The information provided below is a general guidance and should not be seen as definitive resource on the particular requirements for any given country. Be sure to check the visa requirements as outlined by the Embassy or Consulate of the country you plan to visit and to consult with your particular program's staff.
Depending on the country of your destination, the requirements to obtain a student visa can seem quite onerous. It is very important to keep in mind that student visa requirements are often based on the concept of reciprocity. For example, if you are required to appear in person at the consulate to submit your visa application, this is more than likely the result of a similar requirement by the US government for nationals of the host country. Reciprocity plays a central role in the formation of visa requirements.
- How do I find out if I need to apply for a visa?
- Where and when can I apply?
- Can I go abroad without a visa if one is required?
- Whose responsibility is it to apply for a visa?
- How long does it take to receive a student visa?
- Can I work on a student visa?
- How do I find the requirements to apply for my visa?
- Do I need to apply in person at the consulate? Or can I apply online or use a visa agency?
- The consulate says that I can mail my visa application. What's the best way to do this?
- The consulate wants a Verification of Enrollment. How do I get that?
- Do I have to leave my passport with the consulate, or can I send the consulate a copy of my passport instead?
- The consulate requires "proof of funds" -- what does this mean?
- What if I am using financial aid to pay for my program?
- What if the consulate requires proof of my travel itinerary?
- What if the consulate requires medical certification?
- I am required to provide a background check. How do I do that?
- Does it matter what type of photos I send with my visa application?
- The consulate requires a translation of my visa application documents. Can I do this myself?
- The consulate requires some of my documents to be notarized or requires an apostille -- what does this mean?
- Will there be a visa application fee and how can I pay it?
- I am an international student/legal permanent resident. Does this change the visa application process?
- What if I am doing two back-to-back study abroad programs in different countries -- can I apply for both visas at the same time?
- Once I apply for a visa, is it guaranteed that I will receive one?
- What if my visa is denied?
- I just received my visa back from the consulate. Now what?
1. How do I find out if I need to apply for a visa?
Most students going abroad for a semester or year will need a visa or will need to fulfill other entry requirements. Often students going on short-term programs, usually less than 90 days, do not need a visa. However, starting in 2025, US citizens traveling to the EU for a short-term stay of less than 90 days, will need to complete an online Travel Authorization called ETIAS. For students traveling to other destinations or for more than 90 days, you may need to apply in advance for a student visa. It is your responsibility to determine if the country you are traveling to requires you to obtain a visa or fulfill any other entry requirements.
To find out if you need to apply for a visa, visit the embassy or consular website for your destination. You can also check the entry/exit requirements on the country information sheet for your destination -- go to US Department of State website (travel.state.gov) to find these.
The embassy website provides information on the various US locations of their consulates, usually in principal cities. In most instances, you will submit your visa application to the consulate that has jurisdiction over your home state, but sometimes it may be consulate with jurisdiction over the state where you attend school. For example, students from North Dakota who are studying in Spain will apply for their visa through the Consulate General of Spain in Chicago.
You cannot apply for a student visa until you have formally been accepted to a study abroad or exchange program. Many consulates will also not accept visa applications more than 3 months before the start of your study abroad program, but check the visa information with provided by the consulate.Can I go abroad without a visa if one is required?
No. If they require you to have a visa, then you must apply for and obtain one before you travel. If you do not have the required visa, you risk being deported out of the host country to a neighboring country, being deported to the US, and/or being denied admission back into the host country if you leave to do additional travel.
In addition, airlines will usually not allow you to board your international flight if you do not possess the correct required entry document.Whose responsibility is it to apply for a visa?
Applying for the visa is the responsibility of the traveler.How long does it take to receive a student visa?
The processing time for visas varies widely. Some consulates will/can process your visa the same day they receive the application, others might take only one week, while others may require 2-4 months. Some consulates send your passport and visa application to the host country for processing, which could include police checks. You must verify this timeline as you begin planning. Remember that you must have your passport and visa back from the consulate before your international departure date. You cannot travel without them.Can I work on a student visa?
It depends. If you are admitted to a country on a student visa, your primary purpose for being there is to engage in full time academic study. As such, many countries expressly prohibit work; however, a few countries do allow for limited work on a student visa. Be sure to understand the restrictions on your visa and to abide bide them. And regardless of whether you are allowed to work, remember that your primary focus needs to be on your academic work.
This varies among consulates, and be aware that different consulates for the same country can have different visa instructions. First, find out which consulate you must use, then look for a link to visas. You may see information for different types of visas, so explore to see which visa type applies to you.
