All You Need To Know About The F1 Visa Application

Ed Zaleck | Jun 29, 2021

What is an F1 student visa?

The F1 student visa is given to foreigners who are approved to study at educational institutes in the USA. F1 visa are primarily issued by universities or other colleges, but are also required if you plan to study full-time at high schools, secondary/elementary schools, seminaries, ESLs, etc.

An F1 visa is what gives you permission to enter the United States. When you arrive, you will typically be given an I-94 form stating that you are allowed to stay in the U.S. for the “duration of status”. This means you will be allowed to stay in the U.S. for as long as you are a full-time student enrolled in classes.

Once your studies end, you will have a 60-day grace period to either return to your home country or renew/change your visa status. Please note that your F1 visa may be issued for less than the duration of your studies, which will require you to renew it.

How do I apply for an F1 student visa?

There are a few steps to getting approved for an F1 visa, with a few things required before even being able to apply:

  1. Apply and get approved to study at a SEVP-approved institute- Before you can apply for your visa, you must first choose and get accepted by an academic institute you plan to attend. Once you are admitted, a Designated School Official (DSO) will issue you an I-20 form.
  2. Pay the SEVIS I-901 fee- When admitted, you will be entered into the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). There is a fee you will be charged that will need to be paid before you are able to apply for your visa.
  3. Apply for your visa through your country’s U.S. embassy- The order of the following steps depends on your country’s embassy’s process., Next, you should complete the DS-160 online visa application form and print/save the information you receive.
  4. Schedule an interview with a U.S. embassy or consulate- Almost all countries will require an interview before you can officially be approved for your visa. They will ask questions about your course of study. You can view wait times for scheduling interviews here.
  5. Get approved and prepare for your trip to the U.S.- Once you are approved, you can travel to the U.S. and arrive within 30 days of the start of your program. Once there, you will need to show your passport, visa, and Form I-20 to be approved by the Customs and Border Protection to enter the U.S.

Read more about these steps in the sections below.

How do I apply to a school in the U.S.?

The first step in applying to a school is deciding which one(s) you would want to attend. There are thousands of schools in the U.S. so it’s good to try to settle on a short list based on things such as school size/location, amount of international students, programs offered, graduate study options, tuition cost, etc. You can use a school finder tool to locate places you might be interested in.

You may also be required to take some sort of standardized test before and/or a language exam that is dependent on your school. Some of the most popular tests that are asked for include:

You should also become familiar with the schedule in which schools allow enrollments, such as if they have Early Decision/Action or are known to have a waitlist, and terms such as FAFSA and the Common App. You may need to fill out a FAFSA application to determine financial need. Many schools require you to submit your application through the Common App system.

Every school has different needs, and it may get tough to manage if there are multiple schools you’re applying to so it’s always smart to begin the process as soon as possible and track every action you take when submitting your applications.

How much is the SEVIS I-901 fee and how do I pay it?

On average, the SEVIS I-901 fee is going to cost you around $350. Make sure to save the payment confirmation since you will need to present it during your interview with the U.S. embassy.

When you go to pay, make sure you have your completed I-20 ready as it includes the SEVIS ID you will need to fill out the I-901 form. There are currently three accepted ways to pay this fee:

  • You can pay via credit/debit card at fmjfee.com. You can also check your payment status at this website after enrollment.
  • Check or money order sent out to SEVP with the completed I-901 included.
  • Western Union Quick Pay
  • Payments can be made by a third party through the methods above.

How do I apply through my country's U.S. embassy?

Once you’re accepted to a school and have paid the SEVIS fee, you will be able to officially apply for an F1 visa. You are allowed to apply for your visa 120 days prior to when your studies are supposed to start so you should do so as soon as this period begins to avoid any potential complications from processing delays.

You can apply online by filling out a DS-160 form, which is a non-immigrant visa application. You must also submit a photo of yourself when submitting the application. Around the same time, you can try to schedule an interview with your home country’s U.S. embassy or consulate.

