Requesting a Visa

Overview - What is a Visa?

A citizen of a foreign country who seeks to enter the U.S. generally must first obtain a U.S. visa, which is placed in the traveler's passport, a travel document issued by the traveler's country of citizenship. You can read more about visa vs. status on our website.  The information below explains the process of applying for and receiving your F-1/J-1 visa.

Exception to the Visa Requirement:

All Canadian citizens. Canadian citizens (passport holders) do not require a visa to enter the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 student status, but do require an I-20 or DS-2019. Canadian citizens must present a valid I-20 or DS-2019 and SEVIS fee payment receipt at the airport or border to be admitted in F-1 or J-1 status.

When can I apply for my F-1 or J-1 visa stamp?

If you requested an I-20, you may apply for an F-1 visa 120-days prior to the "Program Start-Date" listed on your I-20. If you requested a DS-2019, you may apply for a J-1 visa as soon as your have your DS-2019 (even if that is earlier than 120-days before the program start-date). 

How and where to apply for your F-1/J-1 visa:

  1. Choose a U.S. consulate or embassy where you plan to apply for your visa. You must apply for your F-1/J-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate; it is recommended you apply in your country of citizenship. If you are applying for a visa in a country other than your country of citizenship, please review our information on third party visa applications first.
  2. Schedule a visa appointment. Visit the U.S. Department of State's website to for the post at which you plan to apply.
  3. Review these helpful resources on applying for a visa:
  4. Practice Visa interviews last between 90 seconds and 3 minutes. In that amount of time, you will be asked about what you intend to study, plans after graduation, and your ties to your home country. The resources linked above can help you think about answers to these questions. Truthfully answer all questions, but avoid offering additional information. 
  5. Attend your visa interview. Don't forget your original I-20 or DS-2019, and all other required visa documentation. Specific information about required documents will be provided when you schedule your interview.

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Preparing for the Visa Interview

Be sure to have all appropriate/required documents with you at the time of your appointment:

  • Valid passport (valid for at least 6 months after your entry into the U.S.)
  • Original form I-20 or DS-2019 (signed by you)
  • Financial documents you used to qualify for your I-20/DS-2019
  • Copies of your academic credentials
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Photos
  • Any other document(s) required by your specific U.S. embassy/consulate's website

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At the Embassy or Consulate

Once you are at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, several things will happen:

  • Reviewing biographical information: The official will perform a "name check" on your name. This compares your name to the data in several large databases and may cause delays.
  • Reviewing field of study. The embassy may ask you questions about your program of study, research topic, or field. If you are entering graduate study in the fields of physics or radiology it might be helpful to have a letter from a faculty member in your department, indicating what your study/research will entail
  • Background checks/administrative processing. Occasionally, students are subjected to a background check/administrative processing delays at the time of visa application. Although rare, these delayes may take several weeks to resolve.  You can read more about background checks and preventing them on our website.

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Application Status Check

You can check the status of your visa application here: CEAC Status Check

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What's Next? After You Receive Your Visa

Once you have your visa and are ready to travel to the U.S., you should make your travel arrangements as soon as possible and prepare for your departure. Chicago has two major international airports and both have transportation options available to the University of Chicago campus:

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