Applying for an F-1 or J-1 visa

Studying in the US

Thinking about studying in the United States? Or perhaps you’re interested in an exchange year or semester in the U.S. as part of your studies in the UK? You can research via websites such as, and, and by contacting U.S. institutions directly or via your university’s study abroad department.

Once you’ve been accepted by a U.S. institution that’s authorized to enroll foreign students, this leaflet will help you with the F-1 or M-1 (student) or J-1 (exchange visitor) visa application process.

Here’s how to apply for a visa in five easy steps. See our website for Study & Exchange visas for full details.

1. Obtain your documents

  • Your U.S. institution will send you a Form I-20 (for F-1 or M-1 visa applicants)
    or Form DS-2019 (for J-1 visa applicants)
  • Pay your SEVIS fee of $180 online to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). This is in addition to the visa application fee. Print the SEVIS receipt and bring it to your visa interview.
  • Ever been arrested, convicted or cautioned? You’ll need a UK Police Certificate (ACRO) issued within 6 months of your visa interview, and a completed Form VCU-01. Full details on our website.

2. Submit Form DS-160

  • Remember, if you are asked ‘Have you attended any educational institutions at a secondary level or above?’ you must list any high schools, colleges and universities you have attended.
  • You’ll need to upload a photograph when you complete the form. Check our Slideshare to help you ensure your photo meets the requirements.

3. Schedule your visa interview

Visit the Visa Appointment Service website at to:

  • pay the $160 visa application fee
  • schedule your visa interview
  • arrange for the Embassy’s approved courier service to deliver your passport if your application is successful

4. Attend your visa interview

  • Bring your original Form DS-2019 or Form I-20, your SEVIS fee receipt, and your Form DS-160 confirmation page (plus your ACRO and Form VCU-01 if relevant)
  • Have evidence – to show the consular officer if requested – of funds to cover your expenses in the United States and of your ties/commitments outside the United States to demonstrate that you will depart the U.S. after your program has ended. There is no set form that this evidence should take, and no set amount that is required.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

When should I apply for the visa?

  • You should apply as soon as you have received your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 to allow plenty of time for visa processing. Although the average processing time is five working days, it can take several months or more in some cases.
  • If your interview is successful, your passport will be kept at the Embassy until processing is complete. Bear this in mind when scheduling your interview, especially if you have holiday plans.

 How soon after my interview can I travel?

  • Only a consular officer can decide if you qualify for a visa – no assurances can be given in advance.

Since processing varies in each case, we cannot guarantee issuance by any set date.

  • We recommend that you don’t book tickets or make final travel plans unless you have received your passport containing a valid visa.
  • If you receive a visa, you can travel up to 30 days before the start date on Form DS-2019 or the report date on Form I-20.

 How long can I stay in the United States?

  • F-1 visa holders are permitted a grace period of up to 60 days after completion of their full course of study plus any periods of authorized practical training (duration of status)
  • J-1 visa holders are permitted a grace period of 30 days from the end date stated on Form DS-2019
  • The grace period is for travel in the U.S. and preparation for departure.  If you leave the U.S. during the grace period, you cannot return using your J-1 or F-1 visa. You will be required to reapply for admission under the Visa Waiver Program, if qualified, or apply for a B-2 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside the United States.  You should be aware that the final determination on a person’s eligibility for admission is made by the immigration official at the Port of Entry.

Can my partner/spouse/child apply for a visa?

  • If you are married and/or have children under 21, they can apply for derivative F-2 or J-2 visas.
  • Boyfriends, girlfriends, common-law spouses and civil partners cannot qualify for derivative visas. If your partner wishes to accompany you, they can apply for a B-2 (tourist) visa.  However, if they want to study or work in the U.S., they will need the appropriate visa for that purpose of travel.

 Can I work at a U.S. summer camp in the summer before I start my course?

  • If you are applying for an F-1 visa and also intend to apply for a J-1 visa, you can apply for both visas at the same interview provided that you pay two $160 MRV fees and two SEVIS fees. The second MRV fee should be paid at the Embassy. Ensure you specify both visa categories when you complete Form DS-160. You will be required to demonstrate to the satisfaction of the consular officer that you will depart the U.S. after the summer camp and reapply for admission on the student visa.
  • If you are applying for a J-1 visa for your study abroad and wish to participate in another J-1 program consecutively, you should apply for the visa to cover the first program. When traveling, carry with you both forms DS-2019 and evidence to show that you have paid two SEVIS fee. The forms should be presented to U.S. immigration at the Port of Entry who will advise you further.