I went to the United States to study English with an F1 Visa. If you are looking into doing the same, I prepared a complete article gathering what I wish I knew about the US student visa before leaving. When you enter the United States under any visa you have rights but you also have to obey some rules. It is important to know what they are before applying and making travel plans so you can fully enjoy your time there!
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.
When can you apply for your student visa?
First, the embassy will be able to process your visa application no more than 120 days before the start date stated on your I-20 Form. It is also important to know that you will be able to enter the United States only 30 days before the start date of your program.
How long can you stay in the United States after your I-20 expires?
When it is time to leave, you will have to depart the United States within 60 days after the end date specified on your I-20 form. If you do not depart the United States within this period of time, you will be considered as « out of status » which means that you are illegally present in the country and it might keep you from ever coming back to the United States.
What are the fees of a student visa?
In addition to the tuition fee and the application fee you will pay to the school, you should know that every visa application cost money. For the F1 Visa (and some others) there are two different fees to pay. You will first pay the SEVIS fee ($350) that is the proof of your enrollment in the Exchange program, then the Visa fee ($160) that covers the process work of your visa application.
Can you travel with a student visa?
You can travel outside of the US with an F1 Visa under certain conditions. Your Designated School Official will have to sign your I-20 Form to allow you to reenter the country after a period of vacation. Your establishment might have some other requirements to do so, make sure to check with your DSO what are those. When you travel, be aware that you will always need your passport (with your visa inside) and your signed I-20 Form. If you do not have these papers with you, you won’t be able to come back even though your visa is still valid.
Can you work with an F1 visa?
Normally, the F1 Visa has for only purpose studying but under certain circumstances, you can also work with this visa. It is usually for students enrolled in a college, and not in language schools, as they committed to a 3+ years program and can work on campus or they are following programs that offer an Optional Practical Training after completion. I did not experience this, so I looked for some resources you can check out if you are interested in working: working in the US with an F1 Visa.
How long can you stay in the United States with an F1 Visa?
Your I-20 Form states the end of your initial study program and that is what matters the most when it comes to how long you’re staying. You should not spend more than 60 days after the date specified as the end of your I-20. Your visa end date (the document in your passport) is usually longer than your I-20 but it does not allow you to stay (or to come back) if you do not have an activated I-20. If your visa is still valid after the end of your first program, you can reapply to a school and get another I-20 Form without having to reapply for a new student visa. Although you will have to pay the SEVIS Fee again. Check here for more information!
Can you extend your program/transfer to another school?
If you need more time to complete your program you can ask for an extension of your I-20 Form. You need to talk to your DSO in order for him to extend your status. It will basically push back the end date stated on your I-20 Form to allow you more time to graduate. If you do not like the school you are in or if for any reason you want to change, you are also allowed to transfer your I-20 Form to another school. In order to do so, you need to talk to your DSO and to have a proof of acceptance by another SEVP approved school. Again, I did not experience any transfer. I found this link that might help you but make sure to check with your DSO first.
What is the I-94 Form?
When you arrive in the United States, you are automatically given an I-94 Form. This is also known as your lawful record of admission. It is important to know where you can access this form because it is the record of your entrances and departures in the United-States and of your status. The form might be asked for some administrative purpose and you can access it here (click on Get most recent I-94).
Do you need insurances with a student visa?
I want to end this article on a really important point for any foreign students in the United States. Make sure to have health and travel insurance. The health costs are skyrocketing in the United States and you do not want to have to cover those expenses yourself if anything happens to you. From my experience, I believe Language training schools work with Insurance company to offer you an insurance program you can subscribe to easily through your application. Anyway, you should always make sure to ask about this to the school representative. If you have a French debit card that covers travel insurance, make sure to double-check with them what it does cover! I believe it only covers you when you are “traveling” but by definition, if you have a visa, you are not traveling and you might not be covered by your bank insurance during your stay in the United States.
That’s it! This article is the last one about the US Student Visa and I hope you now know more about the application process and everything that it implies. Of course, I do not pretend to have all the answers to your questions and would definitely advise you to check the American Government official website for the most accurate and up-to-date information. I only related my own experience about the US student visa and answered questions I myself had before leaving! I hope it helped you in your search and don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions/updates for me!