US student visa
Expat in the US,  Expat life

How to apply for an F1 Visa

Yay !! You got accepted in an American school and received your I-20 Form which means you just completed the first step of your F1 Visa application! You are now ready to apply and you’re in luck because I’ll explain all about the visa application process! If you have no idea of what I am talking about so far, check out my article “How to get an F1 Visa“, I am explaining the visa requirements and how to obtain this type of visa over there! I got my student visa in 2015 so things might have changed a little but I would bet the administrative processing is pretty much the same. If something’s missing, though, please let me know and I’ll update!

Keep in mind, I only write about what I experienced and I do not pretend to have all the answers. I just want to share what I know and help you understand the process. Your experience might be different from mine so make sure to always refer to the official documentation.

Apply for your visa online

Fill in the DS-160 Form

Once you have all the papers you need from the school, you are ready to fill in your visa application form online (DS-160) or also known as the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application. There are several parts to the form and it takes quite a long time to fill in so make sure to have the following with you before you start: Your passport valid for at least six months after the completion date of your program, your resume, your travel dates to the USA within the last 5 years, your parent’s information (names and middle names, birthday and where they were born) and a passport-type photo.

Once you are done completing the form, you’ll be redirected to a confirmation page. Make sure to print it, you will need it when going to the Embassy or Consulate for your interview ! If you can’t print it right away, you can also save it as a pdf and send it to your email.

Here is the website where you can complete the DS-160 Form.

Make an Appointment and Pay the Visa Fee

You are now ready to make an appointment on the website of your embassy/consulate. As I am French, I’ll describe the process I followed but don’t worry it is probably very similar for other nationalities, although make sure to follow your country instructions.

You will need to make an appointment at the US Embassy in Paris, here. Click on « Postuler ». You will create an account and follow the website instructions. First, you’ll pay the Visa Application fee that is around $160. You should receive a confirmation email of the payment. I printed this email, just in case. For any other nationality, you can click here and then look for your country. Then follow the website instructions.

Once you pay the visa fee, you will be able to choose the date of your interview. Depending on the time of the year, you might have appointments available pretty quickly or you might have to wait before a spot opens. Make sure to fill in your DS-160 and make your appointment early enough before your start date. For my F1, I had an appointment for a month and a half before my start date, I believe. Beginning of August for a start date on September 14th, but I made the appointment at the end of May.

Once your interview is booked, you will receive a confirmation via email. Make sure to print this page too.

Get Ready for Your Student Visa Interview

The next step of your Student Visa application is to attend the interview.

Gather your F1 Visa application paperwork

To do so, you should be prepared and have all the required documents ready. I created a list of what I was asked, but as I said, always make sure to double-check with official information on the visa portal of the government and with your school. Here is the list of all the documents you should have gathered to go to the US Embassy or US Consulate:

You must bring the following:

  • Your passport (valid for at least six months after the end of your program)
  • Your I-20 form
  • Your SEVIS Fee payment confirmation
  • Your DS-160 Confirmation page
  • Your visa appointment confirmation
  • Your visa fee payment confirmation
  • Your school’s acceptance letter
  • 2 Photos (see your embassy website for detailed information about what kind of photo is accepted)

I would strongly advise you to bring the following additional documents:

Financial documents to prove financial resources

  • Bank statements for the last three years
  • Tax records for the last three years
  • Any bank letters stating that you have a loan and the amount of the funds available

Intend to return (strong ties with your country of residence)

  • Family booklet (or Livret de Famille for French students)
  • Any proof of ownership (car, apartment, house)
  • If you have a job offer/are currently working, a letter that states you have a job waiting for you when you come back
  • A school letter that says you still have classes to attend (for French students the “certificat de scolarité” is a good document to have) if you are going abroad for an exchange or during a gap year.

For students going to an American University

  • Degree or diplomas might be asked
  • Test scores for TOEFL, GMAT or any English Language Test required by your school

F1 Visa interview questions: Be ready

The interview is pretty easy so don’t stress too much about it, but it is important to know that the consular officer might ask you some questions and it is better to be ready to answer those.

