US Student and F1 Visa Full Application Process in 10 Steps

US Student and F1 Visa

Getting a US Student and F1 Visa

If you are not a US citizen but would like to study there, you will need a US student visa. Over the years, we have seen many students have trouble with the visa acquisition process. One of the goals of our website is to help prospective international students obtain their visas on time and as painlessly as possible.

Keep in mind that the application process for a US student visa varies from country to country. Nevertheless, there are some steps which are universal. We will go over them in this article.

Let us get started.

What You Will Need

Before even getting started with the Visa application process, there are some things you should make sure you have. That way, you will not be wasting precious time later on trying to scrounge up the necessary funds and documents.

Before starting the application process for your US student visa, make sure you have these three things:

  1. Passport. Every international student is required to have a current passport that was issued by their home nation. Additionally, this passport must be valid for at least another six months after the conclusion of your program in the US. Therefore, you cannot use a passport that will expire during your time in the US or soon after your program is over. Instead, you must apply for new passport and use it.
  2. Passport-style photograph. You must provide a current (taken within the last six months) passport-style photo with your application. You will later on be required to upload and submit this with your online visa application as your visa photo. The US visas website includes detailed instructions on how to shoot and upload a visa photo, as well as examples of acceptable and forbidden photos. Please be aware that spectacles are no longer authorised in visa photos as of November 2016.
  3. Money. Last but not least, you’ll need to have enough cash on hand to cover the different fees related to your US student visa:
    1. I-901 SEVIS fee: For F-1/M-1 students, this fee is $350, while for J-1 students, it is $220 (or $35 for those entering short-term J-1 programs). This cost must be covered by all applicants.
    2. Fee for applying for a visa: $160. This cost must be covered by all applicants.
    3. Visa issuance fee (if necessary): Only applicants of specific nationalities are subject to this fee requirement. Visit the US Visas website to find out if you need to pay a visa issuance fee.

10-Step Guide to Getting a US Student and F1 Visa

As we have mentioned in the introduction, regulations for obtaining student visas do vary from country to country, but not by much. This general guide should be broad enough to help most students. However, in some cases you might need additional research to confirm if everything here applies exactly to your country.

Step 1: Apply for a US School/University and Get Accepted

The first step is to apply to and eventually be accepted by a university in the United States. The majority of full-time undergraduate and graduate programmes in the United States have application deadlines in December or January of each year. It is around March and April that schools normally send out their admission announcements.

The colleges you apply to must be SEVP-approved. Use the SEVP school search tool to find a SEVP-approved school or to confirm that the schools you’ve chosen are indeed SEVP-certified. J-1 students will mostly certainly apply for exchange programmes through their home institutions. You can also search for organisations that have been authorised as sponsors on the official J-1 visa website.

Step 2: Get the form I-20 or DS-2019 from Your School

Upon acceptance into a programme, the next step in acquiring a US student visa is receiving Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) for F-1 and M-1 students, or Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status) for J-1 students.

Your school will mail you the necessary form. Your SEVIS ID, your institution’s address, and other important programme information will all be included on your document. This paperwork is essential for your visa interview as well as payment of some of the required charges.

Step 3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee

When you obtain your I-20 or DS-2019 form from your school, go and pay the I-901 SEVIS charge online. The cost is $220 for J-1 students and $350 for F-1/M-1 students. However, those participating in short-term J-1 visa programs need only pay $35.

Except for students from Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, or Nigeria, most students can pay this fee online using a credit card. Keep in mind that the I-901 SEVIS charge is different from the visa application fee.

Print your confirmation paper after paying the fee because you’ll need it for your visa interview.

Step 4: Locate the Closest US Embassy or Consulate.

You will need to apply for your US student visa through a US embassy or consulate. You can search for them online through the US department of state.

As previously mentioned, the procedures for acquiring a US student visa may differ slightly based on the embassy you apply via. This means that you may be required to provide additional documentation with your visa application at some embassies. For further information on things you need to submit, go to your embassy’s website or contact them directly.

Step 5: Complete the DS-160 form Online

The next step is completing the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, also known as the DS-160 form. In order to successfully fill out this form, you will need the following items:

  • Your passport
  • A visa photograph
  • Form I-20 or DS-2019

In rare situations, you may also be required to supply:

  • A travel itinerary
  • The dates of your most recent five trips to the United States (if applicable) and/or your overseas travel history in the last five years
  • A CV or resume
  • Any additional information regarding your purpose for travelling

During the application, you will also need to Choose the US embassy where you want to interview for your visa.

Except for the field asking you to provide your complete name in your native alphabet, the entire form must be filled out in English. If you have trouble understanding the English instructions, translations are provided on the form. Visit the DS-160 FAQ page if you have any additional queries regarding how to complete this form.

