Students studying outside on campus in the US.
Students studying outside on campus in the US.

US Student Visa Requirements and F1 Visas for International Students

All international students who want to study at an American college or university must apply for an F-1 student visa. Not sure where to start? We’ve put together an easy-to-use guide about the F-1 student visa process. We have plenty of support here at INTO to help you have a successful study abroad experience. Read on for US student visa requirements and more.

Are you looking for help with the F-1 Visa Process?

Join a workshop or webinar about F1 visas and how to apply. View our PASS workshops here

Do you need a guide or support before your F-1 visa interview? Book a PASS session with one of our visa specialists

What is an F-1 visa?

An F-1 student visa is needed to study at a US college or university certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) run by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). It is classified as a non-immigrant visa for temporary stay. You can apply for this visa after an accredited institution accepts your application and issues you a Form I-20.

The Form I-20 provided by the university will determine the length of your program and list an expiration date. This will determine how long you have to earn your degree and stay in the US.

What are the requirements for an F-1 Visa

As part of the US student visa process you’ll need to meet the requirements for an F-1 visa. These include:

  • You have applied to and been accepted by a university approved by SEVP
  • You will be enrolled as a full-time student for the academic term or terms you plan to attend
  • You meet English proficiency scores set by the university or will be enrolled in courses for English proficiency. View INTO’s English Language Course offering here
  • You have proof of financial funds to support your study and living expenses in the US
  • You have a valid passport – be sure it is valid for at least six months after your program starts.

How to apply for a US student visa

There are seven main steps in the US student visa process:

  1. Receive your Form I-20
  2. Pay the $350 I-901 SEVIS fee
  3. Complete your online DS-160 visa application and pay the MRV fee of $160
  4. Schedule your US visa interview
  5. Prepare all your documents to take with you to your US visa interview
  6. Join a Pre-Arrival Support Services (PASS) session with a US visa specialist at INTO for interview preparation
  7. Attend your visa interview!

We’ll take you through each of these steps in more detail below.

Make sure to check the US embassy or consulate website in the country where you will apply to confirm the application process for the F-1 visa.

The US student visa process

1. Receive your Form I-20

After you’ve received your offer of admission from a university, you’ll need to provide financial documentation (bank statements) and an affidavit of support to the university you will attend.

Once received, the following information is recorded in the Student Exchange and Visitor Information System (SEVIS):

  • SEVIS ID number
  • Program start and end dates
  • Intended program of study
  • Funding sources
  • Cost of attendance at your chosen university
  • Additional personal information

Your Form I-20 is issued and sent to you by a university official. The information in your I-20 is provided by the university to SEVIS based on what was in your application materials.

You need the Form I-20 to complete the remaining steps.

2. Pay the $350 I-901 SEVIS fee

Create an account on the SEVP Portal and learn how to pay the fee in your home country.

Make sure to save the I-901 SEVIS fee payment confirmation for your records and visa interview, which you’ll access on the same SEVP portal after you pay.

3. Complete your online DS-160 visa application and pay the MRV fee of $160

You’ll need the following documents to successfully submit your DS-160 visa application: your Form I-20, passport, travel itinerary and visa photo. View digital image requirements for your photo here

Pay the $160 booking fee for your visa interview and submit your application.

Note: The total cost to apply for an F-1 visa is $510, or the equivalent in your local currency. In some cases, there is an additional visa issuance fee to extend the validity period of your F-1 visa.

4. Schedule your US visa interview

Look for the closest US Embassy or Consulate to you and schedule a date for your visa interview. Wait times can vary significantly by country and can take months. Schedule your interview as early as possible. Remember that F-1 visas cannot be issued more than 120 days before the start date on your form I-20.

