F-1 Visa: US Student Visa for College & Academic Study in US
- What is the F-1 Visa?
- Am I Eligible for an F-1 Visa?
- Limits on Attending Publicly Funded Schools
- How Do I Apply for an F-1 Visa from Outside the U.S.?
- F-1 Visa Denials
- When Do I Need to Apply for My F-1 Student Visa?
- Admission through a U.S. Port of Entry
- Changing My Status to Become a Student If I Am in the U.S.
- Applying for Permission to Transfer Schools
- Bringing My Spouse and Children to the U.S.
- How Long Can I Stay in the U.S.?
- Extending My Stay as a Student in the U.S.
- Student Visa Abusers
- Will I Get a Student Work Permit?
- Can I Travel Outside the U.S.?
- How Can I Get USCIS Forms?
- HELP! with F-1 Student Visas
- Additional Information for International Students
What is the F-1 Visa?
The F-1 Visa is a nonimmigrant (temporary) US Visa for international students (foreign students) in colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, academic high schools, other academic institutions, or in language training.
You will need a different visa if you wish to pursue nonacademic or vocational studies (see M-1 Visa - US Student Visa for Vocational Study in US) or if you are planning to study in the United States as an Exchange Visitor (see J-1 Visa - US Exchange Visitor Visa for US Exchange Programs).
Am I Eligible for an F-1 Visa?
For eligibility criteria, please see Student Visa: Student Visas for International Students, College Study in US and More.
Limits on Attending Publicly Funded Schools
If you wish to attend "public" high school (grades 9-12) in the United States on an F-1 Visa, you must submit evidence that the local school district has been reimbursed in advance for the unsubsidized per capita cost of the education, and your attendance cannot exceed a total of 12 months. F-1 Visa international students are prohibited from attending public elementary schools and publicly funded adult education programs in the United States.
International students attending "private" schools, or in privately funded adult education or language programs, are not subject to these requirements.
Also, please be aware that these requirements affect only international students who obtain F-1 Student Visas (those to whom Form I-20 would be issued). These requirements do not affect international students in any other status, for example exchange students (who hold J-1 Visa status), or dependents of foreign nationals in the United States on long-term visas (students whose parents are here as diplomats, researchers or foreign workers).
How Do I Apply for an F-1 Visa from Outside the U.S.?
You first must apply to study at an USCIS-approved school in the United States, a school approved by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for accepting international students (foreign students). When you contact a school that you are interested in attending, you should be told immediately if the school accepts foreign national students (international students). If you are accepted, the school should give you USCIS Form I-20 A-B/ID (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students). You should also be prepared to prove that you have the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States. For more information on eligibility, see Student Visa: Student Visas for International Students, College Study in US and More.
If you require an F-1 Visa, you should generally apply at the US Embassy or US Consulate with jurisdiction over your place of permanent residence. Although you may apply at any U.S. consular office abroad, it may be more difficult to qualify for the F-1 Visa outside your country of permanent residence.
As part of the F-1 Visa application process, you must have an interview at the embassy consular section if you are from age 14 through 79, with few exceptions. Persons age 13 and younger, and age 80 and older, generally do not require an interview, unless requested by the embassy or consulate. The waiting time for an interview appointment can vary, so apply for your F-1 Visa early. Visa wait times for interview appointments, and visa processing time information for each U.S. Embassy or Consulate worldwide, is available on our website at Visa Wait Times. Learn how to schedule an appointment for an interview, pay the application processing fee, review embassy specific instructions, and much more by visiting the US Embassy or US Consulate website where you will apply.
During the visa application process, usually at the interview, an ink-free, digital fingerprint scan will be quickly taken. Some visa applications require further administrative processing , which takes additional time after the interview by a Consular Officer. You should be informed if this situation applies in your case. Also, because each student’s personal and academic situation is different, two students applying for same visa may be asked different questions and be required to submit different additional documents.
F-1 Visa Documentation
Each applicant for an F-1 Student Visa must submit these forms and documentation:
- Form I-20A-B, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students. You will need to submit a Form, I-20, which was provided to you by your school. You and your school official must sign the I-20 form.
- Online Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Electronic Application. Some US Embassies and US Consulates that have not converted to this new online process may require older nonimmigrant application forms. See Form DS-160 for more information.
