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The basics
THE USA: Visa Guides

How to apply for a student visa in the USA

Applying for a student visa need not be stressful. What you need is the right information to help. That’s what our comprehensive guide to applying for a US student visa provides.

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The USA, where each state has something unique to offer, is home to some of the most well-regarded academic institutions in the world. It’s not surprising that its intake of international students every year is higher than any other country.


Although the USA is known for its strict visa rules, take comfort in the fact that the effort will be worth it. Our guide is here to make the process simpler for you and help ease your mind.


Which visa is right for you?


Before you begin your application, use our helpful table to check which type of visa is the best for you.


Which visa is right for me?

I want to study on a/an…


Visa type

educational exchange programme, credited as part of my existing home study programme

up to (maximum) 18 hours a week

J-1 visa

professional education course which does not result in academic study

does not apply

B-1 visa

short recreational/vocational course (not as part of an existing programme of study) while on holiday

does not apply

B-2 visa

technical course at a vocational or non-academic institution (not including an English language course)



educational exchange programme, credited as part of my existing home study programme

more than 18 hours a week

F-1 visa

English language course


F-1 visa

course at an academic institution* (university, school etc)


F-1 visa


*excluding public secondary schools (for longer than 1 year), public elementary schools and publicly-funded adult education programmes.


This article will show you the application process and requirements for the US M-1 and F-1 student visas.


What courses can I study?


The F-1 and M-1 student visas allow you to study on any full-time course (within the limits of each visa type as listed above), if you study it at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified institution.


Explore the full list of SEVP-approved institutions.


What does a US student visa allow?


Typically, a student visa will permit you to study and live in the USA for either:


  • the length of your studies (F-1 and some M-1); or
  • for a year, with the option to renew for up to (a maximum of) three years (M-1).


When you receive your visa, you can arrive in the USA up to (a maximum of) 30 days before your course starts.


After your course ends, you may stay in the USA for either:

  • 30 days (M-1)
  • 60 days (F-1)

International students may be able to bring their partner or children with them to the USA. However, family members would need to apply separately for an F-2 or M-2 visa.



F-1 student visa holders are allowed to work on-campus. During term-time, this is limited to 20 hours per week.


In some circumstances, F-1 student visa holders may be able to work off-campus after their first year. More information is available on the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services website.


M-1 student visa holders cannot work during their studies but can have training after they have completed their qualification.


Other rules

International students in the USA must:


  • report to their education provider within (no later than) 30 days of arrival
  • register on a full course of study each semester 
  • attend all their classes
  • make satisfactory academic progress
  • complete at least a full academic year of study before they take a vacation/holiday.


Be aware that every visa is unique. Visas are given on a case-by-case basis. Yours may include other conditions depending on your circumstances.


Get ready

Before you apply for your US student visa, you will need:


  • a current passport with several free pages, valid for at least six months after you plan to leave the USA; and
  • a form I-20.


Your Form I-20

To obtain your form I-20, you must be accepted on your course at an SEVP-certified institution. Their Designated School Official will send your form I-20.


The form I-20 contains your personal details, school code and SEVIS identification number, which you will need for your student visa application.


Health Insurance

Healthcare in the USA is expensive, so it is advisable to obtain medical insurance for the length of your stay. However, health insurance is not a legal requirement for F-1 or M-1 student visa holders.


When to apply

You can apply for your F-1 or M-1 student visa up to (a maximum of) 120 days before your course begins.



The costs associated with a US student visa are listed in the table below:



When to pay


SEVIS (I-20) fee

After you receive your form I-20

USD 350

MVR (application) fee

When you apply for your visa

USD 160

Insurance fee

(dependent on your nationality)

After your visa is approved

Use the tool on this page to see if (and how much) you need to pay.


You will also need to provide evidence that you have enough money to cover all your expenses, including tuition, while you are in the USA.


There is no specific amount or way in which you must prove this but commonly people choose to supply:


  • bank statements showing you have enough funds; or
  • evidence of scholarships/grants.


We have helpful articles available about the cost of living in the USA and the cost of tuition fees in the country.


Knowledge of English

Although the US student visa application process has no English language requirements, your education provider will likely require evidence of your English language proficiency.


Other requirements



You will need to supply a colour passport photo (5x5cm) that was taken within (no later than) the last six months.


Ties to home

You must show that you intend to return home at the end of your studies. Evidence might include family, home, or a property ownership.


Travel history

You will need to provide the dates of your last five trips to the USA.



You may be asked to provide information about your education and/or work history.



Depending on the country you apply from, you may need to supply other documents as evidence of health or character. You can find out more about this at the US embassy where you live.


Completing your application


Application form

You must complete the student visa application (DS-160) form online. This will take about 90 minutes. Make sure you have your credit or debit card ready to pay the fees associated with your application.


As part of the application, you will need to select your nearest consulate from a list. This must be the consulate where you intend to attend your interview.


Save your DS-160 regularly as you will be timed out every 20 minutes for security reasons. You can apply for a US student visa using the US government website.



You must make an appointment for an interview with your local US embassy via their website.


At the interview, your fingerprints will be taken. You will be asked some questions about yourself, and your application and your documents will be verified. You must take the following documents to the interview:


  • passport
  • original form I-20
  • your form DS-160 confirmation page, including barcode
  • receipts for both SEVIS and MVR fees
  • a copy of your visa instructions, including barcodes, printed from your visa account
  • passport photo taken (no later than) within the last six months (if you have not already submitted one online).


You may also be requested to bring:


  • academic transcripts
  • proof you have funds to support yourself.


Depending on where you apply from, you may be required to provide additional documents. Check local requirements on your US embassy/consulate website. Try not to worry about the interview process. Although it may feel stressful the purpose is to understand your application better. The questions are not intended to ‘trick’ you.



After you apply

A decision will usually be made immediately after your interview. You will be informed by the consular officer if this is not the case.


Don’t forget!

Check the dates and conditions when you receive your visa. These will tell you what you can and cannot do when you are in the USA.


If you think there has been a mistake on your visa, you must inform US Immigration and Customs Enforcement immediately for it to be amended.


If you have any problems related to your visa after you have arrived, your Designated Student Officer can help. Or you can call the SEVP Response Center for help.


COVID-19 guidance

At present, the USA is only accepting visitors who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.


With your newly acquired knowledge on how to apply for a student visa, it’s time to explore universities in the USA and search for your perfect qualification with our course matcher.



Study in the USA


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