F1 Visa – Visas for Studying in the United States in an Academic or Language Program

Do you want to study full-time in the US? If you plan to study an academic or language training program, you need an F1 visa. Read this guide to learn about the F1 visa rules, find out if you’re eligible, and how to apply for it. 

The F1 visa allows you to enter the US as a full-time student of an academic or language training program that results in a degree, diploma, or certificate.

You must be enrolled in a course at an accredited college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or academic institution.

The F1 is a nonimmigrant visitor visa, meaning you must return home once you’ve completed your course. You often see the F1 visa referenced alongside the M1 visa because they’re different categories of student visas.

What are the Visa Rules and Requirements?

To be eligible for the F1 visa, you must:

  • Be enrolled in an academic or language training program at a United States college, university, seminary, conservatory, academic high school, elementary school, or institution approved by the Student and Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP),
  • Be a full-time student,
  • Be proficient in English or be enrolled in a course that leads to your English proficiency,
  • Have sufficient personal funds to cover your educational, living, and travel expenses in the US for the duration of your course,
  • Have a residence and ties to a country outside the US that you intend to return to once you complete your course.

To maintain your F1 status while in the US, you must also:

  • Attend school as expected,
  • Pass your course work each semester,
  • Maintain the full course load required for your program and listed on your Form I-20 (typically 12 credits per quarter for undergraduates, ten credits per quarter for graduates),
  • Limit your authorized, on-campus work to 20 hours per week during term,
  • Pay your tuition fees on time.

Under the F1 visa rules, while in the USA you’re subject to certain restrictions:

  • You can’t work off campus during the first academic year of your course. There are exceptions under certain circumstances and with authorization from the United States Citizen and Immigration Service (USCIS).
  • You can work off campus after completion of your first academic year in certain types of employment pertaining to practical training. This requires approval from your school and work authorization from USCIS.

Learn more about the F1 visa rules and regulations here.

When Can I Enter the US?

You can enter the US up to 30 days before the program start date listed on your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status.

What Documents Do I Need to Enter the US?

When you enter the US on an F1 visa, bring the following in your carry-on luggage:

  • Valid F1 visa and passport,
  • Form I-20,
  • Acceptance letter from your SEVP-certified school,
  • Evidence of personal funds to cover your educational, living, and travel expenses in the US for the duration of your course,
  • Name and telephone number of your Designated School Official (DSO),
  • Address of your residence while studying in the US,
  • If applicable, documents for your spouse and dependants: valid F2 visa and passport, Form I-20.

How Long Can I Stay in the US?

Your F1 visa is typically issued for five years to allow you to complete your studies and any practical training required after course completion.

However, your admission into the US is for the duration of your F1 status. This means the date by which you must exit the US is defined by:

  • The date you complete your course plus a 60-day grace period, or
  • If you’ve been approved for Optional Practical Training (OPT), it’s the date listed on your EAD plus a 60-day grace period.

You can request an extension if you need more time to complete your studies beyond your visa expiration date. However you must have a valid reason, e.g., academic or medical reasons.

How Long Can I Stay in the US Once I’ve Completed My Course?

On an F1 visa, you must depart the US no later than 60 days after the program end date listed on your Form I-20, including any authorized practical training.

Remember, the latest date you can stay in the US is the “admit until” date listed on your I-94.

Can F1 Visa Holders Extend Their Stay?

Yes! You can extend your stay for an additional year from your original program end date listed on your Form I-20.

You must have a compelling reason to request an extension. This includes a change of major or research topic, difficulties encountered during your research, or medical reasons.

Your extension request is less likely to be approved for reasons deemed not compelling. This includes poor academic performance, such as retaking a class after an incomplete grade. It also includes nonessential reasons, such as taking extra classes not mandatory for your program.

What Happens if Holders Overstay Their Visit?

Do not overstay your F1 visa under any circumstances.

You’re considered out of status if you fail to depart the US before your authorized date. Your visa is automatically voided, and you may be ineligible for a US visa in the future. If you’re an F1 visa holder and at risk of overstaying while in the US, get help from your DSO or an immigration attorney.

How Much Does an F1 Visa Cost?