The questions I got were

  • What are your parents doing?
  • Why are you going to the United States?
  • How long will you stay?
  • Where will you stay?

You might also be asked the following

  • Why did you choose this school?
  • Will you return to your country after completion of your program?
  • How will you fund your education while in the United States?
  • Any questions related to your finance, the reasons for your stay in the US, your intention to go back home after, etc..

The questions are not asked to trick you, the role of the consular officer is to make sure you are meeting all the requirements to deliver your F1 Visa.

Attend your interview

Here again, I’ll explain the visa process I follow while attending my interview at the U.S Embassy in Paris, but for any other nationalities, just follow the instructions the officer will give you and you’ll be totally fine!

I arrived half an hour before the time of my interview and entered the Embassy 15 minutes before. You have to wait on the opposite sidewalk of the embassy and cross the street only when the officer makes you a sign to do so or when you hear your interview time. The officer will make you turn off your phone and any electronic devices and will search you.

After, you will be directed to a desk where they will ask you to take out your DS-160 confirmation page, Your SEVIS fee payment confirmation, and your passport. Documents asked at the first desk might have changed, so make sure to follow the instructions given by the officer.

Once you’re ready, you’ll enter the embassy and go to a first building, where they will take all your electronic devices (phone, tablet, laptop, etc.) as well as your earphone. You’ll walk under the metallic portal and they will give you a little card that you will need to present to get your stuff back after your interview.

You will then enter a second building. Once you’re in this building, follow the big visa sign (take the stairs up) and get in line. From there, wait to get called to a window and follow the instructions. When I went there, I only had to go to one window. They asked for the documents that were already out and my photos. They also asked some questions and took my fingerprints. The process might have changed since 2015 but it’s probably not too different and there is always staff around to help you. Once everything was finished, the visa officer told me my visa was approved and that they would send my passport back within a week.

Your passport is kept at the embassy so they can create your visa document. The processing time should be about 7 to 10 days. Once you get it back, make sure that there is no mistake on your documents and that your visa is in your passport.

Last step: Going through the customs with your F1 Visa

I entered the United States through Los Angeles, so I’ll tell you about my experience of the customs at this port of entry but it probably is about the same in other airports.

What are the documents you need to present to enter the United States?

Make sure to keep with you at all times your passport with your visa inside, your I-20 form and your SEVIS fee payment receipt. Don’t put them in your checked bag, keep them in your carry on so you can present them to the officer at the customs. You should also have been given during your flight a customs declaration. It is a little blue paper that you need to fill in and keep with you to present to the officer. If you did not get this document during your flight, make sure to find the information desk at your arrival where you can also find the customs declaration paper.

How does it work once you landed?

Once you landed, you will go through American customs. You should see signs with « Esta » or « Visa » written on them. Follow those and get in line. You’ll see automated machines but you can’t use them. Being a Visa holder, you have to see a customs officer as they have to review your papers and stamp your passport.

Follow the instructions of the airport employee that will lead you to the immigration officers’ windows. Once you’re there, just present your papers and answer any questions they might ask. They will take your fingerprints, stamp your passport and your customs declaration. Make sure to take back the customs declaration because you will need to hand it over to one last officer before officially entering the United States.

Once you’re done with the questions, follow the « baggage claim » sign to pick up your suitcase. Then, follow the exit sign, get in the last line, hand over your blue paper (custom declaration) to the officer and…

Welcome to the United States!

You are now officially done with your student visa application and ready to be an International Student! It looks long and difficult but if you follow the application process step by step it is pretty easy! I am sure you are pretty excited about the adventure ahead of you, but when it comes to studying in the United States there are a lot of things to consider before applying for your visa such as the grace period, asking for travel authorization, the visa fees, how to change status, etc..! To help you make your decision, I gathered everything you should know about the F1 Visa!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *