A Guide to Student Visas and Studying Abroad in the U.S.

An educational career is typically filled with new and expanding experiences for each student as they learn about the world and embark on study to pursue a specific field. Some students opt to expand their experience even further by studying abroad. International students wishing to study abroad in the United States have a variety of educational institutions from which to choose. It’s helpful to learn about the types of visas available and what to expect before signing up to study in America.

Types of Visas

Citizens of foreign countries who want to study in the United States have the option of obtaining a non-immigrant visa for a temporary stay in the United States or an immigrant visa to set up a permanent residence in the country. A student’s planned course of study and the high school or college attended will determine whether the student needs an F-1 visa or an M-1 visa. Anyone wishing to enter the United States to attend an academic institution such as a conservatory, seminary, private elementary school, high school, university, or college will need an F-1 visa. Anyone planning to attend a non-academic institution or a vocational school will need an M-1 visa. Someone planning a shorter visit that involves recreational study can obtain a visitor B visa. However, students with this type of visa cannot work to earn credits toward a certificate or degree. American students studying abroad will also need to fulfill the visa requirements of their host countries, depending on their purpose there and the intended length of their stay.

Obtaining a Visa

The process to apply for a visa involves several legal steps. The first step is applying and being accepted by an approved school. After this is achieved, a student is entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. Enrollment in this system requires the payment of a fee and completion of Form I-20. If a student has a spouse and/or children who will also reside in the United States, they must also complete Form I-20.

Applicants must also complete Form DS-160. Students must complete this form, upload a photo, and print the full application to take to an in-person interview. Schedule the interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate office in the native country. Interview scheduling can take time, so students should begin this process as early as possible. Visas can be issued up to 120 days before the starting date of the study program. Applicants will need to pay a non-refundable application fee and a visa issuance fee with approval of the visa. Documentation to bring to the visa interview includes a passport, Form DS-160, a receipt for the application fee, a photo, and Form I-20. Some embassies also require applicants to bring their school transcripts and standardized test scores as well as details that outline how the student will pay their expenses while in the United States.

During the interview, a consular officer will ask questions to determine whether an applicant is qualified to receive a study visa. The applicant will need to satisfy the legal requirements to receive a visa. After the interview, additional administrative processing will occur. After notification of their approval, the applicant pays the issuance fee, and the visa is delivered by courier or made available for pick-up. The overall process is very similar for American students wishing to study in other countries.

Tips While Abroad

Preparing to travel and study abroad will be exciting, and students should take time to prepare for the excursion. Learning about the new country is helpful because it will ease the transition. Learn about federal holidays, currency, language, time zones, and sites of interest in the area. The United States has special immigration services designed to help people acclimate to the country, including lists of resources and organizations that help foreign citizens, and some other countries offer similar resources to students studying there. Packing light is advantageous to make it easier to explore the country. While studying abroad, students should focus on their new surroundings, savor the experiences, and try new things that will be different from home.