If you are studying abroad with a Partner Program or the CSUIP, they will provide some visa guidance. If you are studying on an International Exchange, the host university will provide information. For students on a Cal Poly Global Program, you faculty leader and/or International Center staff will provide information.
If, after reading the application information, you have questions, consult the Consulate, as they will have the most accurate and up-to-date information and are best able to provide clarification.
Many consulates require visa applications to be submitted in person in order to collect biometric data (such as fingerprints), and so you should include the cost of travel to and from the consulate in your study abroad budget. You may be required to schedule an appointment to submit your application, and this can be one of the more frustrating aspects of the process. Cal Poly cannot help to secure an appointment; your best course of action is to check the consulate's scheduling system daily to find an opening.
Some consulates do allow applicants to submit their materials via an authorized representative, such as a staff member from your program, if the program offers a group visa service. If your program offers this service, you will need to gather all of your documents more quickly, but it will save you the time and expense of travel to the consulate, and will also mean you do not need to schedule an individual appointment. Please note that some consulates will require you to collect your passport and visa in person.
There are a few countries where the visa application is done online, either directly with the consulate or via a third-party visa processing service specifically contracted by the host country'e government. With an online application, you may be able to upload electronic versions of necessary documents, but might also need to send hard copies by mail. Because student visas are more complex than other types if visas, many consulates do not accept visa applications from visa service agencies that are not specifically authorized by the host government. You will have to do your own research to determine what the consulate's policy is regarding use of a visa processing agency for submission of visa applications. Also, be aware that visa processing companies will charge a service fee, sometimes a large one.
The consulate should provide specific instructions on how to mail your visa application. Some consulates, for instance, will only accept mail sent through the US Postal Service (USPS), not from UPS, FedEx, or other mailing services. Be sure to send your visa application and passport via overnight or priority mail so that the packet can be tracked and offer proof of delivery. Do not just drop your visa application into a mailbox.
Students can submit on online request to the Cal Poly Registrar's Office for Enrollment Verification. Allow 7-10 business days for processing.
If the consulate asks you for your passport, you must submit the original passport with your application. Because the visa will be issued inside your passport, they must keep it until they are ready to issue the visa. Be aware that international travel will not be possible while your visa application is processed unless you have a passport card and your travel is to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and Caribbean countries by land or sea: the passport card cannot be used for international air travel.
Please note that many consulates will require that your passport be valid for at least 3-6 months after your program ends. If your passport will expire before then, you should renew it now and pay for expedited processing.
Many consulates will require you to prove you have enough funds available to cover all of your expenses while you are abroad. The purpose of this is to help the consulate verify that you will not be a financial drain on their economy or that you aren't planning to work (unless this is allowed). The proof of funds required can take many forms, including copies of bank statements or a letter from your bank; an affidavit of support from a parent, guardian, or a supporter, accompanied by copies of their bank statements; or evidence of financial aid or scholarships. This is common practice: indeed, the United States requires international students coming to the US to provide similar financial documentation when they apply for a student visa.
The requirement for bank statements or a letter from the bank is to demonstrate that you have sufficient funds in your account(s). You may be required to provide several months of bank statements in order to show you have regular access to fund (that is, that the money was not temporarily transferred into your account just for the purpose of the visa application). If someone is providing an affidavit of support, the consulate will want evidence that they have sufficient funds to support you.
If you are providing a letter from your bank, it should be on bank letterhead, contain the amount held in any accounts at the bank, be signed by a bank official. The consulate may also require that the letter be notarized.
You can print your accepted Financial Aid Award Summary for the academic year you will be abroad listing all of the financial aid and scholarships that you have been awarded for the term when you will be on your program abroad and see the International Center to attach a Financial Aid business card. The amount of your aid along with funds in personal bank accounts should equal or exceed the amount being required by the consulate.
The consulate should provide you with details on the type of documentation they need showing your travel plans. Pay attention to the details. Do they require that you have a roundtrip ticket? Will they accept a copy of your itinerary from your travel agent? If you are taking a group flight, will they accept a letter from your home university or program indicating this, or do they need an actual itinerary? Do they require that you have a return flight within a certain period after your program date ends?
If they ask for a roundtrip ticket, you will need to purchase one even though you might not know exactly when you are returning home. Students usually buy the return ticket, making sure with their travel agent that they can change the return date later. There is usually a penalty fee associated with changing the travel dates, and the penalty could apply to each leg of the flight, including any domestic flights within the US.
