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Study Visa - How to Get a Student Visa

Students walking and talking on university steps while studying abroad

Study abroad programs allow college students to leave their home university and learn in a new environment. Many American universities have partnerships with multiple countries spread across popular destinations worldwide. By leaving the comfort zone of your home university, a study abroad experience can take your higher education journey to a new level.

Some students may opt to take things a step further and apply to an academic institution abroad as a full-time student. Most colleges and universities around the world accept international students from the United States.

There are countless benefits to pursuing an international education:

  • Immersion in different cultures can open the door to new perspectives and educational opportunities.
  • Learning abroad includes practical experiences like learning a foreign language among native speakers, immersing yourself in a new culture, or experiencing cultural heritage sites firsthand.
  • Earning academic credit means students continue to make progress on their degree programs and academic goals while also having the opportunity to learn from international experts.
  • Making new friends and connections while abroad gives students a chance to create lasting bonds outside of the United States educationally, professionally, and personally.

If you are interested in this amazing experience, there is some key travel documentation foreign students will need to take to make their travel and stay abroad possible.

A student visa is necessary for those who plan to attend a college, university, or vocational school in a foreign country. Before you can apply for a student visa, you must be accepted into an educational institution. You will also need a valid passport.

You can start the student visa application process immediately after you receive official notice of acceptance to the foreign program or school. Typically, though, international students cannot apply more than 6 months before they plan to start their study abroad programs.

Student Visa Requirements You May Need to Complete

Student visa requirements are determined by the host country, which means an international student studying abroad in one part of the world may go through a different student visa application process than a student applying to study elsewhere. You must do your due diligence to make sure that you understand and can meet the set requirements specified by the country you plan to study in.

Additionally, it's essential to keep in mind that visa regulations can change, so staying informed about any updates or policy revisions is crucial. Seeking guidance from the consulate or embassy of your chosen destination can provide valuable insights and assistance throughout the application process. The program advisor at your school or the host institution could also be a valuable resource in this process.

Background Check

It is common for countries to request background information on student visa applicants to establish that the applicant has ties that bind them to the United States. Ultimately, you have to show that you plan to return to the U.S. after you have completed your studies abroad.

At the visa interview, consular officers try to determine that you have adequate funds to avoid unlawful employment while in the country where you will study, a credible support arrangement for yourself while abroad, specific and realistic travel plans, and strong ties to the U.S. As with most visa application processes, the host country wants to know you will not be a burden during your stay.

Language Requirement

Most countries where English is not an official language require some level of fluency in the native language. This is usually determined by your score on a designated language proficiency test. Some countries will approve a student visa even when the applicant is not fluent because language courses are incorporated into the applicant's course program.

Financial Resources

To get a student visa, you must prove that sufficient funds are or will be available from an identified and reliable financial source to cover all living and school expenses during your anticipated period of study abroad.

Some student applicants are required to prove they have enough readily available funds to meet all expenses for the first year of study, and that sufficient funds will be available for each subsequent year of study. In other cases, visa applicants must provide evidence that adequate funds are immediately available to pay all tuition and living costs for the entire duration of the intended stay.

In most cases, a foreign national is not permitted to work or accept employment while in a country on a study visa.

Educational Institution Acceptance Form

You must be accepted by an approved educational institution before any foreign country will issue a student visa. The institution should provide you with the proper documentation needed to make your request for a visa to study abroad. There may be different forms depending on the type of institution at which you plan to study.

Applying for a Student Visa

Most countries require that you apply for a student visa through the embassy or consular general of the foreign country where you plan to study while you are still in the U.S. However, there are a few countries that require you to enter with a tourist visa and then request a student visa.

It is important to understand the application process for the country in which you plan to study. Some countries do not allow you to apply for a student visa more than a few months before your course starts. The student visa application timeline varies from country to country.

In addition, not all consular generals accept every type of visa application. Therefore you must verify which consular generals will process your student visa application.

Schedule an Interview

An interview is typically part of the student visa application process. Some countries only schedule interview appointments online, others require you to call, and, still others, require you to personally appear at the embassy or consular general to schedule an interview.

Appointments are scheduled during workdays excluding public holidays. Appointment times are staggered; applicants should arrive at the embassy or consular general exactly at the time stated.

In special situations, you can request an expedited student visa interview appointment. These are scheduled on a slot availability basis. Typically, these special appointments require you to provide your passport number and a written explanation of why the student visa is urgent and include your contact information for consular staff to verify your claimed emergency. All requests must include your valid telephone or e-mail contact information.

