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F-1 Visas for International Students: Requirements, Rules, Status

student visa
advice for students
By Shorelight Team
Last updated on April 15, 2021

Get ready to study abroad in America with our step-by-step guide to F-1 visa rules.


A male international student arrives at the airport with his passport and visa

Students wishing to study in the United States need to learn about the F-1 student visa application process. There are more than one million international students currently studying abroad in the USA, and with some preparation and guidance, you can join them. To help you get started, we have put together this step-by-step guide to US visas to help you understand what is a F-1 visa, F-1 visa rules, and F-1 visa requirements.

What Is a F-1 Visa?

The F-1 student visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows international students to enter the US and study at institutions certified by the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). It is the most popular type of student visa for students seeking to study at a US university or college, and you can only apply for your F-1 visa after an accredited US institution accepts your application.

As a F-1 student, the duration of your stay will vary based on the program in which you enroll. The I-20 form provided by the university you wish to attend will list the expiration date of your program. You will need to earn your degree before the listed expiration date, and this will give you an outline of how long you will be able to remain in the US.   

Following your graduation, you may be eligible to apply for Optional Practical Training (OPT). This will permit you to work for up to 12 months in the US in a field related to your study. For STEM graduates, you can request two additional years of work in a related field. If you do not have any extensions or additional training, you will need to return to your home country within 60 days after your graduation. If you want to learn more, Shorelight can help you explore what you can do with your F-1 visa after graduation.

F-1 Visa Requirements 

There are several F-1 visa rules to keep in mind if you plan to apply for a F-1 student visa. You must meet these requirements for your application to be accepted:

  • Institution certification—The college or the university where you plan to study needs to be approved by SEVP Immigration & Customs Enforcement.

  • Full-time enrollment—You must be enrolled as a full-time student at the institution while your academic term is in session.

  • English language proficiency—You must meet the required English language proficiency score of the institution you are attending or be enrolled in courses that will help you improve your English proficiency.

  • Sufficient funding—You must prove you have sufficient funds available to finance your studies and living expenses while in the US.

  • Valid passport—Your passport should be valid for US travel for at least six months after your program completion date.

  • Home country residency—You are required to have a residence in your home country to return to following the completion of your degree.

How to Apply for a F-1 Visa

Before you begin your F-1 visa application, you must take the following steps:

  1. Get accepted by a SEVP-certified institution before submitting your visa application. When you are accepted, you will receive your I-20 form, which you will need to apply for your F-1 visa.

  2. Pay your SEVIS fee.

  3. Complete your DS-160 visa application.

  4. Schedule your visa interview.

  5. Attend your visa interview.

If you are applying for a F-1 visa from India, Shorelight’s F-1 visa for Indian students guide is for you.

Once these steps are completed, you will be ready to complete and submit your F-1 student visa application.

F-1 Visa Application Process

1. Get Accepted and Get Your I-20

The F-1 student visa process starts when you get accepted to a SEVP-certified US university. SEVP certification is the US government’s way of proving that your university is accredited and has the proper resources to provide you with an education. 

Once you are accepted, your university will provide your I-20 form. This form documents your study plans and provides supporting information about your stay. 

The following information is recorded in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) when your I-20 is issued:

  • Your SEVIS ID number

  • Your program start and end dates

  • Your intended program of study

  • Your funding sources

  • Cost of attendance at your school of choice

  • Other personal information

Your university provides this information based off what you submit in your university application materials. 

As soon as you receive your I-20, make sure all your information is accurate, and then sign the bottom of the first page. It can take a long time to fix an error on your I-20 and if something is wrong, you may not be granted access into the country. Retain your form I-20 when you travel to the US. You will need it to enter the US, to work, and for other activities (e.g., like getting a US driver’s license). 

Helpful resources: Confirm your US university is a SEVP-accredited institution 

US VISAS TIP

Keep your Shorelight enrollment advisor updated through every step of the visa process – when you submit your application, schedule your visa interview, and, of course, when your visa application is approved.

2. Pay Your SEVIS Fee

The total cost for your F-1 student visa will be approximately $510, which includes the cost of the visa itself, plus SEVIS processing and maintenance fees. 

  • Requirements: Your I-20

  • Cost: $350 

  • Where to apply: Payment portal for your SEVIS fee

Make sure to save the I-901 SEVIS fee receipt. You will need it for your visa interview. 

3. Complete Your DS-160 Visa Application

Your DS-160 is your visa application. All prospective international students must complete a DS-160 to receive an F-1 visa. 

  • Requirements: Your I-20, passport, travel itinerary, photo for your visa

  • Cost: $160 

  • Where to apply: Application portal for your DS-160

After you successfully submit your DS-160, you will receive a printed confirmation with a barcode on it. Save this form – you will need it for your visa interview. 

4. Schedule Your Visa Interview

Find the nearest US embassy or consulate and schedule your visa interview. Wait times will vary by country and can take months — so remember to set up your appointments as early as possible!

If you are enrolling at a US university through Shorelight, ask your enrollment advisor about student visa interview tips or how to set up a mock interview session. Practicing your visa interview in advance will make you feel more comfortable with the process.

US VISAS TIP

Ask your Shorelight advisor to set up a mock visa interview for you.

