Applying for a Student Visa


A visa is an entry document that you must apply for at a consulate outside the United States. You need a valid unexpired student visa to enter the United States.

Exceptions

  • Citizens of Canada or Bermuda are not required to obtain an entry visa. You are still required to apply for an I-20/DS-2019. 

  • If you have an unexpired student visa, you are not required to apply for a new one. You are still required to apply for an I-20/DS-2019.


How to Apply for a Visa

Receive your I-20/DS-2019 form and Pay the SEVIS Fee

  • Follow our instructions on how to apply for an I-20/DS-2019 form
  • After receiving your I-20/DS-2019 form, pay the SEVIS fee.

Complete the DS-160 Visa Application

  • You are required to submit the DS-160.
  • Review frequently asked questions about the DS-160.
  • Answer truthfully to the best of your knowledge. The ISS cannot provide advice on completing the DS-160.
  • Contact your local embassy or consulate with any questions.

Schedule Your Visa Interview

  • Follow the instructions for your embassy or consulate.
  • The earliest you can interview for your visa is 120 days before your start date.
  • It is generally recommended that you apply for a visa in your home country rather than a third country if possible.
  • Each embassy has its own visa processing times.

Prepare Documents

  • Passport (valid for at least six months beyond the date of travel to the U.S.)
  • DS-160 confirmation page
  • Valid I-20/DS-2019 (original, not a copy)
  • Copy of Columbia admission letter/email
  • SEVIS Fee Receipt
  • Financial documents (issued within the previous 3 months)
  • Any other documents listed on embassy/consulate website

Dependents should have these documents ready as well.

  • Passport (valid for at least six months beyond the date of travel to the U.S.)
  • DS-160 confirmation page
  • Dependent I-20/DS-2019 (original, not a copy)

Attend Interview

Review 10 points to remember when applying for a non-immigrant visa from NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the leading organization committed to international education and exchange.

  • Copy of student’s I-20/DS-2019
  • Copy of student’s Columbia admission letter/email
  • Financial documents
  • Proof of relationship to student (marriage or birth certificate)
    • Copy of student’s visa page and copy of student’s I-94 Arrival Record (only if the student is already in the U.S. and dependent(s) will follow later)

Receive and Review Your Entry Visa

  • Your visa issuance will take several days/weeks.
  • Check the visa in your passport to make sure that all the information on it is correct. 
  • Your I-20/DS-2019 should be returned to you. You will need it to enter the U.S.

Visa Renewal

If your visa expires while you are maintaining status and in the U.S., nothing happens because it is a travel document only. Please learn more about visa expiration. However, if you are traveling internationally, you will need an unexpired visa to request entry into the U.S. (with the potential exception when traveling from Canada, Mexico, or certain Adjacent Caribbean Islands).

The visa renewal process is similar to the initial F-1 or J-1 student visa application outlined above. You must obtain the visa from a US consulate or embassy abroad, ideally in your home country where you were last successful, and you will need to establish your non-immigrant intent and ties to your home country.

Documents Required

Generally these are the documents you need, but each consulate may require additional application materials so check with the consulate at which you will apply. 

  1. your passport (valid at least 6 months into the future)
  2. most recent I-20/DS-2019 form with valid travel signature, and updated proof of funding.
  3. a copy of your transcripts and a certificate of enrollment from the Registrar, if applying for a visa during your academic program.
  4. funding documentation
  5. your EAD card and proof of employment, if you are on OPT or STEM OPT Extension