Student visa interviews are conducted exclusively between the consular officer and the applicant. Third parties, including lawyers, are generally not allowed to be present at the interview, though exceptions are sometimes granted.

At the student visa interview, be prepared to present the following:

  • a fully completed, signed Student Visa Application Form
  • a current passport valid for at least 6 months
  • expired passports that show previous travel to the country in which you will study
  • the student visa application fee
  • a passport-type photograph
  • an original official letter of acceptance sent by the host school or institution
  • proof of ability to pay for the first year of the study program in the United States and/or abroad
  • any documentation that might demonstrate your situation in the U.S. and your incentive to return to the United States after the completion of your studies abroad

In the past, some student visa applicants have found the following to be useful in helping support their proof of funds and their ties to the U.S.:

  • birth certificate
  • 3 years of bank records and/or fixed deposit statements
  • original tax returns from the last 3 years
  • chartered accountant statements
  • proof of scholarships (if applicable)
  • pay slips, employment letters
  • marriage certificate (if applicable)
  • property documents (if applicable)

Please note that these documents will not guarantee the issuance of a visa.

The student visa application will normally be approved after the interview. You may be required to present additional information or to await further processing before the approval of your application can be determined. For this reason, you are encouraged to apply as far in advance as possible (per your timeline) before your intended departure, so that enough time is allowed to resolve any procedural issues, should any come up. The embassy recommends that applicants do not purchase nonrefundable tickets until their student visa is issued.

Family Members

If you are married and/or have minor children, your family members may obtain nonimmigrant visas to accompany you. Each family member must obtain a form from the host school or institution and meet all other visa eligibility requirements, including evidence that they will have sufficient funds for their support, and that they will also return to the U.S. when your period of study ends.

Just like students, spouses and children of students may not accept employment abroad at any time. Requirements for school-age children attending public schools while abroad vary between countries.

Student Visa Issuance

After a student visa has been authorized, applicants are usually told to return 2 or 3 days later to pick up their passports with student visas. Applicants who need their student visas sooner than what the consular officer states should consult with the consular officer at the time of the student visa application interview.

You or a representative may return to pick up the passport with the student visa at the appointed time. If you send a representative, the representative must bring the pickup ticket and know the name of the applicant whose passport they are acquiring.

Once you receive your student visa, you should verify the accuracy of the information printed on it.

Be sure to check the following details:

  • your name
  • date of birth
  • gender
  • photo
  • passport number
  • issuance and expiration dates
  • visa type
  • the name of the host school or institution where you plan to study

Inform the consular section personnel immediately if you find any errors so that they can be corrected with as little delay as possible.

Validity of a Student Visa

Student visa validity varies between countries. Some student visas are issued for up to 5 years while other visas are valid for shorter periods. The expiration date of the student visa declares the last day you may use the student visa to apply to enter the country where you plan to study. The expiration date is not the last day you are allowed to remain in the country.

Every time you plan to travel to the country where you will study, remember to ensure your passport is valid for at least 6 months from the time you plan to depart that country.

If your passport, which contains your student visa, expires before you complete your course of study, you may travel with 2 passports - 1 expired passport with a valid visa and 1 new passport.

Interview at Port-of-Entry

A valid student visa does not guarantee you will be allowed to enter your destination country. An immigration officer will interview you when you arrive. The officer will determine if you are eligible to enter and for how long. If the immigration officer finds you ineligible, you will not be allowed to enter the country and must return to the United States immediately. The immigration officer may take your picture and fingerprints for their records.

Typically, you are not allowed to enter the country where you will study more than 30 days before your program of study begins. However, if you are returning to continue your studies, you can usually enter more than 30 days before the new school term.

Help with the Student Visa Application

In most cases, the student visa application process is more complex and difficult than the application process for a tourist or business visa. The student visa application process requires several more steps, forms, and documents. You may find yourself overwhelmed or frustrated by this complicated process.

One way to minimize the stress of applying for a student visa is to employ a professional visa service. These businesses are experts in the visa processes of any number of popular destinations. Their advice and support can ensure a smooth application process allowing you to focus on preparing for your study abroad experience.

Check out our guide to the Benefits of Using a Passport Expediting Service for Students Studying Abroad to learn more about how a professional visa service can help save you time, money, and stress.

Regardless of the reason, relocating to a foreign country requires a great deal of preparation. Contracting a visa service to help with the application process is a good investment.

If you're interested in getting help from a professional visa service to obtain your student visa, we highly recommend iVisa for your visa application needs.

Need more help? Visit our visa FAQs page or use the search box below.

About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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