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Visa Process Step by Step

Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. You must have a student visa to study in the United States. Your course of study and the type of school you plan to attend determine whether you need an F visa or an M visa.

If you are going to study in the US you will need to apply for a F-1 student visa. Here we will guide you through the application process step by step.

Please note that the US authorities can change the visa regulations at any time and different rules can apply to different countries so always double check the information at the official website for US Visas. We help you to the best of our knowledge but it is your responsibility to complete all the steps in the application process in accordance with the US guidelines and regulations.

Step 1 Apply to a school and get an I-20

You need to be enrolled in a US school before you can apply for a student visa. Once a school has accepted you they will send you an I-20 document that you will need throughout the visa application process.

It is important that you check that your name and date of birth on your I-20 matches your passport. Otherwise, you will have to ask the school to change it and send you a new one.

Step 2 Pay the SEVIS-fee of $200

When you study in the US you will be enrolled in SEVIS, Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. To start your visa application you need to pay the SEVIS-fee of $200 at https://www.fmjfee.com/ You need to submit your SEVIS ID from your I-20 when you make the payment. Don’t forget to print a receipt of the payment!

Step 3 Fill in the DS-160 application online

The next step is to fill in the online application form DS-160. Here you have to fill in a lot of personal details (name, address, nationality etc) and answer questions about your health and criminal record. You also need to upload a photo. Eye glasses are not allowed. Read the requirements for the photo.

Remember to print the confirmation page with a barcode!

If you need to renew your passport you should do it before you start your DS-160 application since the passport number have to match with the one you bring to the interview under step 5. We recommend that your passport is valid for your entire stay so you don’t have to renew it in the US. The passport should be valid at least 6 months beyond your period of stay in the United States if your nationality is not on the exception list.

Step 4 Pay the application fee

When you have completed the DS-160 form you have to pay the visa application fee of $160. And no this is not the same as the SEVIS-fee (why make it easy when you can complicate things…) so the total cost of the visa is $360.

Choose your nearest US Embassy or Consulate surf their website to the F-1 Student Visa section. There you will find more information about the visa application fee payment. As usual, you should print the receipt, you will need the reference number of the payment in the next step.

Step 5 Book an interview at the US Embassy

Once the application fee is paid you can proceed to book your interview on the Embassy link above. Waiting times can be long before the big start dates in January and August so book as soon as possible. You will need to input your passport number, your CGI-reference number from the application fee payment and the 10-digit barcode number from your DS-160 confirmation.

Step 6 Prepare the documents for the interview

You will need to prepare a number of documents for the interview. Among those documents are:

  • Your passport
  • Your DS-160 confirmation page
  • Receipt of payment for your visa application fee and your SEVIS-fee
  • A photo according to the guidelines on the link above. This might not be needed if you successfully uploaded it online. Check what it says on your Embassy’s page about the interview documents.
  • Your I-20
  • Please note that some Embassies might require additional documents so make sure to check what it says on the website for the US Embassy or Consulate where you will apply

You should also bring supporting documents such as:

  • Documents that support that you can pay for all educational, living and travel costs.
  • Academic records such as transcripts, diplomas and test results (like TOEFL-score)

Documents that prove that you still have ties to your home country and will return after your studies, e.g. return ticket, apartment contract, job contract, enrollment letter from a school etc.

Step 7 The interview at the US embassy

At the US Embassy the person interviewing you will primarily check that:

  1. Your main purpose really is to study and that you have the skills needed to pass the program
  2. That you can pay for your expenses in the US
  3. That you intend to return home after you have finished your studies
  4. That you don’t pose a security risk

Step 8 Travel to the US

Your visa application will be approved or denied at the interview. If approved you should get your passport with the visa within 7 days of the interview in most countries. Then it is time to book your flight to the US if you have not already done so. When you have a F-1 student visa you don’t need a return ticket so it is okay to book a single ticket. You can enter the US at the earliest 30 days before the course start stated on your I-20. Don’t forget to bring your I-20 in your carry-on luggage as you will need to show it at the immigrations control in the airport on arrival.

Don’t forget to book a student insurance when you study in the US!

Disclaimer: Please note that the American authorities can make changes to the visa application process without notifying us. Different rules can apply to different nationalities so always read the instructions from the immigration authorities carefully. The information in the article above is correct to the best of our knowledge but we cannot be held responsible for any error that might occur without our knowledge. When in doubt always trust the official sources and check with them if needed.

Documents required for a US student visa

When applying for your student visa for the US, you will generally need:

  • A valid passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the US (unless exempt by country specific agreements)
  • Acceptance at a SEVP approved school and your Form I-20
  • Application fee payment for the SEVIS
  • Non-immigrant visa application and the Form DS-160confirmation page
  • Your photograph in the requested format, and number


Some additional documents that might be required include:

  • Academic preparation documents such as transcripts, diplomas, degrees or certificates
  • Evidence that you have sufficient funds to maintain your living expenses throughout the period of your stay in the US. This may include:
    • Bank statements
    • Financial undertaking by a sponsor to cover your accommodation and living costs
    • A scholarship program.
  • Evidence that you will leave the US once you have completed your course of study. This can be in the form of an air ticket out of the US to your home country

You may also have to appear for a personal interview at the US embassy.

Application Process

International students often underestimate the amount of time required to apply for admission to a college or university in the United States. You can avoid this mistake by setting a schedule for yourself that begins well in advance of the time that you plan to begin your studies.

When setting your timetable, always remember that starting the process early is the best way forward. You will need to allow yourself sufficient time to thoroughly research the institution and/or program that will best serve your academic and professional goals. Then you must meet the application deadlines of the universities to which you apply, which may be up to ten months before the beginning of the school term.

Especially for schools with competitive admissions, the application process takes a significant amount of time and effort. You will need to write personal statements and request recommendations from teachers or others who know you well. Even if you are applying on line via the Common Application, you will want to get started early. University websites and other academic Internet sites may provide quick and convenient access to the required application forms, but you still need time to research your options, contact teachers and institutions to provide recommendations and transcripts, and sign up for required entrance exams in time to meet application deadlines.

Application Timeline

This application timeline will provide you with detailed information about the steps you should take and when you should take them in order to plan your approach to studying in the USA. The plan starts 18 months before you wish to study, so you need to get planning soon! Of course, if you don’t have that much time you can still jump in and catch.

Things to know before studying in USA

  1. How are classes held?
  2. Clothes cost beyond the listed price
  3. Underage Drinking
  4. Food
  5. How to save your money.
  6. University in the US is called ‘college’
  7. You don’t have to decide what to study right away
  8. Textbooks are crazily expensive
  9. There’s more flexibility than you might expect
  10. College sports matter

Obtain or update a passport and make sure all your paperwork is in order


The United States has long benefited from relatively open visa and immigration policies for international S&E students and researchers. Individuals and institutions that directly rely on or benefit from the presence of international graduate students and postdoctoral scholars, especially the university community, have been concerned that changes in visa and immigration policies after 9-11 jeopardized the flow of international scientists and engineers. In addition, international political views affect students’ and scholars’ willingness to come to study in the United States. That the consequences were not as great as anticipated can probably be attributed to efforts by the US government to make the nonimmigrant-visa application process work effectively and to measures taken by universities to make the graduate application process responsive to international-student needs.

Student flows respond quickly to alterations in immigration policies. However, the inflow of talented graduate students and postdoctoral scholars is unlikely to be severely affected as long as the world sees the United States as the most desirable destination for S&E education, training, and technology-based employment. If that perception shifts, and if international students find equally attractive educational and professional opportunities in other countries, including their own, the difficulty of visiting the United States could gain decisive importance.



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