F1 Visa: The Complete Guide

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Are you someone who is living outside of the U.S. but looking to study here? Or have you been accepted to United States University and are unsure of your next steps? Luckily, no matter what your current situation is, the United States offers a special visa for students abroad to come to the country and study.

As with any visa, the application process can sometimes be confusing and take a lot of time. We have completed a thorough guide so that you can easily apply for your F1 visa and travel to the U.S. to begin schooling. Continue reading for more detailed information about this visa.

What Is an F1 Visa?

For those that are unsure about the specifics of the F1 visa, this is simply a non-immigrant visa that is solely designed for students who wish to live in the country as they study at a university. The programs that allow students to apply for the F1 visa include the following:

  • A seminary
  • Private elementary school, middle school, or high school
  • Conservatory
  • Language training programs
  • A community college or junior college
  • A university

F1 Visa Eligibility Requirements

In order to qualify for this type of visa fully, you must meet four basic requirements. These requirements we will explain in more detail below.


Because an F1 visa is a non-immigrant visa, it doesn’t solely grant you permanent residency within the United States. However, you are able to live in the country while attending the programs listed above, and upon completion, you must go back to your home country.

Being able to show that you have full residency in your home country will make it easier for USCIS to approve your application because there will be no illegal overstays once your F1 is expired.


This is important to obtain prior to applying for the F1 student visa because, without admission to an education program, you are not considered a student. Admission to an education program is very important when applying because you must be eligible to come over on this type of visa.

It’s important to note that home schools, preschools, daycares, or public school admissions do not count towards eligibility for this visa. Your admission must be for one of the educational programs and schools listed in the previous section because they can offer SEVP, student, and exchange visitor program qualifications to you.

Financial Support

Most non-immigrant visas don’t require an amount of proof that this visa will need sufficient funds. The F1 visa will require extensive proof of funds, which can include anything from scholarship notifications, bank statements, and even tax returns.

Ties To Your Home Country

This goes hand in hand with the permanent residency requirement because it is imperative that you go back to your home country once your visa has expired. An F1 visa only allows temporary residency in the U.S. and you must show proof that you understand this requirement.

You can show ties to your home country by evidence of relatives, a job offer waiting after schooling, or owning property. If you are unable to provide sufficient proof, you are able to then strongly demonstrate that you will use the degree you obtain back in your home country.

Documents Required To Apply For An F1 Visa

When applying for this visa, numerous documents need to be presented along with the application. These documents include:

  • A valid passport
  • The completed DS-160 form
  • Two passport-style photos
  • Any scholarship information you have if applicable
  • If sponsored, you will need proof of Form I-134, which is an affidavit of support
  • Any previous degree diplomas
  • Acceptance letters of the institution or educational program that accepted you

It is sometimes recommended to pay for tuition in advance, to show that the funds are there and you are able to sustain yourself within the country. Or, if you are funding yourself via loans, showing this evidence and the documentation required is crucial.

Key Features of the F-1 Visa

There are many benefits to obtaining this type of visa and other things you should consider when applying for the F1 visa. These features include the following:

  • The visa process is quite fast and simple
  • After enrolling in an education program, you are able to transfer schools or switch programs by notifying USCIS as soon as possible
  • You are able to work on campus at a part-time job in order to make money
  • Traveling in and out of the country is very easy with this visa

When Should I Apply for the F1 Visa?

Once you have been accepted to the university of your choice, or the educational program you have selected, you are able to apply for your F1 visa. The application will open 120 days before your program start date.

Once your 120 days arrive, you will need to apply for your visa and begin the process. If you wait until the last minute to apply for this visa, you may be out of luck.

How To Apply for F1 Visa

Applying for an F1 visa is a relatively easy process. However, it’s crucial that you are organized and take the necessary steps and time to apply for your visa. In the sections below, we will go over the F1 visa application steps in more detail.

#1: Admissions Documents From the SEVP Institution

Upon getting accepted into the school you have chosen, there are some procedures you must follow. These procedures will enable you to apply for the F1 visa. First and foremost, the most important thing you can do to make your F1 application successful is to fill out Form I-20.

The certificate of eligibility for nonimmigrant student status form will allow you to apply for the F1 visa and also attend your visa interview.

#2: Apply DS-160 Form Online

Once you complete Form I-20, you are able to begin the F1 process. This can be started by first filling out Form DS-160 online and correctly adding the information they ask for.

#3: Pay the Application Fee

Next, it’s important that you pay the necessary fees for this visa. There is a fee for the SEVP registration and a fee for the visa. Your visa will cost $160 and can be made payable to USCIS in check, cash, or money order.

It’s important to note that sometimes this will cost more depending on the embassy and country you are applying from.