- A passport valid for travel to the United States and with a validity date at least six months beyond the applicant's intended period of stay in the United States (unless country-specific agreements provide exemptions). If more than one person is included in the passport, each person desiring a visa must complete an application.
- One (1) 2x2 photograph. See the required photo format explained in nonimmigrant photograph requirements;
- A MRV fee receipt to show payment of the visa application fee.
- The SEVIS I-901 fee receipt.
You should be prepared to provide:
- Transcripts and diplomas from previous institutions attended;
- Scores from standardized tests required by the educational institution such as the TOEFL, SAT, GRE, GMAT, etc.;
- Financial evidence that shows you or your parents who are sponsoring you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period of your intended study. For example, if you or your sponsor is a salaried employee, please bring income tax documents and original bank books and/or statements. If you or your sponsor owns a business, bring business registration, licenses, etc., and tax documents, as well as original bank books and/or statements.
- Nonimmigrant visa application processing fee - For current fees for Department of State government services, see Fees. You will need to provide a receipt showing the visa application processing fee has been paid, when you come for your visa interview.
- Visa issuance fee – Additionally, if the visa is issued, there will be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee, if applicable. Please consult the Visa Reciprocity Tables to find out if you must pay a visa issuance reciprocity fee and what the fee amount is. If there is a fee for issuance for the visa, it is equal as nearly as possible to the fee charged to United States citizens by the applicant's country of nationality.
Additional Requirements for the F-1 Visa
You must establish to the satisfaction of the consular officer that you have binding ties to your residence in your country that you have no intention of abandoning, and that you will depart the United States when you have completed your studies. It is impossible to specify the exact form the evidence should take since circumstances vary greatly.
Visa Ineligibility / Waiver
There are categories of persons ineligible to receive visas under U.S. law. In some instances an applicant who is ineligible, but who is otherwise properly classifiable as a student, may apply for a waiver of ineligibility and be issued a visa if the waiver is approved. If you are found to be ineligible, the consular officer will advise you of any waivers.
F-1 Visa Denials
For an explanation of the most common circumstance under which a visa is denied, as well as your right to reapply, see Visa Denied, Visa Refused Under 214b (Nonimmigrant Visa Denials, Visa Refusals).
- Students are encouraged to apply for their visa early to provide ample time for visa processing. Students may apply for their visa as soon as they are prepared to do so.
- Students should note that Embassies and Consulates are able to issue your student visa 120 days or less, in advance of the course of study registration date. If you apply for your visa more than 120 days prior to your start date or registration date as provided on the Form I-20, the Embassy or Consulate will hold your application until it is able to issue the visa. Consular officials will use that extra time for application processing.
- Students are advised of the Department of Homeland Security regulation which requires that all initial or beginning students enter the U.S. 30 days or less in advance of the course of study start/report date as shown on the Form I-20. Please consider this date carefully when making travel plans to the U.S.
- A beginning student who wants an earlier entry into the U.S. (more than 30 days prior to the course start date), must qualify for, and obtain a visitor visa. A prospective student notation will be shown on his/her visitor visa and the traveler will need to make the intent to study clear to the U.S. immigration inspector at port of entry. Before beginning any studies, he or she must obtain approval for a change to Exchange Visitor status, filing USCIS Form I-539 , Application for Change of Nonimmigrant Status and pay the fee. Also you must submit the required Form I-20 to the Department of Homeland Security office where the application is made. Please be aware that one can not begin studies until the change of classification is approved.
- Continuing students may apply for a new visa at any time, as long as they have been maintaining student status and their (SEVIS) records are current. Continuing students may also enter the U.S. at any time before their classes start.
Admission through a U.S. Port of Entry
You should be aware that a US Visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. A visa is issued by a Department of State Consular Office abroad, but a separate U.S. agency, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), has authority to deny admission at the port of entry. Also, the period for which you are authorized to remain in the U.S. is determined by the CBP, not the Department of State Consular Office.
At the port of entry, a CBP official must authorize your admission to the U.S. At that time, the CBP official will provide you with a stamped Form I-94 (Record of Arrival-Departure), which will include your admission number to the U.S. and which will note how long you are permitted to stay in the U.S. A CBP inspector will also write your admission number on your USCIS Form I-20 A-B/ ID. The USCIS inspector will then send pages one and two of this form, known as I-20 A-B, to your school as a record of your legal admission to the United States. You are expected to keep pages three and four, known as the I-20 ID. This document is your proof that you are allowed to study in the United States as an F-1 Student.