5. Prepare documents required for your F-1 visa application interview:

  • Passport
  • Form I-20 (printed, and signed by the student)
  • I-901 SEVIS Fee payment confirmation ($350 fee)
  • DS-160 confirmation page
  • MRV Fee payment receipt ($160 fee) and appointment booking confirmation
  • US visa size photograph

During your visa interview, you may be asked for additional documents. To make sure you’re prepared, bring along the following:

  • Financial documents (bank statements, financial statements, etc.) to prove your ability to pay educational, living and travel expenses
  • Transcripts or diplomas from schools you attended
  • Standardized test scores required by the university
  • Offer letter from the university
  • Documentation to prove ties to your home country

6. Join a PASS session with a US visa specialist at INTO for interview preparation:

PASS is included in your program and is available to all INTO students at no extra cost. Our goal is that you feel as prepared and as comfortable as possible on the day of your interview.

Join one of INTO’s free visa prep sessions

All confirmed students are contacted directly to book a PASS session and speak with a visa specialist

7. Attend your visa interview

Your visa interview will be conducted by a consular officer to determine whether you are qualified to receive a student visa. You must attend your visa interview in person.

The consular officer at the US embassy or consulate is looking to confirm three main things:

  • You are coming to study as a genuine student.
  • You have proof of and reliable financial funding to cover the costs of your education and expenses.
  • You will return home after your program in the US is complete.

Examples of questions you may be asked during your visa interview include:

  • What is the purpose of your trip to the US?
  • Why did you choose this university?
  • Why do you want to study in the US and not your home country?
  • Why did you choose this course/major?
  • Who is your sponsor and what is your relationship to this person/organization?
  • What is the professional background of the person paying for your studies, what is their current job and income?
  • Do you have any relatives living in the US?
  • What are your plans after having completed your program in the US?
  • Have you applied for a visa before?
  • Have you travelled internationally before?

How to prevent an F-1 visa denial

Unfortunately, there is the possibility that your F-1 visa application will be denied. If this does happen, you will be notified in detail of the reason including the section of the law that applies to your application.

No one can guarantee your visa will be accepted. We highly recommend following all visa guidance and instructions carefully. Remember to double and triple check your DS-160 visa application to ensure your information is correct and matches your Form I-20.

To help you prepare, INTO offers free visa support and guidance for students enrolling at our US partners through our Pre-Arrival Success Service (PASS) program.

View our PASS workshops and events here

Book a PASS session with a visa specialist here

Remember, it is important to demonstrate to the consular officer that you are coming to the US to attend your specific university program and planning to return home once your studies are complete.

For a further, more detailed walkthrough of US student visa requirements, visit the Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs webpage on Student Visa

Keeping your F-1 visa status while in the US

During your study abroad experience in the US, you want to follow all rules and regulations surrounding the university and your F-1 visa to keep its active status.

Arrival to the US:

  • Enter no more than 30 days before the program start date on your I-20
  • Immediately contact your Designated School Official (DSO) at your university when you enter the US
  • When you arrive at your university, contact your DSO again, no later than your program’s start date

During the school year:

  • Attend your classes, maintain good academic standing and a good GPA
  • If school is difficult, speak with your DSO
  • If you know that you cannot complete your program by the listed end date on your Form I-20, speak with your DSO about the possibility of requesting a program extension
  • You must be a full-time student with a full course load during the academic term
  • If you wish to change or drop a class, speak with your DSO first

Note: If you want to take a break or vacation, you must complete at least one full academic year at your university. You must also intend to register for classes in the term or semester following your vacation.

After your F-1 Visa

Once you complete your program, you will have a 60-day grace period to leave the US. Although your program ends, your study abroad adventure doesn’t have to end here.

Explore Graduate Pathway program options if you are an undergraduate student or the possibility of OPT, a type of work permission available for eligible F-1 students. It allows you to get real-world work experience related to your field of study for up to one year. If you have completed a STEM-designated degree and are on OPT, you can apply for a two-year STEM OPT extension. This means you could work in the US for up to three years after you graduate.

Take the next step to studying in the US

INTO is dedicated to helping you making the most of your study abroad experience here in the US.

We hope this easy-to-use guide has helped you understand the F-1 visa process for international students and the US student visa requirements.

Are you still deciding on the right university for your study abroad experience? Look at our US universities and start planning the next step in your study abroad adventure