There are several components to the F1 visa fee:

  • $350 I-901 Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) fee,
  • $160 application fee,
  • $105 visa issuance fee.

What is the F1 Visa Processing Time?

The overall time it takes to get an F1 visa includes obtaining proof of acceptance from the school and registering with Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Then the wait time for a visa interview plus visa processing time.

Wait times for visa interviews at a US Embassy or Consulate vary by location.

The current wait times around the world vary. In some locations (but surprisingly, not all!), wait times are lengthy. This is an unfortunate reality due to COVID-related backlogs.

You can try to secure an earlier appointment by filling out the DS-160 online and paying the fee. Then check regularly (daily) for new appointments opening up due to cancellations.

Once you complete your interview, the F1 visa processing time is typically under 30 days.

For information on visa locations, reviews of experiences, ratings, and feedback go to the America Josh US Visa Location Guide.

How Do I Apply For an F1 Visa?

Before applying for an F1 visa, you must be accepted and enrolled in a Student Exchange and Visitor Program (SEVP) certified US school.

  1. Obtain Form I-20, proof of acceptance from the school.

    This is the Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – For Academic and Language Students.

  2. Register with SEVIS.

    The Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) is a database for nonimmigrant students and exchange visitors in the US.

    The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) uses SEVIS for tracking and monitoring purposes. 

    To register with SEVIS, create an account here. Your SEVIS identification number is on Form I-20, starting with the letter N and followed by ten digits.

    Pay the $350 SEVIS I-901 fee. You’ll receive an electronic payment confirmation as proof of payment.

    Then apply for an F1 visa at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US:

  3. Complete an online F1 visa application

    If you’re applying within Australia, register and create a profile with the US Department of State here.

    Apply for an F1 visa online using Form DS-160.

  4. Pay the fee

    Pay the $160 F1 visa application fee. You’ll receive an electronic payment confirmation as proof of payment.

  5. Upload the required documents online, as a minimum

    Completed Form DS-160, Form I-20, SEVIS I-901 payment receipt, visa application payment receipt, passport with at least six months validity, passport photo, educational certificates, proof of your ability to fund your educational, living, and travel expenses, e.g., a bank statement, evidence you intend to depart the US after your trip, e.g., a return plane ticket, proof of ties to your home country.

  6. Schedule an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US

    F1 visa applicants between the ages of 14-79 require an interview. However, they generally aren’t required for applicants below 13 or above 80.

    Schedule an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy here.

  7. Attend an interview at a US Consulate or Embassy outside the US

    Bring all uploaded documents, Form I-20, DS-160 confirmation page, appointment letter, and all payment receipts to your interview.

    It’s a good idea to bring relevant academic documents to support your application for a student visa, such as transcripts, diplomas, degrees, and standardized test scores.

    At your interview, a consular officer will assess your F1 visa application. Your fingerprints will be taken. You’ll be advised if further administrative processing is required.

    There’s a $105 visa issuance fee when your visa is approved.

    Track the status of your F1 visa application on the US Consular Electronic Application Center (CEAC).

    You can either receive your passport with your F1 visa stamp by mail or pick it up in person from the Consulate officer. The typical processing time is 30 days.

Learn more about how to apply for an F1 visa here.

What Questions Will I Be Asked at My Visa Interview?

The purpose of the F1 visa interview is for the Consular Officer to verify the information in your application and supporting documents is true and correct.

You’ll be asked questions about your study goals, the course/program, previous work and study experience, finances, and family members.

Here are some commons questions you can expect during your visa interview:

  • Why do you want to study in the US?
  • Why did you choose this college/institution?
  • Did you apply to any other colleges and if so, how many and which ones? Did you get any other acceptances?
  • What course will you be studying, and why did you select it?
  • Is your course full-time? Tell me about the course load.
  • Does this course relate to your previous study or work, and if so, how?
  • What are your plans once you’ve completed this course?
  • Are you planning to stay in the US after you’ve completed your course?
  • Where do you see yourself in a few years?
  • How are you paying for your tuition?
  • Do you expect to work on campus during your studies?
  • How will you cover all your expenses while studying this course in the US?
  • Do you have any student loans? Did you have to take out any student loans to pay for this course?
  • Tell me about your family. What do your parents do for a living? Do you have any siblings?
  • Do you have any friends or relatives in the US?
  • Do you have a spouse or children, and if so, will they be coming to the US with you?
  • Do you have a boyfriend/girlfriend/romantic partner?
  • What will you do if your student visa application is rejected?