The date of departure stamped on your Form I-94 will probably be marked with the notation "D/S", which means duration of status. This notation essentially means you are welcome to stay in the United States for as long as you are enrolled as a full-time student in an educational program and making normal progress toward completing your course of study.
You should see your designated school official (DSO) if you need a replacement copy of your I-20 ID. You should also keep safe your Form I-94, because it proves that you legally entered the United States.
For more information, see:
- Inspection Process for U.S. Entry
- I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card) (which also explains how to obtain a replacement)
- Length of Stay is Determined by My I-94 Form (Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94 Card) -- NOT My Visa
Changing My Status to Become a Student If I Am in the U.S.
If you are already in the U.S. on another US Visa (nonimmigrant visa), and you would like to change your status to a student, you first must apply to study at an USCIS-approved school in the United States. When you contact a school that you are interested in attending, you should be told immediately if the school accepts foreign national students (international students). If you are accepted, the school should send you USCIS Form I-20 A-B/IID (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students). You must submit this form and USCIS Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) to the USCIS. You must also prove that you have the financial resources required for your education and stay in the United States. For more information, please see Change Visa Status - How to Change to a New Nonimmigrant Visa Status.
Applying for Permission to Transfer Schools
You must be a full time student in good academic standing. You must notify your current school of your intent to transfer. You must ask the school that you plan on attending to give you a new USCIS Form I-20 A-B/ID (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students). You must complete your portion of the USCIS Form I-20 and give it to your new designated school official (DSO) within 15 days of transferring. The designated school official (DSO) should give you the last two pages, known as Form I-20 ID, and forward a copy of the first two pages, known as Form I-20 A-B, to the USCIS and your prior school.
Bringing My Spouse and Children to the U.S.
Your spouse and children may come with you to the United States in F-2 Visa status. They should go with you to the U.S. embassy or consulate when you apply for your student (F-1) visa. They should be prepared to prove their relationship to you. If your spouse or children are following to join you at a later date, they should provide the U.S. embassy staff with a copy of your passport and your USCIS Form I-20 ID (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students) and proof of their relationship to you. The F-2 Visa status of your family will be dependent upon your status as the F-1 academic student. This means that if you change your status, your family must change their status. If you lose your status, your family will also lose their status. (For more information on changing status, please see Change Visa Status - How to Change to a New Nonimmigrant Visa Status).
Your family members must meet all visa eligibility requirements, including evidence that they will have sufficient funds for their support, and that they will depart the U.S. when your program ends. Spouses and children of students may not accept employment at any time.
How Long Can I Stay in the U.S.?
You are allowed to stay in the United States for as long as you are enrolled as a full-time student in an educational program and making normal progress toward completing your course of study. If approved, you also will be allowed to stay in the country up to twelve additional months beyond the completion of your studies to pursue practical training. At the end of your studies or practical training, you will be given sixty days to prepare to leave the country.
- It is important that you depart the U.S. on or before the last day you are authorized to be in the U.S. on any given trip, based on the specified end date on your Arrival-Departure Record, Form I-94. Information on successfully maintaining your immigration status while a student or exchange visitor can be found on the Department of Homeland Security website.
- Staying beyond the period of time authorized by the DHS causes you to be out-of-status in the United States, which is a violation of U.S. immigration laws. This may cause you to be ineligible for a visa in the future for return travel to the U.S. Select Classes of Aliens Ineligible to Receive Visas to learn more.
- Staying unlawfully in the United States beyond the date Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials have authorized, even by one day, results in your visa being automatically voided, in accordance with immigration law, INA 222(g). In this situation, you are required to reapply for a new nonimmigrant visa, generally in your country of nationality.
Extending My Stay as a Student in the U.S.
You do not need to apply to extend your stay in the United States as long as you are maintaining your student status and making normal progress toward completing your academic course of study. The designated school official (DSO) from your school will write down a completion date on your USCIS Form I-20 A-B (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students). Under normal circumstances, you should be able to complete your studies by this date.
If you need to extend your stay longer than the date listed on your I-20, you should contact your designated school official (DSO) or the USCIS in advance for specific instructions. Generally, you will complete USCIS Form I-539 (Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status) and send it, along with your original I-20 to the USCIS before your authorized stay in the country expires (the USCIS recommends at least 45 days in advance). You may include your spouse and any unmarried children under the age of 21 in your application if you are all in the same nonimmigrant category. For more information, please see Extend US Visa Status (I-94 Form I-94 Card): Visa Extension to Stay Longer on My Visit to USA
Student Visa Abusers
An F-1 Visa student who violates a term or condition of status is inadmissible for U.S. entry until having been outside the United States for a continuous period of 5 years after the date of the violation.
