A Guide to the F-1 Visa for Study in the United States

In a Nutshell

One of the primary reasons for visiting the United States is to study. The United States is home to many of the world's most renowned educational institutions. Every year, scholars from all over the world flock to the country to take advantage of the educational opportunities. You will need a nonimmigrant visa to attend a school in the United States if you're not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. This article explains all you should know about the F-1 student visa, including the requirements and application process.

Written by Jonathan Petts
Written January 18, 2023

What is an F-1 visa?

An F-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows international students to study at U.S. institutions. These academic institutions include high schools, colleges, conservatories, or seminaries. They must be certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP).

What are the requirements for the F-1 visa?

These are the requirements to get an F-1 student visa: 

  • You already applied and received an acceptance from a

    SEVP approved

    academic institution.

  • You enrolled as a full-time student. 

  • You meet the institution's English proficiency requirements or take courses that will lead to English proficiency.

  • You have sufficient funds to pay for your tuition and additional education costs. 

  • You have strong ties to your home country that show you intend to return after graduation because an F-1 student visa is a non-immigrant U.S. visa. 

  • Your passport is valid for U.S. travel for at least six months after your program ends. 

You possess residence in your home country and live outside the United States at the time of visa application.

What is the F-1 visa application process?

To receive an F-1 visa, you will need to receive an acceptance into a U.S. institution, pay the system fee, complete your DS-160 visa application, and schedule and attend your visa interview. 

1. Get accepted into a SEVP-certified institution and receive your I-20 form 

First, you need to be accepted into a SEVP-certified U.S. institution to start your visa process. The SEVP certification means that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has ensured your institution is accredited. 

After your acceptance and enrollment, your school will provide your Form I-20. Form I-20 is officially known as the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. With this form, you can apply to a U.S. consulate or embassy for your student visa. This form will record information about your study plan and stay. Make sure all your information is correct, or you might not be able to enter the United States. 

Sign the bottom of the first page and save the form when you travel to the United States. You will need it to enter at a port of entry or work. 

After you receive your Form I-20, the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) will store this information: 

  • Your SEVIS ID number 

  • Your program start and end dates 

  • Your intended program of study 

  • Your funding costs 

  • The cost of attendance of your institution

  • Other personal information 

Your institution provides this information to SEVIS. 

2. Pay your SEVIS Fee

Your F-1 student visa will cost a total of $510. You will have to pay for the actual visa and other processing and application fees for each stage. Make sure to save the I-901 SEVIS receipt, which the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires for your visa interview. 

3. Complete Your DS-160 Visa Application

The DS-160 is your actual visa application. You will need to submit it along with a valid passport, travel itinerary, and a photo for your visa. 

After you submit, you will receive a printed confirmation form with your barcode. Save this form for your visa interview. 

4. Schedule Your Visa Interview

Find your closest U.S. embassy or consulate and schedule a visa interview there. This is required unless you are younger than 13 or older than 80. Try to schedule your interview as soon as possible, as there can be long wait times. 

5. Attend Your Visa Interview

During your interview, the consular officer will confirm your student status is legitimate. You will have to prove you have the financial support to afford your studies and that you plan to return home after finishing your academic program. 

After you successfully complete your interview, you will gain F-1 visa status! It’s important to know that you can only get your F-1 status within 120 days of the start date for your course of study in the United States.

What happens at the F-1 visa interview?

During the interview, the consular officer’s goal is to determine that you are a legitimate student, have the financial support to pay for your studies, and do not plan to overstay your visa. They may ask you if you plan to return home after your academic program ends and about your post-graduation plans. They may also ask why you picked your institution and whether you plan to work in the United States. 

Make sure to bring the following documents to your visa interview: 

  • A valid passport with an expiration date at least six months beyond your intended entry date into the United States

  • A copy of your photo for the visa that meets

    U.S. Department of State requirements

  • Your Form DS-160 confirmation page 

  • Your I-1901 SEVIS fee payment receipt 

  • Form I-20 issued by your academic institutions 

Also, make sure to bring evidence of: 

  • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended

  • Standardized test scores your U.S. institution requires 

  • Proof of ties to your home country

  • Proof of financial funds to support your studies in the United States

F-1 Visa FAQs

Here are some answers to some commonly asked questions about the F-1 visa process, such as whether you can work, bring your family with you to the United States, or change schools. 

Can you work while on an F-1 visa?

For your first academic year, you can only have on-campus employment. After the first year, F-1 visa holders are eligible for three types of off-campus employment

  • Curricular Practical Training (CPT) - CPT is training integral to your course of study and part of your school curriculum. You can get CPT for any internships you want to undertake on school breaks.

  • Optional Practical Training (OPT) - OPT is training relating to your major or course of study. Many international students use post-completion OPT for full-time employment.

  • Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) OPT - STEM OPT is optional training within the STEM fields. International students in STEM can renew their OPT for up to 24 extra months.

If you find a job that requires a different type of visa, you can apply to change status to another category through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Your employer will usually have to sponsor your change of status if you’re not eligible for any family-based green card.

Can you bring your family with you while on an F-1 visa?

Yes, your spouse and unmarried, minor children who will live with you can all apply for F-2 visas. Your spouse cannot work, but your dependents can attend school. Your institution will have to issue your spouse and children each a Form I-20. You will have to provide a copy of your visa issuance and proof of relationship. 

Can you change schools while on an F-1 visa?

Yes, generally, you can transfer schools as long as you move to another SEVP-certified institution. You should contact the Designated School Official (DSO) to start the process of transferring your SEVP record from one school to the other.