Follow these tips for your visa interview:

  • Try to stay calm and relaxed. The Consular Officer is just doing their job. In most cases, if you’ve been accurate and honest in your application, everything will be fine, and the interview will be straightforward.
  • Smile and be friendly. Convey your enthusiasm for the program you’ll be studying. Make it clear why you’re interested in this course and how it’s relevant to your life back home.
  • Answer the questions honestly. If you don’t understand the question or are unsure, say so! Share what you DO know.
  • Make sure you’ve brought all relevant supporting documents with you, well organized, and refer to them during your interview.
  • Emphasize your plans to return home after you complete your studies, and refer to supporting documents that clearly show your ties to your life, family, and friends back home.

“They really didn’t ask much. They saw it was building on my undergraduate degree and that it was a good option. They asked about financial support.”

Australian expat BM, who did a PhD in the US under an F1 visa

How Do I Extend Visa?

If you’re unable to complete your course before the date listed on your I-20, you can request an extension, provided you have a compelling reason.

To request an extension to your F1 visa, first, you need a new Form I-20:

  • Talk to your DSO as soon as possible if you need to extend your F1 visa because you must apply before your existing I-20 expires (and up to one year in advance),
  • Your DSO must file an extension request in SEVIS,
  • You need a compelling educational or medical reason to justify the extension, such as a documented illness, or unexpected research problems, supported by your DSO,
  • You must also provide proof of personal funds to cover your expenses in the US for the extension period.

Then once you receive a new Form I-20, renew your F1 visa by applying for an extension of stay with USCIS:

  • File Form I-539 online up to 60 days (but no later than 15 days) before your program end date listed on your original Form I-20.
  • Compile and upload supporting documents to explain the visa renewal, including the documents required for your original visa application, the updated Form I-20, plus the evidence provided to obtain your new Form I-20.
  • Pay the filing and biometrics fees.
  • If you’re renewing an F1 visa that’s still valid, you’re generally eligible for an interview waiver.

If your request to extend your F1 visa is successful, you’ll receive an updated I-94.

Learn how to file an extension to your F1 visa here.

For professional assistance, the following legal and immigration specialists are recommended:

Doug Lightman from Lightman Immigration

Tara Gray from Tara Gray Law

Zjantelle from Cammisa Markel

More Information

Are you already studying in the US on an F1 visa? Refer any questions about the rules and requirements of your visa to your DSO.

Get the basics of F1 visa rules and how to apply here.

Learn more about studying in the US here.

Find out about SEVIS here.

For comprehensive and well-organized information about F1 visas for Australians, check the US Visa Information Service for Australia

Why Study in the US on an F1 Visa?

Australian expat BM, who did a PhD in the US under an F1 visa explains:

“The scholarship funding in the US is much better than in Oz.

“Do it if you can support yourself or be supported. My partner was working on an E3, so we had the money to make it work. It will be difficult to live on a $25K scholarship each year in NYC. If you can do it, it’s a great opportunity.”

Frequently Asked Questions About F1 Visas

Here are some common questions about F1 visas:

Do I Need an F1 Visa to Study in the US? Can’t I Study on the Visa Waiver Program Instead?

The Visa Waiver Program (VWP) allows you to enter the US for up to 90 days as a tourist. 

So on the VWP you can take a short course for fun, such as a 2-hour “The Secret to Making New York Pizza” course.
 
But for any academic, vocational, or language-training program credited towards a US degree or academic certificate, you need a student visa. The type of course and school you plan to attend determine whether you need an F or an M visa.

How Is the F1 Visa Different From M1, B1/B2, and J1 Visas?

The F1 visa is specifically for students of any academic or language training program credited towards a US degree or academic certificate. An F1 visa holder typically studies at a US college/university, private secondary school, or an approved English language institution.  

The M1 visa is specifically for students of any vocational program credited towards a US degree or academic certificate. An M1 visa holder typically studies at a US community college. If you wish to go on and study at a US university after you’ve completed your vocational training on an M1 visa, you will need to leave the US and apply for an F1 visa.
 
