Study & Exchange Visa

Student Visas F M

Generally, a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to enter the United States must first obtain a visa, either a nonimmigrant visa for temporary stay, or an immigrant visa for permanent residence. You must have a student visa to study in the United States. Your course of study and the type of school you plan to attend determine whether you need an F visa or an M visa.

To enter the United States to attend: You need the following visa category:
University or college F
High School
Private elementary school
Seminary
Conservatory
Another academic institution, including a language training program
Vocational or other recognized nonacademic institution, other than a language training program M

Students cannot travel on the Visa Waiver Program or with Visitor Visas

A student visa (F or M) is required to study in the United States. Foreign nationals may not study after entering on a visitor (B) visa or through the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), except to undertake recreational study (non-credit) as part of a tourist visit. For more information on the VWP, see Visa Waiver Program.

For short periods of recreational study, a Visitor (B) visa may be appropriate

A visitor (B) visa permits enrollment in a short recreational course of study, which is not for credit toward a degree or academic certificate. Learn more about Visitor Visas.

Study leading to a U.S. conferred degree or certificate is never permitted on a visitor (B) visa, even if it is for a short duration. For example, a student in a distance learning program that  requires a period of time on the institution’s U.S. campus must obtain a student (F or M) visa prior to entering the United States.

Student Acceptance at a SEVP Approved School

The first step is to apply to a SEVP-approved school in the United States.  After the SEVP-approved school accepts your enrollment, you will be registered for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) and must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee.  The SEVP-approved school will issue you a Form I-20.  After you receive the Form I-20 and register in SEVIS, you may apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate for a student (F or M) visa.  You must present the Form I-20 to the consular officer when you attend your visa interview.

If your spouse and/or children intend to live with you in the United States while you study, they must also enroll in SEVIS, obtain individual Form I-20s from the SEVP-approved school, and apply for a visa (but they do not pay the SEVIS fee).

Visit the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) website to learn more about SEVIS and the SEVIS I-901 Fee.

Visit the Department of State EducationUSA website to learn about educational opportunities for undergraduate and graduate study, and an overview of the application process.  You can also visit the DHS Study in the States school search page to search for SEVP-certified schools.

How To Apply

There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary by U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Please consult the instructions on the embassy or consulate website

Complete the Online Visa Application

  • Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 – Learn more about completing the DS-160. You must: 1) complete the online visa application, and 2) print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.
  • Photo –You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.

Schedule an Interview

Interviews are generally required for visa applicants with certain limited exceptions below. Consular officers may require an interview of any visa applicant.

If you are age: Then an interview is:
13 and younger Generally not required
14 – 79 Required (some exceptions for renewals)
80 and older Generally not required

You should schedule an appointment for your visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You may schedule your interview at another U.S. Embassy or Consulate, but be aware that it may be more difficult to qualify for a visa outside of the country where you live. 

Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early.

New Students – Student (F and M) visas for new students can be issued up to 120 days in advance of the start date for a course of study.  However, you will not be allowed to enter the United States on your student visa more than 30 days before the start date.

Continuing Students – Student (F and M) visas for continuing students may be issued at any time, as long as the student is currently enrolled at a SEVP-approved school or institution and in SEVIS.  Continuing students may enter the United States at any time before classes start.

Prepare for Your Interview

  • Fees – Pay the non-refundable visa application fee, if you are required to pay it before your interview. If your visa is approved, you may also pay a visa issuance fee, if applicable to your nationality. Fee information is provided here
  • Review the instructions available on the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply to learn more about fee payment.

Gather Required Documentation

Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:

  • Passport valid for travel to the United States – Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). Each individual who needs a visa must submit a separate application, including any family members listed in your passport.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page.
  • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview.
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements
  • Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status-For Academic and Language Students, Form I-20 or Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (M-1) Student Status for Vocational Students, Form I-20 – Your school will send you a Form I-20 once they have entered your information in the SEVIS database. You and your school official must sign the Form I-20.  All students must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor System (SEVIS). Your spouse and/or minor children, if they intend live in the United States with you, will each receive an individual Form I-20.

Additional Documentation May Be Required

A consular officer will interview you to determine your qualifications for a student visa, and may request additional documents, such as evidence of:

  • Your academic preparation, such as:
    • Transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended; and
    • Standardized test scores required by your U.S. school;
  • Your intent to depart the United States upon completion of the course of study; and
  • How you will pay all educational, living and travel costs. 

Review the instructions for how to apply for a visa on the website of the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you will apply.

Attend Your Visa Interview

A consular officer will interview you to determine whether you are qualified to receive a student visa. You must establish that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive a visa.

Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans are taken as part of the application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.

After your visa interview, the consular officer may determine that your application requires further administrative processing.  The consular officer will inform you if this is required.

After the visa is approved, you may need to pay a visa issuance fee (if applicable to your nationality), and make arrangements for the return of the passport and visa to you.  Review the visa processing times to learn more.

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