Once you have your I-20 and have paid the SEVIS fee, you must apply for a U.S. F-1 student visa. The visa contains your photo and biographical information and is added to your passport by the U.S. embassy or consulate once your application is approved.
An F-1 visa is applied for through your home country’s U.S. embassy or consulate and involves completing the visa application (form DS-160) and scheduling an F-1 visa interview. The precise process, application deadlines, and timeframes vary by country, so please consult your country’s U.S. embassy or consulate website. An online visa application is available, allowing you to complete and print Form DS-160, which you will bring with you for your F-1 visa interview. If your application is approved, your F-1 student visa will be added to your passport by the U.S. embassy or consulate.
NOTE: Receiving an F-1 visa is not the same as obtaining F-1 status. An F-1 visa is one of the documents U.S. Customs requires at the port of entry to determine whether you qualify for F-1 status. F-1 status is determined at your port of entry when you first enter the United States.
You can schedule your F-1 visa interview with the U.S. embassy or consulate. Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early. An F-1 student visa for the USA can be issued up to 120 days before your course of study start date. You can only enter the US with an F-1 visa 30 days before your start date.
Visit the U.S. Department of State’s Visa Appointment Wait Times page to check the visa wait times at your nearest embassy.
The following documents are (generally) required for your F-1 visa interview:
Additional documents may be requested to prove your eligibility for the F-1 student visa, including academic transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates. In addition, test scores such as the TOEFL, IELTS, or SAT may also be requested, as well as proof of your intent to depart the U.S. after your program is complete.
* It is a good idea to check in with your embassy/consulate to see if more documents are required.
Your F-1 visa interview will determine whether you qualify for an F-1 student visa for the USA. Assuming that you have prepared the appropriate documents and meet all of the F-1 visa requirements, your visa will be approved at the consular officer’s discretion.
You may be required to pay a visa issuance fee. Digital fingerprint scans may be taken for records. Your passport may be taken so that you can get your visa, and if so, you will be informed when you can get it back, either by pick-up or mail.
Keep in mind that visa issuance is not guaranteed. Therefore, never make final travel plans until you have your visa approved. If your visa is denied, you will be given a reason based on the section of the law which applies to your ineligibility.