How to Apply for a Visa


A visa is a document issued by the U.S. government, usually at an embassy or consulate outside of the United States. This allows you to present yourself at at United States Port of Entry and request to be let in.

Student Visa

Most students will either get an F-1 (student) or a J-1 (exchange visitor) visa.

If you have, or will have an F-1 I-20, you will apply for an F-1 visa. If you have, or will have a J-1 DS-2019, you will apply for a J-1 visa. Please visit the US Department of State websites to learn more about the F and J visas respectively.

Tourist Visa

If you enter the U.S. with a tourist visa (B-1/B-2) or under the Visa Waiver Program that your country has with the U.S., you cannot legally attend school.

Visa Application Instructions

When to apply

Due to possible security-check delays, ISS encourages you to apply for your visa as early as possible. If you are applying for an F-1 visa, the earliest you may be issued a visa is 365 days before the program start date on your I-20.

Each embassy or consular post has their own visa application procedures and processing times. Be sure to read the web page for the post where you will be applying for the specific instructions for that location.

Visa Application Process

There are several stages involved in the visa application process, and they vary by Embassy and Consulate. In general you can expect these steps:

  • Complete the Online Visa Application (DS-160) after you have received your I-20 or DS-2019
  • Schedule an Interview
  • Gather Required Documentation
  • Attend Your Visa Interview
  • Find a US Embassy or Consulate

Documents Needed to Apply for a F-1 Student or J-1 Exchange Visitor Visa

In general, to apply you will need:

  • Form I-20 (for F-1) or Form DS-2019 (for J-1)
  • Passport
  • Proof of financial support
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Photos
  • Visa application fee
  • Online visa application forms

Check Visa for Accuracy

Check your visa for accuracy (name, date of birth, visa type – such as F-1 or J-1), and request a correction immediately if you find any errors.

Tips for a Successful Visa Interview

The following are tips to help you succeed in your visa interview.

  • Be honest, friendly, and have a good attitude.
  • Be on time and prepared.
  • Be prepared to do the interview in English.
  • Keep your answers simple, and to the point.
  • If asked, share information about your academic background and what you expect to get out of your education in the U.S.
  • Be prepared to show strong ties to your home country.
  • Organize your documentation so is can be presented without hesitation, if asked.
  • Be prepared to show sufficient financial proof that a sum at least equal to the amount indicated on the I-20 is readily available.
  • If you are married, and your family is remaining in your home country, be prepared to explain how they will support themselves in your absence.
  • Mention any family member who has complete higher education in the U.S. who has now returned to your country.
  • Be prepared to address a mandatory military service if your country has one.

The following are things you should not do during the visa interview.

  • Do not bring family, friends, electronics (including cellphones), glass, food, lighters, cigarettes, makeup, or belt buckles.
  • Do not state that you intend to work in the U.S., even temporarily, after completing your studies.

Please remember to show sufficient finances to support any dependents. If your visa is denied, politely request the reason for the denial in writing.

Transit Visa

If you are traveling through another country on your way to the United States you might need a transit visa from that country. Please check with that country’s embassy or consulate office to determine if you are required to obtain a transit visa.

J-1 Exchange Visitors

Many J-1 Exchange Visitors become subject to the INA 212(e) two-year home country physical presence requirement. The consular officer makes a preliminary determination at the time of your interview if you will be subject to this requirement upon entering the U.S. in J-1 status. It should be marked on both your J-1 visa and your DS-2019. (Note: sometimes these initial determinations are incorrect.)

You can learn more about why and if you are subject, and the specific limitations set forth by the two-year home residency requirement.

Canadian Citizens

Canadian citizens do not need a U.S. visa, but they must present a valid passport, proof of finances, I-20 or DS-2019, and SEVIS fee receipt at the U.S. port of entry.

Students and Visitors Applying from Taiwan

In Taiwan, apply at the American Institute in Taiwan