How to get a F-1 visa to study in the US?

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Prodigy Finance (Rishabh Goel)

Updated on Apr 30, 2021

Student VISA | 7 min read
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Ready to study your international master’s in the US? Somewhere in your list of to-dos will be getting your US study visa.

For most people, this means securing an F-1 study visa. If your spouse or dependents are joining you during your time in the States, it also means getting F-2 visas for accompanying family members.

Getting your study visa is a process (just like getting into grad school), but it’s a fairly straightforward one - as long as you know what’s expected.

This guide will tell you what you need to know to get yours. We’ll help you out with everything from using a Prodigy Finance loan to secure your I-20 form to the work privileges and exceptions you need to know before you leave. 
 


Looking for something specific? Try our quick links:

  • What is the F-1 study visa? (And who needs an F-1 visa?)
    • How long are F-1 visas valid?
  • Before you apply for your F-1 visa
  • Application process for F-1 visas
    • Where can you apply for your F-1 student visa?
    • How much does an F-1 visa cost? 
    • When can you apply for your F-1 visa?
  • Documentation required for your F-1 visa application
  • What questions to expect in the F-1 visa interview
  • After you get your F-1 visa
 

What is the F-1 study visa? (And who needs an F-1 visa?)

The F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa to enter the United States for educational purposes. If you intend to pursue a master’s degree and you’re not a citizen or permanent resident of the United States, you’ll need to apply for the F-1 visa (or a similar class of visa under the advisement of an immigration official or advisor).

There are very few exceptions, such as entry for short-term, non-degree courses which can sometimes (but not always) be taken while on a visitor visa. Anyone wishing to study their master’s in the US who is currently in the US on another, non-tourist visa should consult their immigration advisor. 

non-immigrant visa entitles you to enter and stay in a country for a specific time period. You are obligated to leave the country before it expires or to legally and officially extend your right to remain. Study visas, including the F-1, fall into this category.

Immigrant visas allow holders to remain in a country for as long as they wish (and uphold any obligations attached to the visa).

A snapshot of the F-1 student visa:

  • Non-immigrant visa for education.
  • Lasts maximum 60 months (or the length of your degree).
  • For non-US citizens or residents who aren’t in the US when they’re applying.
  • Allows you the opportunity to apply for the OPT extension.
     

How long are F-1 visas valid?

The maximum duration of an F-1 visa is 60 months.

However, F-1 visas are issued to foreign nationals for the length of study. If you’ve been accepted to a master’s programme that lasts 12 months, you will receive a visa for a maximum of 12 months. If your degree will take two years, the visa length will be two years. 

There are additional regulations:

  • Nationals of certain countries may only have privileges to stay in the US for a period less than the length of their study. For example, some passport holders may only be issued an F-1 visa for 12 months, even if their programme lasts 24 months. You can find specifics about your country here. Speak to an immigration lawyer about how you should handle these cases.
  • It’s possible to apply for an Optional Practical Training (OPT) F-1 visa extension to pursue work experience during or after your studies. This offers the possibility of extra time. Check out our guide to OPT visa extensions to learn more.

Study visas are, for every country, a privilege not a right. Any country issuing study visas can impose additional restrictions and has the right to deny a study visa application. 
 

Before you apply for your F-1 visa

There are a few things you need to do before you can apply for your F-1 study visa:

  • You must have an I-20 form from your university. It’s not enough to be admitted, you must also have official documentation from your school that shows you’ve proven to them that you’re financially capable of supporting yourself for at least the first year of your studies; the I-20 form provides this proof to immigration officials and you can’t apply for your visa without it.

TIP:The international student office at your university will guide you through the process of getting your I-20 form and will likely contact you as soon as you accept your admission to your school. 
 

Application process for F-1 visas

Once you have your I-20 form, you can apply for your F-1 visa. The process includes fee payments, completing application form DS-160 and an in-person interview at your nearest embassy or consulate.

Because each aspect is important, specific and there are exceptions for several nationalities, we’ve broken the application process down into several stages to make them easier to understand. Each section is part of your F-1 visa application as a whole and, therefore, must be completed as per US guidelines.
 

Where can you apply for your F-1 student visa?

Although you will complete the DS-160 form online, you’re applying at a specific US embassy or consulate for your visa. It’s very important that you select the closest or most convenient embassy or consulate to your current residence because you’ll need to:

  • Make a payment to cover your application fee (which sometimes requires a local account deposit).
  • Travel to this embassy or consulate for your visa interview.
  • You may need to pick up your passport (hopefully, with your new visa inside).

You should note that you can’t change which embassy or consulate once you’ve submitted your DS-160. 
 

How much does an F-1 visa cost? 

The F-1 visa application fee is $160. If you’re applying for an F-2 visa for your spouse or dependents, you’ll pay an additional $160 per person.

For most applicants, the visa application fee is the only official fee to pay. (There are also unofficial costs, such as making copies and travelling to your interview, which aren’t payable to the US government, but which you’ll need to budget for.)

There are, however, exceptions. Due to diplomatic agreements, nationals of specific countries may need to pay more, either for their visa application fee or as a visa processing fee (when an application is successful).

You can find a list of additional or exceptional fees by visiting the US State Department’s website. It’s your responsibility to check for and pay all fees applicable to your visa application.

Each embassy and consulate has their own instructions for fee payment. You will need to follow the instructions given by the embassy or consulate where you will apply and be interviewed. 
 

When can you apply for your F-1 visa?

In principle, you should apply for your visa as soon as you have your I-20 form, the application fee ready to pay and all of your supporting documentation ready to go. You don’t have control over how long it takes to get your visa; that’s up to the embassy and US governmental procedures.
 

The time it takes to issue a visa is dependent on:

  • Your nationality.
  • The embassy or consulate where you apply.
  • The number of applications submitted.
  • When you and immigration officials can schedule your interview.
  • Whether officials have questions regarding parts or the whole of your application. 
     

You can’t rush the student visa process, but you can start early. 

In addition, F-1 student visas can be issued up to 120 days before the course start dateand you can enter the country up to 30 days prior to your course start date.


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