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Applying for a Visa – Key Points to Keep in Mind

In order to apply for a visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate, you must first have a SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System)-generated document (either an I-20 or DS-2019) issued by a U.S. college or university or Department of State-designated sponsor organization. You will be required to submit this form when you apply for a visa. The U.S. academic institution or program sponsor will provide you with the appropriate SEVIS-generated form only when you have been academically admitted to the institution or accepted as a participant in an exchange program. The institution or program sponsor will also send you additional information about applying for the appropriate visa, as well as other guidance about beginning your academic program in the United States.

Once you have all the required documentation, you may apply for the visa, even if you do not intend to begin your program of study for several months. It is best to apply early for the visa to make sure that there is sufficient time for visa processing.

Planning Ahead for the Visa Process, Not Just Your Academic Admission

One of the most important things you can do to ensure that you will be able to arrive in time for the start of your educational program in the United States is to plan well in advance, not only for the academic portion of your U.S. program, but also for the visa process. This means you will need to request and receive the appropriate visa-qualifying document (either an I-20 or DS-2019) from the U.S. institution or program sponsor well in advance of your planned departure to the United States. You will also need to make an appointment for your visa interview. Please consult the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you.


 You’ll need to pay the SEVIS fee (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), pay the visa processing fee, and make an appointment for the visa interview (the procedure will differ on all of these from one U.S. Embassy/Consulate to another, so visit the website of the U.S. Embassy.


You should also make sure you have all the documentation you will need when you go for the interview, including the visa-qualifying document (I-20 or DS-2019), financial support documents, proof of payment of the SEVIS and visa fees, and a completed visa application form. Ensure that you complete the visa application correctly by following the Department of State website procedures carefully.

There are two additional bits of information that are useful to know.

The first is that the U.S. Embassy/Consulate cannot issue a visa more than 120 days before the actual startof the program in the United States. However, visa applicants are encouraged to apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so. Thus, if the college or university to which you have been admitted states on the I-20 or DS-2019 that the program will start on September 1, a visa cannot be issued before May 1.

Second, even if you have been issued a visa to enter the United States, you will not be allowed to enter the country more than 30 days before the start of your program, if you are an initial entry student. Returning students do not have this requirement. Using the earlier example, if the program of study starts on September 1, you will not be permitted to enter the United States until August 1 or later. Statistics on visa issuance rates around the world can be found here.

Where can I find more information about the visa application process in my country?

Some procedures vary from country to country, for example, how to pay the visa application processing fee and how to make an appointment for an interview. For details on applying for a Student or Exchange Visitor visa in the country in which you are located, please visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you. If you have specific questions about visas that are not answered by the embassy website, please contact the EducationUSA advising center nearest you for individual guidance.

Some EducationUSA advising centers offer workshops about the visa application process. It is important to know all you can about this extremely important element of your proposed study in the United States. EducationUSA advisers communicate frequently with U.S. consular officers and will be able to help you prepare for the visa application process and the visa interview.

The content on this page has been excerpted from the EducationUSA website, a web portal sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.For more information, please visit

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