How to Move to the US as an International Student

The United States has more top-ranked colleges and universities than any other country in the world, and as such, they also have the largest international student population at around 900,000. Students from across the globe dream of pursuing their higher education degrees at American institutions like Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Yale, MIT, and UCLA. And for the most part, the American government - and the schools themselves - support and encourage this international community.

Moving to the US as an international student is straightforward, but it can be time consuming and expensive. Here is how to go about it…

Step 1: Start Early

You need to narrow down your choice of schools, and look at their specific admission requirements. Give yourself lots of time to get everything done. Examine the application deadlines, and list of required documents and qualifications. Estimate how long it will take you to round up everything you need, and then add some extra to that figure. It will likely take longer than you at first expect.

You do NOT need a student visa before applying to an American school. In fact, you can’t get one before you are accepted at a school.

Step 2: Standardized Tests

Many schools will require that you complete/pass one or more standardized tests before you can be admitted. You may have to take the SAT, ACT, GRE, MCAT (Medical College Admission Test), LSAT (Law School Admission Test), TOEFL (language proficiency), or IELTS (language proficiency). Check with the individual schools you are applying to for their requirements and give yourself plenty of time to register for, study, take, and get the results for whatever you need.

Step 3: Collect Other Required Documents

Each school may have slightly different requirements for admission, and they might ask for transcripts, degrees, certificates, and/or diplomas. Some schools may also require that you have your credentials evaluated as well.

Step 4: Finances

International student tuition in the US is very high. Expect to pay at least $35,000 per year, plus living expenses (rent, food, clothing, transportation). Can you afford it? There is a great deal of financial aid and assistance available, though, and you may qualify for a grant, scholarship, or loan. Financing Your Education has information on the available programs.

Step 5: Apply for Your F1 Visa

Once a SEVP certified (Student and Exchange Visitor Program) school has accepted you, they will provide you with Form I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status), and you’ll need to pay your SEVIS I-901 fee. You must have this document BEFORE applying for your F1 student visa. Once you have it, you can begin the visa application process:

  • Complete Form DS-160 application online
  • Upload a photo adhering to the requirements
  • Print off your application confirmation
  • Schedule an interview at the nearest American Embassy or Consulate. You may be required to pay the $160 visa application fee in advance, so check with the Embassy.

On the date and time of your interview, bring the following documents with you:

  • Passport
  • Photo (if the upload failed; bring one with you just in case)
  • Payment Receipt
  • Application Confirmation Page
  • Form I-20

The individual Embassy or Consulate might also require transcripts, diplomas, degrees, standardized test results, or financial records. Check ahead of time and make sure you have everything you might need to hand over.

If you’re approved, an F1 visa is typically valid as long as you maintain your full-time student status (called Duration of Status, or D/S). It also usually allows you to work up to 20 hours/week on campus, but verify that with your new school.

Step 6: Plan Your Move

Once you have your visa, all that’s left is to make arrangements to get over to the US. You may not enter the country more than 30 days before the start of your school year, so plan accordingly. You may want some of that time to find suitable housing (your school and international student office can help with that) and possibly an on-campus job (again, check with the international student office).  Give yourself at least two weeks to get settled if possible.

Other Useful Links

Studying in the United States

International Student (USA)

Student and Exchange Visitor Program

20 percent discount
20 percent discount

F1 Visa Information

50 Affordable Colleges for International Students

Studying in the US is a dream come true for many. Expensive and thrilling, scary and rewarding. With some of the best post-secondary schools in the world, you’re sure to benefit from the experience. Just make an effort to try everything that it has to offer beyond just the books.

Photo Credit: Nazareth College

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