Please note, there may also be a wait time to schedule an interview, so you may need to schedule it prior to applying for your visa. You can view estimated wait times here.

Prior to your interview, you will need the following:

  • A valid U.S. passport
  • The DS-160 confirmation letter
  • Two photographs of yourself
  • Proof of the paid SEVIS fee
  • Your I-20

You may also need to show:

  • Transcripts/standardized test score results
  • TOEFL/IELTS results to prove English proficiency
  • Proof of financial stability (bank statements, tax records, scholarship information, loan documentation, etc.)
  • Ties to your home country
  • When enrolling for an F1 visa, you are supposed to show “single intent”, meaning you are only planning on staying in the U.S. to study. You may be asked to prove this by showing job/family/financial connections.

What should I expect from my F1 Embassy interview?

Things to note when your F1 visa application is ready to be scheduled for an interview:

  • The interview is very brief and typically lasts about 5 minutes, which requires you to be as prepared as possible since your responses need to be concise and time efficient.
  • All interviews will be conducted in English, so you’ll need to be at a level of proficiency to understand what is being asked and answer clearly.
  • You should dress professionally for the interview to make a good impression and present yourself well.
  • The intent of the interview is to prove why you want to study in the United States. For this, you need to convey that the school you plan to attend is the best course of action for you and give reasons as to why.
  • Any indication that you are planning to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. or seek employment after will result in a visa denial. You are supposed to arrive to study and return to your home country after.
  • Most information they ask about will already be available through the documents you submit so you should not lie under any circumstances.

Kinds of questions to expect:

  • About your college/university
  • Why did you choose to apply here? How many schools did you apply to?
  • Where is your school and what are they known for?
  • Why do you want to study in the U.S.? Why not your home country? Why not another country?
  • About your academic background/yourself
  • What are you planning to major in?
  • What was your GPA/school percentage? What classes did you excel in?
  • Why should we give you the opportunity to study in the U.S.?
  • Bank and finance
  • Who is paying for your education? How are they paying for it?
  • How much does your university cost to attend? Will you be receiving any scholarship or loan to pay for your studies?
  • Can you explain more about your current bank statement?
  • About relatives/family members
  • Do you have any family in the United States? Are they U.S. citizens?
  • What do your parents do for a living? Where do they live?
  • If you have brothers or sisters, do they currently or plan to study in the U.S.? How will they be paid for?
  • About your future plans
  • What are your plans after your studies? Will you return to your home country?
  • What are your career goals after your studies? Do you have any place you’re interested in working at?
  • Do you plan on studying beyond your undergraduate program?

How do I apply for an F1 visa extension?

As with many international students, you may want to extend your F1 visa coverage when your expiration date comes close for one of two reasons:

  1. You are graduating/finishing your studies and want to continue your education through graduate school, a PhD/master’s program, a different university, etc.
  2. Your F1 visa expires prior to when your educational activities are set to finish

As stated earlier, an F1 visa is the pass you’ll need to enter the United States. If you do not plan on leaving the country and re-entering, then it is not necessary to renew your F1 visa if it expires and you will be able to stay in the country as long as you maintain your F1 status (have a valid I-20).

With this, it can get a little confusing to determine when to renew your F1 visa or renew your I-20. You should always keep track of the expiration dates for both documents so you can take the necessary actions when needed. Here are some things to note depending on the reason you are looking to renew your I-20:

  • If you are going to be attending a new school at your sponsoring university- The DSO will usually be able to automatically renew your I-20. However, you should let them know as soon as you know you will be moving forward with your studies so they keep you updated on anything you will need to do.
  • If you are transferring schools- The process is typically more complicated and you will need to show proof of acceptance and your I-20 at the new school to your DSO before being able to begin the process. If you plan on transferring, make sure to apply elsewhere as soon as you know to avoid any complications with expiration dates.
  • If you’re extending because you will not complete your studies before expiration date – Reach out to your DSO at least 30 days prior to the I-20 expiring. Not all extensions will be approved and you will need a valid reason to do so, such as medical leave or change of major/status.