Your consulate might require you to obtain a recent statement from a doctor or designated health official indicating that you are in good physical and mental health for travel and education abroad. Some certifications require a medical exam, a statement that the traveler is free of contagious diseases, an HIV test, a TB test, etc. The doctor's letter should be on letterhead and the wording in the letter should use the exact wording as stated in the consulate's requirements. Some consulates require that the medical certification be from an M.D., not from a nurse practitioner or physician's assistant.
Depending on the country to which you are traveling and/or the length of your program, you may be required to submit a background check. Sometimes, the check can be done by the local police; however, in many instances, you may need an FBI Identity History Summary (sometimes called a rap sheet). If you need the letter, check the FBI website for information on how to request one. Alternatively, you can request one from an FBI-approved channeler.
Yes! Visa applications usually require the same type of photos you submit with your passport application. Generally, these are 2"x2" head and shoulder shots that must be taken at either a select US Postal Service Office or another approved location, and must have been taken within the past six months. Do not use personal photos or scanned or digital images.
Consulates may require that all or a portion of your visa application materials be translated into the language of the country issuing the visa. The translation of these documents must be an official translation, which means you will need to use a translation service or a translator registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the host country. Contact information for an approved translation service is often provided on the consulate or embassy website.
A notarized document is one that has been certified by a notary public -- a licensed public officer who serves as an impartial witness to the signing of documents and establishes the authenticity of the signatures. Most banks will have notary public, as do many UPS or FedEx offices.
Any document that requires an apostille must first be notarized. An apostille can be obtained at the state level if the document is issued and notarized locally. The apostille can also be obtained from the US Department of State if the document is issued by a federal agency (for instance, the FBI Identity History Summary). If you need to obtain an apostille, you should allow an additional 1-2 weeks preparing your visa documentation.
If you do not hold a US passport, the visa requirements could differ from those for US students going abroad. Because this information is usually for US students, it is important that you check directly with the appropriate embassy or consulate to find out what requirements and instructions apply to citizens from your home country. Do this early, even before you apply for your program, to make sure you are eligible to apply for a visa to your program country. Be sure to inform your education abroad program adviser that you hold a foreign passport.
If you are applying for your visa from within the US, you will likely be required to provide proof of legal residence in the United States, such as a copy of your green card or I-20. If you are an international student, consult with your international student advisor when planning for your education abroad program to be sure you will remain in compliance/status with US immigration laws. If you are an international student but are not on a US student visa, you may want to consult with an immigration specialist.
International students should also pay close attention to the validity of their US visa. If you plan to return to the US directly from your abroad country, the consulate will not approve your study visa if your US visa will expire before your return to the US.
This scenario can present a real challenge for you. First, check to see if you need to apply for a visa for each country. It is highly unlikely that you can apply for both visas at the same time, both because you will likely need to submit your passport as part of each application, but also because the consulate for your second destination might not accept the application before you need to depart for the first program.
It may be possible to apply for the second visa in the country of your first study abroad program. This is often referred to as a third-country visa application and is what international students in the US often do when they study abroad for a semester. It is very likely, however, that you will have to return to the US to apply for the second visa. Remember that consulates will keep your passport while they process your visa application, and some for a long time (4-6 weeks is not uncommon). All of this makes studying on back-to-back programs in different countries increasingly more difficult for students.
No. Visas are granted at the discretion of other governments: they are a privilege, not a right, and their issuance cannot be guaranteed. Neither the US government nor your program nor Cal Poly can exert influence over the visa decisions made by your host country consulate. There is also no guarantee that your visa will be issued in time for your travel departure.
While this doesn't happen very often, it is possible your visa will be denied. Contact your study abroad advisor and/or your program provider immediately if it does. You can also politely ask the consulate if they can explain why your visa was denied. Do they have an appeal process? Give your study abroad advisor and/or program provider as much information as you can so that together you can understand what might have happened. In some cases, denials can be due to consular error. Your study abroad advisor or program provider might be able to work with the consulate to rectify the situation if there was indeed an error.
In other situations visas are denied because of the information your provided -- or that you failed to provide. Examples might include incorrect information provided on the application form, documents that were not properly notarized, or missing/incomplete financial support documents.
Congratulations! You have just received your visa back from the consulate, usually consisting of an official stamp placed inside your passport. But you aren't done yet. Carefully check all of the information in the visa. Is your name spelled correctly? Are the dates for the visa correctly showing your date of arrival in your host country and the end date of your program (or later)? If anything is not correct, contact the consulate immediately to ask them to correct your visa.