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New Visas and Visa Renewals

Your visa is your "ticket" into the United States. As an F-1 or J-1 visa holder, your visa is for "Duration of Status." This means that once you enter the United States, it is OK if your visa expires. However your I-20 or DS-2019 must remain valid. If your visa expires while you are in the United States, there is no need to renew it. You cannot renew your visa while inside the United States. However if you leave the United States and plan to reenter, you must renew your visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

The Visa Process

I am a new student and need to apply for a visa.

In order to apply for your F-1 or J-1 visa, follow these steps:

  • Make an appointment with your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate  to apply for your visa. Check on the Department of State website for an estimated wait time for your visa appointment.
  • Complete the online form DS-160. (Pay the visa application fee by following instructions on your local U.S. Embassy or Consulate web site.)
  • If you are beginning a new F-1 or J-1 visa status, you need to pay the SEVIS fee. Students studying under the F visa are required to pay $200. Students studying under the J visa must pay $180. If you are applying for J-1 status and you are sponsored by the U.S. government, you are not required to pay the SEVIS fee. If you are transferring schools, extending your program, applying for an F-2 or J-2 dependent visa, or have paid this fee and been denied a visa within the last twelve months, you do not need to pay.  You must bring the receipt of SEVIS fee payment with you to the visa interview.
  • Prepare and bring the following to your visa interview:
    •  A passport valid for at least six months beyond the period of stay in the U.S.
    •  Form I-20 (sign the form at the bottom of page 1) or DS-2019
    • School admission letter
    • Transcripts from previous schools attended and scores of standardized tests (TOEFL/GRE, etc)
    • Completed visa applications 
    • Two 2 inch x 2 inch (or 51 mm x 51 mm) photographs in the prescribed format. 
    • A receipt for the visa application fee
    • A receipt for the SEVIS fee (I-901), either the one you received in the mail or the one you can print from the Internet, depending on which method of payment you used.
    • Financial evidence that shows you have sufficient funds to cover your tuition and living expenses during the period you intend to study.
    • Any information that proves that you will return to your home country after finishing your studies in the U.S. This may include proof of property, family, or other ties to your community.

I am a current student and need to renew my visa in order to reenter the United States.

In order to renew your F-1 or J-1 visa, follow these steps:

  • Make an appointment with your the U.S. Embassy or Consulate closest to where you are traveling. Check on the Department of State website for an estimated wait time for your visa appointment.
  • Visit the ISS Office in order to get your I-20 or DS-2019 signed before travel. We highly recommend that your I-20 or DS-2019 be signed within the last 6 months of your return date into the U.S. 
  • In order to renew your visa, you will need the following documents. (You should also check with the embassy where you will visit to see if additional documents are required.)
    • Passport valid for at least six months after date of reentry into the U.S.
    • Signed I-20 or DS-2019
    • Official transcripts (available for request on your Self Service Carolina account)
    • Financial certification
    • Copies of all I-20s or DS-2019s previously issued to you

I am on OPT and need to renew my visa in order to reenter the United States.

While you are on OPT, you are still considered to be in F-1 status, therefore you will renew your F-1 visa. Follow these steps to renew:

  • Make an appointment with your the U.S. Embassy or Consulate closest to where you are traveling. Check on the Department of State website for an estimated wait time for your visa appointment.
  • Visit the ISS Office in order to get your I-20 signed before travel. On OPT, your I-20 must have been signed within the last 6 months of your return date into the U.S. If you no longer live in Columbia, you can mail your I-20 to our office. Please allow adequate time for us to mail it back to you.
  • In order to renew your visa, you will need the following documents. (You should also check with the embassy where you will visit to see if additional documents are required.)
    • Passport valid for at least six months after date of reentry into the U.S.
    • Signed I-20 or DS-2019
    • Official transcripts (available for request on your Self Service Carolina account)
    • Employment Authorization Document
    • Proof of Employment--pay stubs, offer letter, or letter of support
    • Copies of all I-20s or DS-2019s previously issued to you

I want more information on how to change my status while in the United States.

Please see the Change of Visa Status section of our website.

I am a citizen of Canada, Bermuda, or another island adjacent to the United States.

You do not need a visa to enter the U.S., but you need to show your I-20 or DS-2019 when entering the United States. Be sure to pay and process the SEVIS fee before appearing at the U.S. Port of Entry. You cannot pay this fee at the Port of Entry. We also recommend that you carry the I-901 SEVIS fee payment receipt with you when crossing the border.