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Santa Clara University

Applying for your visa

What is a Visa Stamp?

The F-1 visa stamp is a travel document issued by U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad and placed into your passport. This document is proof that the U.S. Department of State has reviewed your visa application and completed the required security checks to confirm that you intend to be a student and are safe to enter the U.S. 

All F-1 international students (except Canadians) are required to have valid F-1 visa stamp and a valid I-20 before they can enter the U.S.

Canadian Citizens

If you are a Canadian citizen you are “visa exempt” which means that you do not need an F-1 visa stamp in your passport in order to enter the U.S. You are still required to secure an I-20 and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee before you can enter.

Current F-1 Visa holders

If you currently have a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport, even if it lists another U.S. school or university, you most likely do not need to apply for a new visa stamp.  You are still required to secure an I-20 and pay the I-901 SEVIS fee before you can enter.

Visa Application Process

If you are outside the United States (and you are not a Canadian citizen and you do not already have a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport), you will need to obtain an F-1 visa stamp in your passport before you can enter the United States. 

More information about the visa application process at can be found on the designated website of the Embassy or Consulate that you will visit, however, you will generally be required to:

Action Instructions
Pay the SEVIS fee (I-901)

You should complete this online and retain proof of payment.

If you are a student from Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Gambia, you cannot pay the SEVIS fee online and should follow our special instructions.

Complete an Electronic DS-160 (Visa Application)
  • This application should be completed online.
  • You are required to keep proof of submission.
Pay the DS-160 Visa Application Fee
  • The cost of the Visa Application Fee varies by country.
  • For information on paying the visa application fee, please visit the website of your U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
Make an appointment for an in-person interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Most applicants will be required to attend their visa application appointment in person. If you have previously had an F-1 visa stamp, you may be eligible to apply via mail.
Visit the U.S. Embassy or Consulate with your supporting documents at the designated appointment time.  Supporting documents include:
  • Proof of SEVIS Fee Payment
  • Proof of DS-160 Submission
  • Proof Visa Fee Payment
  • Original and copy of Passport
  • Original and copy of I-20
  • Proof of funding for your time in the U.S. (must be in english, must be dated within the last 3 months)
  • Proof of your admission
  • Proof of your academic qualifications for your program (TOFEL scores, admission test scores, prior degree diploma / transcripts)
  • Proof that you have financial, physical and familial ties to your home country
  • You should be prepared to answer questions about all of the above as well as questions about your course of study
Collect your original passport In person or via mail from the Consulate or Embassy
Prepare to enter the U.S.  

Visa Application Processing Time

Processing times for visa applications vary depending on your country of citizenship, the time of year you are applying and your area of study.

You can review general processing times online, but we recommend that you begin your visa application process 1-3 months before your expected arrival in the U.S.

Administrative Processing

Occasionally the U.S. Consulate or Embassy requires extra time to review the details of your application to ensure you have the right security background and the required non-immigrant and bonafide student intent. This can lead to a delay in your visa application called administrative processing.

If you receive any notifications from the Consulate or Embassy about your visa processing being delayed or denied, please contact our office.

Visa Approval

Once your F-1 visa has been issued, your passport will be returned to you and you will be able to arrange for your travel to the United States. F-1 international students may enter the United States up to 30 days before the program start date listed on the I-20.  Please consider processing times and your program start date carefully when making your travel plans to the United States.