5. Attend Your Visa Interview

During the interview portion of the F-1 visa application process, the US consulate or embassy confirms you are coming to study as a legitimate, serious student. In your visa interview, you must also prove you have the funds to cover your time studying in the US, and confirm that you plan on returning home after your studies are complete. Attending your visa interview in person is required, though there are a few rare exceptions (e.g., if you are younger than 14 or older than 80 years of age, or if you meet certain visa renewal requirements). 

  • Cost: Your DS-160 payment covers the cost

  • Where to apply: Scheduling portal for your visa interview

After you successfully complete your visa interview, you will be granted your F-1 visa and acquire F-1 status. You are now cleared to study in the USA! 

Refer to Travel.state.gov to learn more. If you need any help with preparing or submitting your application, Shorelight provides application assistance for international students.

F-1 Visa Admission Requirements

Before you attend your visa interview, make sure to have the following documents ready for evaluation by the consular officer:

  • A valid passport

  • A copy of the photo you will use for your visa

  • Printed copies of your DS-160 and I-901 SEVIS payment confirmations

  • I-20 form

  • School transcript and official test scores cited on your university application

  • Diploma (if applicable)

  • Bank statements or other proof of finances

During your interview, the consular officer may request additional documents. To prepare, consider bringing the following documents:

  • Academic records such as transcripts, diplomas, degrees, or certificates from schools you attended

  • Standardized test scores required by your US institution

  • Evidence of your intent to depart the United States upon completion of your course of study

  • Statements proving your ability to pay all educational, living, and travel costs

F-1 Visa Interview  

As an international student, you might feel uncertain about your upcoming interview. While feeling nervous is normal, do not forget to take a deep breath and remember that you are well prepared! Your interview is important, but should not be stressful.

What to Expect at Your Visa Interview

Your interviewer will ask questions to determine: 

  1. Are you a legitimate student?

  2. Do you have the resources to pay for your studies?

  3. Do you plan to return home after completing your degree?

To prepare for your F-1 student visa interview, here are some questions you might be asked: 

  • Why did you pick this university?

  • Which other US universities did you apply to?

  • How will you pay for your education?

  • Do you have relatives in the USA?

  • Do you plan to work while in the USA?

  • What do you plan to do after graduation?

Your Shorelight advisor can help you prepare for your interview by giving you a detailed overview of what the process will involve. They can also help you practice with mock interviews! Shorelight’s F-1 student visa interview guide can also help you learn more about what you can do to prepare for your upcoming interview. 

F-1 Visa Denials

There is a possibility that your F-1 visa application will be denied. If this happens, you will be given detailed reasoning in writing, including the section of the law that led to the denial of your application.  

To avoid having your F-1 student visa application denied, it is important to read and follow all instructions carefully. Always double- and triple-check your documents before submitting your application. Shorelight advisors can offer visa assistance to make this process easier for you: They are happy to help you organize all the documents you will need, in the correct formats, and on schedule. 

Remember: During your F-1 student visa interview, you want to sufficiently demonstrate that you are traveling to the US to study and planning to return to your home country once your program is complete. Keep this in mind as you answer your interview questions.

Maintaining F-1 Visa Status

As an international student, you must actively maintain your F-1 status to continue studying in the US. To do this, you must comply with both university regulations and codes of conduct, as well as with the requirements and conditions set out in your F-1 visa requirements. 

When entering the US:

  • Make sure to enter the US no more than 30 days before your program begins.

  • As soon as you arrive in the country, contact your designated school official (DSO).

  • When you arrive at your university, contact your DSO again before the start date listed on your I-20 form.

While studying in the US:

  • Attend all your classes and maintain good academic standing. If you require support with any of your classes, your Shorelight advisor can direct you to academic resources to help you improve.

  • If you need extra time to complete your program which would exceed the end date specified in your I-20, speak with your DSO to discuss your options for possible extensions.

  • Make sure to enroll for a full course of study when your academic term is in session.

  • If you want to drop a class or change classes, make sure to speak to your DSO first.

If you want to take a break and/or go on vacation, remember to first complete at least one full academic year at your institution.  After your holiday, you must also register for classes in the next academic term.

Can F-1 International Students Work in the US? 

Yes, you will be able to work in the US on a F-1 student visa. However, you will have to follow certain F-1 visa rules and restrictions:

  • You can only work part time on campus while your academic term is in session

  • You can only work a maximum of 20 hours per week

  • You may be able to work off campus with the approval of your university

During academic breaks, you will be permitted to work full time, if your university allows it. You can learn more about working as a F-1 international student by referring to USCIS.gov.

When searching for work while you study, make sure to seek approval from your DSO first. 

Keep in mind, once you finish your program, you will have a grace period of 60 days to leave the US. If you wish to extend your stay, you can speak to a Shorelight advisor to explore your options, such as transferring to another school or pursuing further education. You can also refer to Shorelight’s F-1 extension guide to have a look at your options.

Now that you know how US non-immigrant visas work for international students, create a checklist of next steps and get started. The sooner you begin fulfilling the USA study visa requirements, the better chance you will have of securing your spot at an American university. 

How can we help? Talk to an advisor today about applying to a Shorelight university >