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Study Abroad in the United States: Student Visas & Permits

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If you want to study in the United States, then you’ll need a visa. The American visa system is strict, so you’ll need to make sure that you get the exact visa for your needs. If you don’t, you won’t be allowed into the country. 

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However, if you’re a Canadian citizen or are from Bermuda, you can enter the United States to study with only a completed I-20 form and confirmation of enrolment. 

There are three different types of study visas: an F visa, an M visa and a B visa. 

If you’re studying abroad, you’re most likely to need an F visa.

  • F visas cover long and short-term courses, most types of programs and language training programs. F visas are normally valid for the duration of your program. But, once you’ve finished studying, you must leave the United States within sixty days.

  • M visas cover vocational training programs. Importantly, they don't cover language programs. But these visas do also cover non-academic study, for example, an unpaid internship or placement. 

  • B visas cover short courses. If, for example, you’re heading to the United States to sharpen your English-language skills for two or three weeks, then a B visa might well be the way forward for you. 

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These three visas all share some common requirements. First and foremost, the school that you’ll be studying at must be registered for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Your school will then need to issue you an I-20 form. The information on this form must exactly match the information on your ID documents. You’ll also need to pay the I-20 fee and present a receipt when applying. 

Once you have this form, the receipt, proof of enrolment, your passport and two passport-sized photos to hand, you’ll need to fill out the DS-160 application form online. You can do that here. Print the confirmation of completion at the end. You’ll need to bring this along to your visa interview. You can book an interview appointment online at your nearest American embassy or consulate that’s able to process visa applications. Wait times for appointments can sometimes be more than a week, so do bear this in mind. 


At the interview appointment, you’ll need to pay the visa processing fee. This varies depending on your citizenship, but it’s generally around the $160 mark. Whether or not a visa is issued to you, you’ll need to make your own arrangements to get your passport back to you.

Sometimes, additional documentation, like academic transcripts, will be required. If this is the case, you’ll be told before your interview. 

Remember, you cannot study in the United States in any way, shape or form on a visitor visa or under the Visa Waiver Program.

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Make sure you're ready to start studying abroad in the United States. American schools will normally want to see evidence of your English-language abilities. The TOEFL iBT® test is accepted by all American schools and is even the preferred test by 9 out of 10 American universities. Find out more about the TOEFL iBT test and how it can help you.

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Last update: 02 Dec 2021

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