#4: Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee

As listed above, you will need to pay the SEVP fee. When you are accepted and admitted into the education program of your choosing, they will immediately register you into the SEVIS. The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System is imperative to pay for and will cost you $200.

#5: Schedule Your F1 Visa Interview

When Form DS-160 is filled out and you have paid all the mandatory fees, you can then schedule your visa interview. When scheduling, you should attempt to schedule as soon as possible, just in case of any delays.

After scheduling your interview, you will relieve an appointment letter. This letter will show the date, location, and time of your interview. Bring this letter with you to your interview.

#6: Submit the Application

When all is said and done, and all the steps listed above are completed, you can submit all files needed. It’s important that you collect all you have submitted and gather all the necessary documents needed for your application.

These documents should be prepared well in advance and brought to your interview.

#8: Attend the Student Visa Interview

Following the selected date, you will need to show up for your interview. Within this interview, you will be asked detailed questions about why you have chosen to study abroad, and why you have selected the university you have.

F1 Visa Validity

Your F1 visa’s validity period will solely depend on the length of your education program. For instance, if your program is a year or less, your visa will reflect that time. Or, if your study program is two years, your visa will reflect this amount of time.

If your visa isn’t valid for as long as your program lasts, it’s important to apply later on to renew it. Renewing your F1 visa will require the same process that was required to apply for it originally.

Generally, once your visa is approved, you will have 30 days before you are allowed to enter the U.S.

F1 Visa Processing Time

Generally, upon completion of your interview, you will receive the outcome on that very day. At the end of the visa interview, your officer will then tell you if they have approved or denied your visa. They will likely have your visa ready in your passport by the time you have finished.

If the visa is taking longer to process, even with an accepted application, you just must patiently wait for your visa to get back to you.

Can I Stay Longer Than My Visa Allows?

When your visa expires, you have a 60-day grace period to leave the country without any legal implications. But, in many cases, it’s not recommended to stay in the United States longer than your F1 visa validity.

However, as stated above, you are able to request an extension on this visa, as long as you maintain your student status. This extension can be done by following the same process as you did when you originally applied for your visa.

Can I Work as an International Student in the United States?

As an F1 visa recipient, you are allowed to work for short periods of time, while on campus. When school is in session, working part-time is acceptable, and when your school has long breaks, you are able to work full-time at campus jobs.

If you wish to work outside of campus, you have other options. The most common option is requesting to change your status. This can be done via USCIS.

Can F1 Students Apply for Permanent Residence?

Luckily, if you wish to apply for permanent residency, you are able to do so on this visa. Applying for permanent residency will ultimately mean applying for a green card. We must admit, this is a very complicated process.

For starters, you will need to self-petition by using your extraordinary abilities, getting married, or investing $500,000. If you are unable to self-petition by doing any of these three options, you can change your status to another visa.

Many will adjust their status to an H-1B visa and become employer-sponsored. This is the easiest way to gain permanent status if you are unable to self-petition for a green card.

F1 Students Travel Outside the US

When traveling to the U.S. from your home country abroad, it will be quite common and sometimes even necessary to go back and visit. Or even to go back and forth frequently. Meaning, you are able to travel abroad whenever you would like.

However, booking and planning your exit and entry are imperative. And the instructions you must follow are important.

F1 Student’s Family Members

If you are someone who is traveling to the U.S. on an F1 visa and have dependents that are under the age of 21, they are able to travel to the country as well. They can apply for an F2 visa. They must only need to fulfill the requirements and eligibility for an F2 visa and are easily accepted.

Can I Extend My F1 Visa?

Yes, as we have stated before, you are able to extend your F1 visa. A visa extension can only be granted, however, for academic purposes or medical reasons. You can file for an I-20 extension if you meet the given criteria.

F1 Visa Renewal

In the section above, we expressed that an F1 visa extension can be granted if the eligibility requirements are met. These requirements include:

  1. Your educational program has been extended, or you need to stay longer than expected for academic reasons
  2. You have sufficient monetary resources to be able to extend your program of study and time within the country
  3. The request was made in a timely manner and there is enough time for processing

If you meet these requirements or can prove one of the requirements above, you are able to apply for a visa renewal. To do so, you must first fill out Form I-20, collect all the necessary documents, and submit the application at least one to two months before your original expiration date.

Are You Ready to Apply For Your F1 Visa?

All in all, the F1 visa is a highly coveted visa in the U.S., and it’s one that allows students to truly experience American culture. The F1 visa comes with a variety of benefits, and there’s no shortage of ways you can use it to your advantage during your time in the U.S.

The only real challenge is in the application process, which is why it’s so important to have detailed, reliable information if you want to get the most out of this opportunity. For more information, contact Immigration Attorney today.

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