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F-1/J-1 Visa Application Process

Visa application procedures may vary from country to country, and even at different locations within the same country. Some US Embassies and Consulates process visa applications via mail; others use a drop-off/pick-up system, and many require a personal interview. Be certain to check with the Embassy or Consulate at which you intend to apply for your visa for complete details.


In order to enter the United States, you will need a passport issued by your home country. The passport enables you to leave and re-enter your home country.


If you currently reside outside the United States, you will need to obtain a student (F-1) visa if you are enrolling in a degree program or an exchange visitor (J-1) visa if you are visiting short-term. This visa will allow you to enter and leave the United States.  Instructions on how to secure your visa are included below.  

Here are some general comments in regard to visa acquisition:

  • Begin the process early. You may apply up to 365 days prior to your program start date indicated on your I-20 (for F-1 students) or DS-2019 (for J-1 students) document.

  • The US Department of State provides online information on visa processing times. Be aware that the information on the site updates on a weekly basis.

  • You may not arrive in the United States more than 30 days prior to the program start date on your form I-20 or form DS-2019.

When you apply for a visa, there are a number of items you need to have prepared:

  • F-1 and J-1 applicants will need to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee before applying for a visa.  This fee is to be paid electronically in most countries, but not all. Consult the applicable US Embassy or Consulate web page for more information.

  • There are a number of forms you need to complete to apply for a visa.  Check the web site of the US Embassy or Consulate to which you are applying for specifics.

  • It is recommended that you apply to the visa office that has jurisdiction over the area in which you live. Contact the US Embassy closest to you for more information. Be prepared to discuss, in writing and in person, your plans to return home. You are seeking a nonimmigrant visa, so you must be ready to prove your intention to leave the US and return to your home country.

  • You must show proof of funds to support your stay at IWU.

  • You may be asked to produce your academic records and test scores.

  • Be sure that you know what items are required for your visa appointment and know the procedures for obtaining a visa.

  • Some visa offices require that you apply in person, while others have a mail service or drop-box where you leave and later pick up your papers.

Applying For Your F-1 or J-1 Visa

Following are general instructions for applying for an F-1 or J-1 visa.  It is important to note that visa application procedures vary greatly from country to country; within a country, procedure may vary between the various US Consulates.  

Step 1.    Contact your local US Embassy or Consulate to determine the exact procedures and timelines for obtaining an F-1 or J-1 visa. Visit  to find the Embassy or Consulate nearest to you.

Step 2.   Complete the DS-160 electronic application. You can access this form at To complete this form, you will need the following items:

  • Your passport

  • Your I-20 (for an F-1 visa) or DS-2019 (for a J-1 visa)

  • Dates of your last five visits or trips to the United States, if you have previously travelled to the United States

  • A digital photo for electronic upload: detailed photo requirements can be found here

  • You may be required to provide information about your current and previous education and work history

Please note that the DS-160 must be completed in English.    

You can find detailed instructions on how to complete the DS-160 online at the Consular Electronic Application Center website, and answers to frequently asked questions here.

Step 3.    Once you have electronically submitted your DS-160, you will likely need to schedule an interview and the nearest Embassy or Consulate.  Information on how to schedule an interview and submit additional documents can be found at

Step 4.    Complete Form I-901 and pay the SEVIS fee.  For an F-1 Visa, the fee is $350 USD, and for a J-1 visa, the fee is $220 USD. In order to complete Form I-901, you will need your I-20 or DS-2019.  There is a video tutorial on how to complete the Form I-901 available at

You can access the Form I-901 and pay the fee online at If you choose to pay the fee by check, money order, or Western Union Quick Pay, you must print the Form I‑901 payment coupon when you complete the form online. Applicants from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria must pay the SEVIS fee by mail.

Once you have paid your SEVIS fee, you will need to print confirmation of the payment (click the Check I-901 Status / Print Payment Confirmation link).

You may review these steps in greater detail at Study in the States, operated by the US Department of Homeland Security.

Step 5.    For your visit to the Embassy/Consulate, you should be prepared to provide the following:

  • Your valid passport

  • Your I-20 or DS-2019: make sure you have signed and dated the bottom of the form

  • Proof of your ties to your home country

  • Proof of funds for support for your stay in the United States

  • Confirmation that you have paid your SEVIS fee

  • Payment for the visa application fee: note that the visa application fee is different—and separate—from the SEVIS fee

It is your responsibility as a student to remain compliant with your visa. To remain compliant with your visa you must:

  • be enrolled as a full-time student (with 3 or 4 classes)
  • be making satisfactory progress toward your degree
  • work no more than 20 hours per week on campus
  • inform the DSO/ARO any changes in your address or major
  • NOT work off campus without first requesting authorization from the International Office.

For further details on maintaining your status as an F-1 student, visit Study in the States

For further details on maintaining your status as a J-1 student, visit BridgeUSA.