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Finally your admission letter has arrived and your trip to study in the United States is beginning. Wanna go out and have some fun during this long summer break? Before you do, don’t forget one of the most important steps: you need to apply for your F1 visa to enter the US.
When to apply
You can apply for the F1 international student visa within 120 days of the start date for your school listed in the I-20. The typical start date for US schools is at the end of August, so you can begin to apply for a visa after April. Be sure to apply early and avoid the peak rush during summer vacation. Just remember that even if your F1 visa is issued early, you can only enter the United States on an F1 visa up to 30 days before the school start date listed on the I-20.
Websites You’ll Need
- The US State website for the non-immigrant DS-160 electronic visa application form.
- Sign up for the USTravelDocs account and make an appointment online. You can make an appointment in the following cities in China: Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang.
- The US Immigration website for paying your SEVIS fee.
What you’ll need
- A completed non-immigrant visa application form (the DS-160). After completing the form, you’ll get a confirmation page with a confirmation number.
- Your passport. We recommend that you apply with a passport that will be valid longer than the time you will be studying in the US. If it’s not, you’ll have to change the passport later, which adds a lot of unnecessary trouble.
- One (1) 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) photograph taken within the last six months with a white background.
- Your I-20. This is proof of your student status in the US and should indicate the school you’ll be attending, the legal period of your stay in the US and the tuition of your university. The original I-20 has to be signed. If you’re under 18, your parents must sign the form too.
- Your appointment reservation information.
- Your SEVIS fee receipt.
Additional Documents you may need for your appointment:
- Your academic plan (such as research study plans, transcripts, schedules, etc.)
- Financial support documents, which can be:
- Bank statements
- Parents’ employment letter
- Household Register
- Financial grants and scholarship emails from the university
- Recommendation letter from a professor
Detailed steps for your online application
- Go the US State website to fill out the DS-160. You should allow about 75 minutes to finish this. It’s a very detailed application! After completing the application, a barcode confirmation page will be displayed.
- After you’ve finished the application, register for the US Travel Doc. You’ll need to schedule an in-person appointment and pay the visa fee of $160. Don’t forget to save your receipt. You need a receipt number to make an appointment. If you lose your receipt, it won’t be replaced!
You can also pay this Visa processing fee at the China CITIC Bank. Click here for more detailed information about paying your visa processing fee in person.
- Next, go the US Immigration website to pay the SEVIS fee and save the receipt. SEVIS stands for Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. This is a system to record all the international students and scholars’ information.
Your SEVIS ID is located in the upper right corner of your I-20.
Tips for the Interview
- Bring all the required materials in a transparent folder.
- No electronics, water, food, or bags are allowed in the Visa Center.
- Get to the visa center 30 minutes before your appointment. Don’t be late!
- Know which school you are going to and have a rough study plan.
- Stay chill! At the appointment, you’ll be asked simple questions. Just answer sincerely and confidently.
How to get your passport back
- By mail. Your passport will be sent to the address you provided in the US Travel Doc online appointment form.
- You can also have it sent to the nearest China CITIC Bank. You’ll have to go pick up your passport within 15 days of receiving the notice from the bank.
For more details about receiving your passport back, you can check the US Travel Docs website.