The B1/B2 visa allows you to travel to the US for business or tourism for up to 180 days.
 
The J1 visa allows you to enroll in a student or visitor exchange program.
 
If you’re on a B1/B2 or J1 visa and do a short course relevant to the purpose of your visit, not credited towards a degree or certificate, you’re probably OK. If in doubt, speak to an immigration attorney.

Do I Need to Disclose My Social Media Handles When Applying For an F1 Visa?

Yes! Form 160, the application form for a nonimmigrant visa, includes a question to collect all your social media identifiers/handles (though not your passwords) on the platforms specified.  

Could posting on social media jeopardize your F1 visa application? Possibly. An immigration attorney can give a definitive answer.
 
However, remember that the consular officer at your interview will evaluate ALL the information you’ve supplied to determine your eligibility for an F1 visa. So if any part of your application is at odds with the F1 visa requirements (including fraudulent answers and malicious intent), you may be denied. Or worse, you could face legal strife with US authorities.
 
So be smart about what you post online and be honest in your F1 visa application. If you have specific questions about studying in the US, speak to an immigration specialist directly about your situation.

Can I Work On An F1 Visa?

Yes! But with restrictions.  

Under certain rules, you can work a regular, paying job while studying on an F1 visa.
 
Firstly, on an FI visa, you are allowed to work on campus. The type of job you would do is typically related to student life, such as working in the cafeteria or school library. You’re limited to 20 hours per week during an enrolled term but can work more than 20 hours per week during official breaks or on earned leave.
 
However, during the first academic year of your course, you’re not allowed to work off campus. An exception is if you’re experiencing economic hardship or unforeseen circumstances, e.g., medical bills, tuition increase, loss of financial support. You must apply for employment authorization from USCIS, with support from your DSO.
 
After completion of your first academic year, you can work off campus in certain types of employment pertaining to practical training. This requires approval from your school and work authorization from USCIS. As a minimum you need to submit a Form I-538 certification from your DSO and USCIS. F1 visa students are allowed to do 12 months of practical training after completing their studies.
 
If you intend to work under any of these circumstances, you must:
– Gain approval from your school, including a Form I-538 certification from your DSO,
– Submit Form I-765 to obtain a work authorization document (EAD) from USCIS.

Can I Volunteer or Work as an Internship On An F1 Visa?

Possibly. But only under certain rules. 

Generally, F1 visa students can volunteer their time with a charitable or humanitarian organization, provided there’s no financial compensation and the role is a legitimate volunteer position.
 
However, internships, whether paid or unpaid, aren’t considered volunteer work under US Department of Labor (DOLA) guidelines. That’s because a private company typically offers an internship to students because it’s relevant to their studies. 
 
Therefore for F1 students, an internship should be considered under F1 visa work and practical training rules, and requires approval from your DSO and USCIS.

Can I Look For Work On An F1 Visa?

Yes. But with restrictions.  

Subject to the work rules for F1 visa students, you can look for on campus work. You can also undertake off campus work relating to practical training.
 
Remember that the F1 is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning you intend to return home after completing your course. What if you’re offered a job at the end of your course? You can apply for an adjustment of status to a category that authorizes you to work in the US. You’ll also need to apply for an appropriate work visa.

Can an F1 Visa Holder Convert to a Green Card?

The F1 visa is a nonimmigrant visa, meaning you don’t intend to stay in the US once you’ve completed your studies. 

What if your situation changes while you’re in the US, such as marrying a US citizen? There’s a pathway to convert from an F1 visa to a green card. First, you must request a change in your nonimmigrant status to another category. Consult an immigration attorney for help with this.

Can My Family Join Me on an F1 Visa?

Yes! Under the F1 visa rules, your spouse or family members can live in the US with you while you’re studying on an F1 visa. 

They must also enroll in SEVIS, obtain an individual Form I-20 from your SEVP-approved school, and apply for an individual F2 visa.

Do I Need Any Vaccinations to Be Eligible for the F1 Visa?

The US no longer requires vaccinations for temporary visa holders. However, the school you’re studying at will likely have its own policy and rules around mandatory vaccinations.