Applying for an Initial F-1 Visa

New F-1 students are eligible to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad after receiving the Form I-20 from MUSC.

Visa interview wait times and processing times are highly variable and depend on the specific consulate, volume of other applicants, and the visa applicant’s individual circumstances. For some applicants, it may only take a few weeks to get a visa interview and for the visa application to be processed. For other applicants, the process may take several months. For this reason, you must begin the visa application process as soon as possible after receiving your Form I-20. It is extremely important that you plan ahead to allow for any delays at the consulate.

Please be aware that issuance of the Form I-20 from MUSC does not guarantee that you will receive an F-1 visa. MUSC has no control over the outcome of your visa application. Issuance of any U.S. visa is at the sole discretion of the U.S. Department of State. You should not make any definitive travel plans until you have received your F-1 visa.

U.S. Embassy/Consulate

Your first step is to locate the specific U.S. embassy or consulate where you will apply for your visa. Visit U.S. Embassy to view a listing of all of the U.S. embassy/consulate locations.

Once you have identified your specific consular location, you must refer to your specific consulate’s website for further instructions on the visa application process. Each consular location operates differently, so it is important that you refer to your specific consular location for instructions.

It is recommended that you apply for a visa in your country of citizenship. Applying for a visa at a consulate in a country other than your country of citizenship is known as a third country application. Third country visa applications can be riskier and can take longer. Visa refusal is more likely when applying for a visa in a third country. This is because the consular officer must take extra measures to verify your relationship to your home country. If you do choose to apply for a visa in a country other than your country of residence, you should contact the consulate where you plan to apply and ask if they will accept an application from a “third country national.” Some consulates may put limits on the number of third country national visa applications that they will process.

Nonimmigrant Visa Application

In most circumstances, all nonimmigrant visa applicants (including F-1 students) must complete the Form DS-160 Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application before scheduling the visa interview appointment. Once you have completed the DS-160, print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview. If you have dependent family members who have received F-2 Forms I-20 from MUSC, each dependent family member must also complete the Form DS-160 and apply for an F-2 visa.


All new F-1 students are required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee before applying for a F-1 visa. This is a one-time fee. Refer to the SEVIS I-901 fee section on the New F-1 Students page for more details on the SEVIS I-901 fee.

All nonimmigrant visa applicants are required to pay a visa application fee. The visa application fee is required each time you need to apply for an F-1 visa at a U.S. embassy/consulate abroad. Any F-2 dependent visa applicants will also be required to pay the visa application fee.

The nonimmigrant visa application fee is set by the U.S. Department of State and is subject to change at any time. Refer to the website of your specific U.S. embassy/consulate for more details on the current visa application fee and how to pay the fee. Typically, you will be required to pay the fee when you complete the DS-160 nonimmigrant visa application.

Visa Interview

A personal interview is usually required as part of the visa application process. You must schedule your visa interview as soon as possible after completing the Form DS-160.

Refer to the website of your consulate for specific information on exactly what you need to bring to your visa interview. In general, you should be prepared to bring the following documents to your visa interview:

  • Passport (valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the U.S.)
  • Form DS-160 Nonimmigrant Visa Application confirmation page
  • Visa application fee payment receipt (if you are required to pay before your interview)
  • SEVIS I-901 fee payment receipt
  • Form I-20 with your signature
  • Financial documents showing how you will pay education, living and travel costs
  • Additional documentation as indicated on your specific embassy/consulate’s website

During your visa interview, a consular officer will determine whether you are qualified to receive an F-1 visa based on your purpose of coming to the United States. You are responsible for establishing that you meet the requirements under U.S. law to receive an F-1 visa. You must demonstrate that your primary purpose of coming to the U.S. is to engage in an academic program of study. You may also be required to explain how this program of study fits into your career plans when you return to your home country. You must also demonstrate strong ties to your home country and that your intent is not to immigrate to the U.S.

Visa Processing & Issuance

Specific visa processing time varies depending on the consulate, location and time of year. The visa process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Visit the U.S. Department of State website to view estimated visa processing wait times. Please note that these published wait times are simply estimates and not guarantees.

Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant’s interview by a consular officer. All applicants are advised of the possibility of administrative processing. When administrative processing is required, the timing will vary based on individual circumstances of each case, though most administrative processing is resolved within 60 days of the visa interview. Please be aware that MUSC cannot intervene in the visa application process at the consulate and request expediting or resolution of your visa application. However, if your visa application is selected for administrative processing, please inform the Center for Global Health so that we are aware of any delays that may prevent you from beginning your program on time.

If your visa application is approved, you will receive an F-1 visa foil stamp affixed to your passport. Your specific consulate will provide you with instructions on how to submit your passport for visa stamping and how you will receive your passport after the visa has been issued. Please note that it may take a few weeks for you to receive your passport with the visa stamp after you have been notified of the approval of your application. Again, you should not make any definitive travel plans until you have received your passport containing the F-1 visa.

Once you receive your passport with the F-1 visa, you can proceed with making arrangements to travel to the United States during the 30-day pre-program grace period.

Canadian Citizens

Citizens of Canada do not need a visa to enter the United States. If you are a Canadian citizen, you can apply for entry to the U.S. in F-1 status directly at the port-of-entry. However, you are still required to pay the SEVIS I-901 fee prior to traveling to the U.S.

Canadian students must have the following documents when traveling to the United States:

  • Valid passport
  • Form I-20 with your signature
  • SEVIS I-901 fee payment receipt
  • Financial documents showing how you will pay education, living and travel costs