fee when submitting your visa application. The student visa USA cost for applications is $160.
- Schedule a Visa Interview
Ensure you have a valid passport, your Form DS-160 barcode page, the payment receipt for your application, and your certificate of eligibility (Form I-20). Once you’ve made your U.S. visa appointment, you will be interviewed by a consular officer. Generally, applicants ages 13 and younger and 80 and older are not required to interview.
- Additional Requirements
You may have additional requirements to submit as part of your application. This could include your proof of intent to return to your native country after your course of study is over (like a flight ticket home), proof of sufficient funds for sustainability while you are in the U.S. (like bank statements and proof of international student health insurance), and additional academic documents (like transcripts, diplomas, degrees, and standardized test scores).
M-1 & F-1 Visa Application Tips
The M-1 or F-1 visa application can be one of the most time-consuming parts of getting a student visa—especially when including the U.S. visa wait times. Once you’ve been accepted to a program in the U.S., ensure you have completed all the student visa USA requirements listed above.
To apply for a student visa, you’ll need to complete the online visa application, schedule an interview, prepare for your interview, gather the required documents, attend your interview, and wait for your approval.
Here are some tips for your application process:
- Apply far in advance to allow time for approval.
- Provide as much information as possible.
- Gather all necessary documents prior to beginning your application.
- Contact your local U.S. embassy or consulate with questions.
For more details regarding you visa application process, check out our blog “Everything You Need to Know About Getting an F-1 Visa.” In particular, you’ll want to read through the “How to Apply for an F-1 Visa” section.
Here’s How to Maintain Your U.S. Visa Status
Once you have obtained your U.S. visa status, you must maintain your status throughout your time in the U.S. You cannot enter the U.S. more than 30 days before your study program begins, and the school must be notified once you enter the country. Additionally, you need contact the designated school official (DSO) once you arrive at school.
While in school, you are required attend and pass all classes. If you find you need additional time, speak to school officials to see if you can extend your program. You must also take a full course load every term and cannot drop any classes without permission.
To sustain yourself financially, you may want to work. F-1 visa work is generally not allowed off-campus during the first year, but on-campus employment may be permitted. If you wish to work off-campus, the employment must be related to your study program and be authorized by the USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and your designated school official.
Learn about your work options and “4 Ways to Work with a Student Visa in the U.S.”
As a student visa holder, you also have F-1 visa travel restrictions, so you may be wondering, “Where can I travel with F-1 visa status?” You can travel from state to state within the U.S., and for short trips to Mexico, Canada, or any islands adjacent to the U.S. For trips like this, you do not need special permission, but you must comply with all U.S. immigration regulations to maintain your student status.
If you want more details on the F-1 visa and a full breakdown of the requirements and rules, check out our blog “Everything You Need to Know About Getting an F-1 Visa.”
Be Sure to Explore These Related Resources:
- Everything You Need to Know About Getting an F-1 Visa
- Study Abroad Checklist: Everything You Need to Do to Prepare
- 4 Ways to Work With a Student Visa in the U.S.
- How to Create a Realistic Study Abroad Budget
- Study Abroad Scholarships and Grants
- Study Abroad
- International Student Health Insurance
- 5 Transportation Options for International Students in the U.S.
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