Step 1: Apply and Get Accepted

The first step is to apply (and eventually gain admission) to a US school. Most full-time undergraduate and graduate programs in the US require applications to be submitted by December or January each year. Schools typically send out admission notifications around March and April.

As I mentioned previously, the schools you apply to must be approved by SEVP. To find an SEVP-approved school or to confirm that the schools you’ve chosen are in fact certified by SEVP, use the SEVP school search tool.

Step 2: Receive Form I-20

Once admitted to a school, you’ll receive one of two forms: F-1 and M-1 students will receive Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status), and J-1 students will receive Form DS-2019(Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status).

Your school will mail the appropriate form to you. On your form will be your SEVIS ID, your school’s address, and other critical information concerning your program.

Step 3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee

Once you receive your I-20 or DS-2019 form from your school, go online and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. Once again, this fee is 200 USD for F-1/M-1 students and 180 USD for J-1 students. (Those participating in short-term J-1 visa programs will pay only 35 USD.)

Most students (except those from Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, or Nigeria) can pay this fee online by credit card. Note that the I-901 SEVIS fee is separate from your visa application fee (which we explain more in step 7).

Once you’ve paid this fee, print out your confirmation page, as you’ll need to bring it to your visa interview.

Step 4: Find Your Nearest US Embassy or Consulate

You must apply for your international student visa through your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, in the city or region in which you live). You can search for US embassies and consulates online through the US Department of State.

Be aware that US student visa processes may differ slightly depending on the embassy through which you apply. This means that at some embassies, you may need to submit additional documentation with your visa application. For more details on what you’ll need to submit, go to your embassy’s official website or contact your embassy directly.

Step 5: Complete Form DS-160 Online

Next, complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, also known as Form DS-160.

On this application, you will also select the US embassy at which you intend to interview for your visa.

Once you’ve completed this form and submitted it online, print out your confirmation page to bring to your visa interview.

Step 6: Schedule Your Visa Interview

After you’ve submitted Form DS-160, contact your nearest US embassy or consulate (ideally, the one you input on your online application) to schedule your visa interview.

Wait times for interviews vary depending on the embassy. Go to the US visas website to see the wait times for your embassy.

Step 7: Pay Your Visa Application Fee

Next, pay the 160 USD application fee. This fee is the same price regardless of your country of origin and where you apply.

Note that when you pay this fee will vary depending on your embassy. Although many embassies require applicants to pay the application fee before their interviews, not all do. Your embassy should instruct you as to when and how you’ll need to pay your visa application fee. If your embassy requires you to pay this fee before your interview, be sure to bring your receipt as proof of payment to your interview.


Step 8: Attend Your Visa Interview

The last big step in the visa process is the interview. This interview will be the deciding factor as to whether you will receive a US student visa or not.

Before attending your interview, gather the following items and information:

  • Your passport
  • One copy of your visa photograph (this may be required by certain embassies, particularly if you were unable to upload your visa photograph to your online visa application)
  • Your printed DS-160 confirmation page
  • Your printed I-901 SEVIS fee confirmation page
  • Your visa application fee payment receipt (this is only required if you paid the application fee before your interview)
  • Form I-20 for F-1/M-1 students, or Form DS-2019 for J-1 students (make sure to bring the original form — not a copy!)

Your particular embassy may require additional forms and documentation, such as:

  • Official transcripts from colleges/universities you’ve attended
  • Diplomas/degrees from high schools/colleges/universities you’ve attended
  • Standardized test scores (if required by your US school)
  • Proof of sufficient funds
  • Proof of your intent to depart the US at the end of your program

You will undergo a security check and provide digital, ink-free fingerprints, usually right after you arrive at your interview.

During the interview, you will be asked a range of questions in English. These questions will mostly focus on why you want to study at the school you’ve selected and what you intend to do after the program finishes. It is important to clearly state that you do not intend to remain in the US once you complete your program. Websites such as International Student and Happy Schools offer extensive lists of sample questions you may be asked during your interview.

Step 9: Receive Your Visa

Once you’ve completed all of the steps above and have received approval for an international student visa to the US, your embassy will return your passport to you with your new visa in it. Note that some embassies will require you to come in person to pick it up, whereas others will mail it directly back to you.

Visa processing times will vary depending on your embassy. You can get an estimate as to how long your visa will take to process by going to .