Print off your confirmation document after completing this form and submitting it online to bring to your visa interview.

Step 6: Schedule Your US Student Visa Interview

After submitting the DS-160 form, contact your nearest US embassy or consulate to schedule your visa interview. Wait times for the interviews will vary depending on the embassy. You can get an idea of what the wait time will be for your embassy on the US visa website.

Step 7: Pay Your Visa Application Fee

Next, you will need to pay the application fee of 160 USD. This fee is the same regardless of where you apply or where you are from.

Please keep in mind that the date you pay this charge will vary depending on your embassy. Although many embassies require payment of the application fee prior to interviews, not all do. Your embassy should notify you of how and when to submit your visa application cost. If your embassy requires you to pay this sum in advance, bring your receipt as proof of payment to your interview.

Step 8: Attend Your US Student Visa Interview

The interview is the last of the big steps in the process of acquiring your visa. It will be the deciding factor in whether or not you get your visa.

You need to gather and bring the following items to your interview:

  • Your passport
  • One copy of your visa photograph
  • Your printed DS-160 confirmation page
  • Your printed I-901 SEVIS fee confirmation page
  • Your visa application fee payment receipt (only required if you paid this fee before the interview)
  • Form I-20 for F-1 or M-1 students or the Form DS-2019 for J-1 students (must be originals)

Before the interview (right after you arrive), you will need to undergo a security check and provide digital, ink-free fingerprints. The interview itself consists of a range of questions in English. These questions will concentrate mainly on your motivations for choosing the school you have and your post-program plans. It is crucial to make it clear that once your program is over, you do not intend to stay in the US.

You will need to leave your passport at the embassy. If your interview is successful, the embassy will inform you regarding when and how it will return your passport with the new visa.

Some embassies require additional documentation, such as official transcripts from universities or schools you have attended, test scores, proof of sufficient funds, and, in some cases, even proof that you intend to leave the US at the end of your program.

Step 9: If Necessary, Pay the Visa Issuing Fee.

After receiving approval for a US student visa, some students are required to pay a visa issuance fee. Depending on your nationality and the reciprocity agreement between the US and your country, you may or may not be obliged to pay this charge. You can use a chart on the US visas website to determine whether you need to pay a visa issuance fee.

Step 10: Receive Your Visa

Once you have completed all of the aforementioned steps and been awarded an international student visa to the United States, your embassy will return your passport together with your new visa. Keep in mind that certain embassies will demand you to pick it up in person, while others will ship it back to you.

The time it takes to process a visa is determined by your embassy. To obtain an estimate of how long it will take to process your visa, go to the US Visas website.

How to Facilitate a Smooth and Painless Visa Process

Now that you know how to get your US student visa, we should take a moment to talk about ensuring that the process goes as smoothly as possible. The whole visa application process can be rather complicated for many people, so follow these tips to minimize the potential confusion:

  1. Start early. Apply for the student visa as soon as you have been accepted and received Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 from your school, as applying too close to the start of your programme would almost always result in a visa refusal.
  2. Wait until you get your visa to buy a plane ticket. Since there is no assurance that your application will be approved, it is recommended to wait to purchase any plane tickets until you have received your visa. You probably will not receive a full refund for your airfare if you buy a plane ticket in advance and are later denied a US student visa.
  3. Contact your embassy in case you have any questions. What we have outlined above is the general process for obtaining an F-1, M-1, or J-1 international student visa to the US. However, your process might differ from the steps we have listed, depending on where you live and the differences between various US embassies. For this reason, always direct any questions or concerns you might have to your closest US embassy as they are the best resource for questions about any visa-related matters.

What if Your US Student Visa is Denied?

Most US visa applications are accepted. That said, sometimes students get rejected for various reasons. These range from failing to provide proof of sufficient funds to not bringing all of the necessary documentation to their interview.

Suffice it to say, if you follow the steps we have outlined above carefully, you should not have any problems getting your visa. However, if for whatever reason you are rejected, you will not receive any refunds and will have to begin the visa process all over again. Therefore, make sure to get it right the first time.


In summary, getting a US student visa is not necessarily simple, but it does not need to be impossibly complicated. When broken down into the steps we have outlined above, the process is easy to follow and complete. Make sure you get a headstart on the whole thing, bring all the documents on time, leave a good impression on your interview, as well as pay all of the required fees, and you should have no problems.

What do you think? Have you thought about trying to get a visa before but simply thought the process would be too complicated? Maybe you tried but were rejected for some reason. Whatever the case might be, if you need additional assistance with your visa process or anything else relating to studying abroad, feel free to explore our website further or even contact us directly to see how we can help.

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