DS-160 Form for F-1 Student Visas Explained

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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on August 10, 2023

The DS-160 is the official student visa application form for international students. Learn how to fill out your F-1 visa application and which fees to expect.

A female international student with a suitcase and a backpack stands in front of a large blue arrivals and departures board at an airport

To study in the United States as an international student, you must get a visa that allows you to stay while pursuing your degree. You need to complete the DS-160 F-1 visa application form, also known as the official nonimmigrant visa application form, before being interviewed by a US consulate general in your home country and before you can be issued a visa. 

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We know you are excited to study abroad in the United States, and by doing some research before you start your visa application, you can save time, frustration, and even money. It is essential to know how to fill a DS-160 for an F-1 visa, which DS-160 fees to expect, and which documents you will need to be successful. 

Read our DS-160 F-1 visa guide, understand the visa requirements before you apply, and make sure you have everything you need to fill out your DS-160 application form. 

Get one-on-one F-1 visa assistance from a Shorelight advisor >

What Is a DS-160 Form? 

The DS-160 application is a required form for your F-1 student visa. A F-1 student visa is for international students who want to enroll in an academic degree program, not a vocational course of study. For international students, a DS-160 application tells the United States government that you have been accepted into an accredited university program and that you have met all the eligibility requirements for study in the US. It also includes relevant personal, academic, and professional information, travel plans, and contact information when you are in the United States. You will also have to answer some security questions during the DS-160 F-1 visa process

See a sample DS-160 form >

Once you complete your DS-160, you will only have one more checkpoint before you receive your student visa — the interview. When you complete the visa interview, you will be issued your F-1 student visa and then be ready to study in the United States. 

Learn more about the visa interview process >

Who Needs a DS-160 Form? 

If you are coming to the US to work, for school, or even to travel for an extended period, you likely need a visa to be admitted into the United States. Your DS-160 application contains the basic information the US government needs to understand the purpose of your visit and determine that it is safe for you to visit and to know how you will spending your time in the country. If you need a visa, you need to fill out a DS-160, the only available application for all visa types. 

Learn more about US visas for students >

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DS-160 Form Requirements 

A DS-160 form is online, which means there is no paper-based form to fill out or mail to the consulate. Before you start your F-1 visa application form, DS-160, you will have to first get some documents in order to complete the computer-based application process. 

Technical Requirements

According to the Department of State, your internet browser must meet the following requirements to fill out your DS-160 successfully. You may use Internet Explorer 11 or higher, Firefox, or Google Chrome 58 when completing your application. Safari and Microsoft Edge are not supported, so make sure you have one of the eligible browsers on your computer before getting started with the DS-160 F-1 visa paperwork.

Which Documents Will I Need to Complete My DS-160?

The most important document to have is your Form I-20, the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. An I-20 is provided by the Designated School Official (DSO) when an international student gets accepted into a program. When international students receive their form I-20 official paperwork from their Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school, they can then begin the DS-160 F-1 visa application process. 

See a sample I-20 form >

Here is a list of which documents and information are required to complete your DS-160 before you can be issued your student visa. 

  • A valid passport: You will need a valid passport to enter the United States, but you will also need one to complete your DS-160 form.

  • Your SEVIS ID: Your I-20 will have your Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) ID located in the top left corner. See the sample form above for where to find your SEVIS ID.

  • Your travel itinerary: If you have already made your plans for travel to the United States, have them with you (but it is OK to use approximate dates). Make sure you have your I-20 details and your program end date as well.

  • US travel history: Have you been to the United States before? If so, you will have to include the dates of your last five visits to the United States, and in addition, you may need your international travel history from the five years previous to your application for a visa.

  • Resume or curriculum vitae (CV): You should not have to submit your resume or CV, but you will be asked about your employment and training history, so it will be helpful to have when you are applying for an F-1 student visa.

  • Digital photo: According to the Department of State, you can submit your digital passport-style photo during the application process. (You can review the complete list of photo requirements in advance.)

  • Other information you may need: Depending on your home country and consulate, you may need additional information for your DS-160, such as bank account statements and social media account information. Additional information for your DS-160 F-1 visa could be requested prior to or during your interview, so be sure to have these documents handy. That way, you will be ready if they ask during the F-1 visa interview.

How Can I Get a DS-160 Form? 

Once you have all the official paperwork, documents, and records you need to complete your DS-160, you can begin the process at the Consular Electronic Application Center part of the State.gov website. It is recommended you review the provided sample DS-160 form (see above) before you start to be sure you are familiar with the terms used and questions asked.

Remember, you must answer the questions on the DS-160 in English; however, translations are available in drop-down menus that can help you through the process. You can also save your progress and come back later or save it to an external drive to complete if you think it will take you more than 30 days. 

DS-160 Form Fees and Application Process 

The DS-160 fee is $160, which covers the cost to submit your DS-160 F-1 visa application to the US government. This fee is separate from the $350 SEVIS I-901 fee that you pay to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. The good news is that you do not have to pay for your visa interview — the next step after submitting your DS-160. That cost is covered in the $160 you will pay with your DS-160 application for your F-1 visa. 

F-1 Visa Application Form DS-160 Process

Now that you have had a chance to look over the online form, collect all your documents and photos, and have a payment method for the processing fee, you can begin filling out the DS-160 application. To avoid any technical issues, be sure you are using a recent version of Firefox, Chrome, or Internet Explorer so you can submit your DS-160 F-1 visa paperwork. It will take you approximately 90 minutes to complete your DS-160 application. Be sure to set aside enough time or you can also save and continue your progress later. 

How to Fill Out a DS-160 Form 

  1. Click “Start a New Application” to begin the DS-160 F-1 visa application process.

  2. Make sure to write down the Application ID displayed on the top right-hand corner of the page as soon as you begin. Your Application ID will allow you to continue your progress if your computer crashes or if you need to stop and start again at a later date.

  3. Answer all of the questions on each page of the digital application, following the instructions closely. If you do not answer all of the required questions, your DS-160 application will not be processed. Also, make sure you answer all questions in English.

  4. When you finish answering all the questions, re-read your answers carefully, so you do not make mistakes.

  5. Sign your application electronically by clicking on the “Sign Application” button.

  6. Once you have checked your answers and signed your application, you can submit it. Once submitted, you will see a confirmation page on your screen with a barcode.

How Long Does a DS-160 Form Take to Process? 

Once you see the confirmation page with the barcode after you submit your application, you have completed the DS-160 part of the visa application process. You will need to print out the screen with your completed DS-160 barcode. Take the printed barcode with you to your visa application interview appointment.

Remember, while you have completed the DS-160 portion of the visa application process, you still have to pass the in-person interview at your local embassy or consulate. Make sure to schedule your F-1 visa interview as soon as possible, as delays can last weeks. 

Find additional resources for international students who want to study in the US >

Most embassies and consulate offices also offer expedited or rush interview scheduling if your program start date listed is before you can reasonably make it to the United States. Make sure you research interview wait times and rush interview options as early as possible in the F-1 visa interview process. 

Are you ready to join more than one million international students who are studying for a degree in the US? Apply to a Shorelight university today >