If you are planning to leave and return to the U.S. with an expired F1 visa, this is what you will need to know to renew it before returning to the U.S. depending on where you are travelling:

  • If you are returning to your home country or any country outside of Canada, Mexico or a U.S. territory- You will need to have a new F1 visa approved by your U.S. embassy so you should expect to repeat most of the steps from your initial application process. This includes filling out the DS-160 and submitting supporting documents. Luckily, you will not need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and should be exempt from the interview. However, they may need additional supporting documentation to warrant the exemption such as transcripts from your college, proof of you returning home or proof of a clean criminal record in the U.S.
  • If you are travelling to Canada, Mexico or a U.S. territory- there is a relatively unknown loophole to renewing a U.S. visa known as automatic revalidation. If you go to any of these countries for less than 30 days, you can come back to the U.S. and have your visa automatically renewed when you return as long as you can prove you are still an active student. For this, make sure to have your active I-20 on you when you travel abroad, along with your basic information such as passport and I-94 form with a valid stamp.

What else can I do when my studies end?

At the end of your studies, you have a 60-day grace period to stay in the U.S. before you are expected to leave. It is possible to stay in the U.S. after graduating or finishing your program, but there is usually only one viable path you can take.

F1 visa holders have the option to apply for a 12-month Optional Practical Training (OPT) in the U.S. as you seek employment (24 months offered for STEM). To do this, you must first reach out to your school’s DSO and then apply for the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (EAD card). You can do this from 90 days before to 60 days after your graduation. For more on the OPT application, click here.

Many F1 visa holders may try to find another non-immigrant visa to apply for (such as H1B or B1) or try to apply directly for a green card. Trying to extend your stay through any route other than OPT is usually very unlikely to happen, as there are strict requirements to meet to be considered for another visa or your green card. If you are nearing the end of your studies and think you want to stay in the U.S., begin looking for employment opportunities.

How do I apply for dependents?

The process of applying for F2 dependents (spouse/child under age 21) is very similar to the F1 application process and recommended that it occurs at the same time as you are applying for your F1. The steps below are as follows:

  1. Have an I-20 issued for the dependents- After you are accepted by your institution, you will need to contact the office to have them issue I-20s for your dependents. Please note that you will not need to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee for the dependents but there may be fees charged to apply for the visa.
  2. Fill in DS-160 online- Your dependents will also need to complete the DS-160 electronic form. Make sure they hold on to the confirmation letter once completed.
  3. Schedule and complete an interview with a U.S. embassy- Dependents will also usually need to attend an interview with the U.S. embassy to be approved (with the exception of children under the age of 13). Make sure they have required documents similar to the ones you bring in, such as having a U.S. passport/photo, the I-02, etc. You may also need to submit proof of relationship, such as a marriage certificate.

Is health insurance mandatory for F1 students?

  • Health insurance is technically not required for F1 students but almost all schools in the U.S. provide some type of insurance plan for their students or make it mandatory to show proof of coverage. Even if your school does not have requirements, it is highly suggested to get insurance as health care costs in the U.S. are very expensive and can create a huge financial burden if you’re not insured.
  • If you’re looking for an alternative insurance, ISO is a leading provider of student health insurance policies and offers plans at schools across the U.S. that are guaranteed to help you waive out of school plan. If you’re looking for comprehensive coverage that saves you up to $1000 per academic year compared to your school’s insurance plan, feel free to review our plan options here.
  • We also provide affordable plans for F2 dependents and for your OPT period.
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    About ISO Student Health Insurance

    ISO Student Health Insurance (ISO), founded in 1958 and headquartered in New York City, is an insurance brokerage specializing in health insurance solutions for international students. As such, ISO acts as plan administrator, broker and manager of the high-quality insurance products available for international students, scholars and their dependents during their course of study in the U.S.

    For more information, please visit www.isoa.org and connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, Weibo, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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