Will I Get a Student Work Permit?
Your student visa allows you to work on-campus for 20 hours a week (or full time when school is not in session, such as during holidays or annual vacation), but you may not work off-campus during your first year of study. After the completion of your first year of study, you may apply to the USCIS for a student work permit that authorizes you to work off-campus, but it must be related to your area of study (and you may be limited to work no more than 20 hours per week, except when school is not in session). The application process involves filing USCIS Form I-538 (Certification By Designated School Official) signed by your designated school official (DSO) and USCIS Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization). You should discuss employment with your DSO. For a general overview, see International Student Work Permit for Foreign Students in USA. Your accompanying spouse and child may not accept employment.
Can I Travel Outside the U.S.?
Students may leave the United States and be readmitted after absences of five months or less. Upon your return to the United States, you should provide immigration inspectors with:
- A valid passport.
- A valid F-1 entry visa stamped in the passport (if necessary).
- A current USCIS Form I-20 ID (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students) signed by your appropriate school official (you should have the appropriate school official sign your USCIS Form I-20 each time you wish to temporarily travel outside the United States).
- A new USCIS Form I-20 A-B/I-20 ID if there have been any substantive changes in your course of study or place of study.
- Proof of your financial support.
When making your travel plans, please remember that you must be a full-time student to keep your F-1 student status. You will be considered to be "in status" if you take the annual summer vacation, as long as you are eligible and intend to register for the next school term.
How Can I Get USCIS Forms?
You should be able to pick up immigration-related forms from your designated school official (DSO). Only your designated school official (DSO) can give you an USCIS Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students) or an USCIS Form I-538(Certification By Designated School Official). If you would like other immigration forms, they are available online, or by calling 1-800-870-3676, or by submitting an online request to receive forms by mail. Further information on forms, filing fees, and fee waivers is available in USCIS Forms / INS Forms and Other US Immigration Forms, Fees & Filing Locations.
- Have a specific question? To help you find an answer quickly, we have placed "Ask a Visa & Immigration Lawyer" boxes on this page. Simply type a question in any of the boxes to receive a response online from a visa and immigration lawyer.
- Your school will have a designated school official (DSO) to help you with immigration issues (however, you are solely responsible for following U.S. immigration laws). Questions on how to obtain Form I-20A-B should be made to the school. If the school does not have the forms, it should contact its local USCIS office.
- For assistance in your country, contact the nearest U.S. Consulate. You may also wish to contact a U.S. Educational Advisor in your country. See Assistance in Your Country, in the area of our website called College & University Study in the US - A Guide for International Students
- For inquiries on visa cases in progress overseas, contact the appropriate U.S. Embassy or Consulate handling your case.
- For assistance within the U.S., contact the State Departmentís Visa Office at 202-663-1225. You may also email a general inquiry to email@example.com. Be sure to indicate the general subject of your inquiry on the subject line (e.g., student visa), and do not expect an immediate reply. You may also write to:
- For assistance within the U.S., you may also contact your nearest USCIS District Office or Sub Office. This link provides telephone numbers, addresses, directions, office hours, local filing procedures, and more.
- In the U.S., you may also call the national USCIS toll-free information service at 1-800-375-5283.
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520-0113
For eligibility criteria, see:
Student Visa: Student Visas for International Students, College Study in US and More
For information on sources of financial aid, on applying to schools, and on organizations in your country that can assist you, see:
College & University Study in the US - A Guide for International Students
If you are already in the U.S. on another nonimmigrant visa, and you would like to change your status to a student, see:
Changing My Status to Become a Student If I Am in the U.S. (above)
For an explanation of the most common circumstance under which a visa is denied, as well as your right to reapply, see:
Visa Denied, Visa Refused Under 214b (Nonimmigrant Visa Denials, Visa Refusals)
If you wish to pursue non-academic studies, you will need a different visa. See:
M-1 Visa - US Student Visa for Vocational Study in US
If you will be participating in an exchange program, you will need a different visa. See:
J-1 Visa - US Exchange Visitor Visa for US Exchange Programs