Pre-Arrival: Before Your Departure

Read below for more details about what the I-20/DS-2019 is, how to apply for a student visa, tips for making travel plans, and other resources.

What is the Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019)

The I-20 form is a 3-page, computer-generated document that is used by F-1 students. The I-20 will usually be enclosed with your acceptance letter. The DS-2019 form is a 2-page, computer-generated document for J-1 students that is issued by the ISSS office or your “sponsoring agency.” Please check the information on your I-20 or DS-2019 to ensure that it is accurate. If there is an error on your I-20 or DS-2010 form (e.g., name misspelled, wrong date of birth, etc.) please contact the IEP office as soon as possible.

If you are transferring from another U.S. school/college/university, your I-20 should be marked as “transfer pending from: (the name of your previous school).” The SEVIS ID number should be the same as your previous I-20. If you previously graduated from USF and have started a new degree program, your I-20 will be marked “initial” and the SEVIS ID number should be the same as your previous I-20.

If you have been accepted to more than one U.S. college or university and have received more than one I-20 or DS-2019, do not apply for the student visa until you have decided which school you will attend. If you decide to attend USF, use the USF I-20/DS-2019 to apply for your student visa and enter the United States using the same I-20/DS-2019!

How to Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires F-1 and J-1 visa applicants to pay a one-time fee to supplement the administration and maintenance costs of the Student and Exchange Information System (SEVIS). The fee for F-1 visa applicants is $200; the fee for J-1 visa applicants is $180. The SEVIS fee should be processed by DHS at least three (3) business days prior to the consular interview. The SEVIS fee is not payable at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You or another person (e.g., friend or family) may pay the SEVIS fee either by mail or online.

To Pay By Mail:

  1. Download Form I-901 “Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants” from
  2. Complete Form I-901. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20/DS-2019 form.
  3. Prepare a check, international money order or foreign draft (drawn on U.S. banks only) in the amount of $200 USD for F-1 visa application or $180 USD for J-1 visa application, made payable to “I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee”.
  4. Mail the completed I-901 and payment to the address listed on Form I-901.

To Pay Online:

  1. Access Form I-901 “Fee Remittance for Certain F, J, and M Nonimmigrants” from
  2. Complete the form online and supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard or American Express information. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your I-20/DS-2019 form.
  3. Print a copy of the online receipt.

DHS will issue and mail an official paper receipt (I-797) within three days of processing the fee regardless of payment method. Express delivery service for the I-797 receipt may be requested at an additional cost. Anyone who submits an individual fee electronically will be able to print out an electronic receipt immediately at the time of payment for use in advance of the mail delivery of the official paper receipt. Although SEVIS fee payments will be recorded by DHS in the SEVIS system and will eventually be used by government officials to document the SEVIS fee payment, it is recommended that the official paper receipt be used to apply for the visa. Please note, DHS will not refund the SEVIS fee if F-1 students are not granted a visa or choose not to come to the United States after their visas are granted. However, if your visa application is denied and you reapply for a new F-1 visa within 12 months of the denial, you will not have to pay the fee again.

How to Apply for a U.S. Student Visa

What is a Visa and do I need One? A visa is a physical stamp in your passport that is used at a port of entry (typically an airport) to enter the United States. It is issued by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. The type of visa you use to enter the United States determines the type of status you will have during your stay. You will need a student (F-1 or J-1) visa to study in the United States, unless you are entering the United States with a Canadian passport.

If you are transferring from another U.S. school/college/university or pursuing another degree at USF, you do not need to apply for a new student visa unless your visa has expired and you are leaving the United States before starting your program at USF. Please note that it is impossible to obtain a visa once in the United States.

How do I apply for a Visa? To apply for a visa, you will need to schedule an appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. Visa processing times, application procedures, and requested supporting documents vary from one U.S. Embassy/Consulate to another, so please check with the Embassy or Consulate where you plan to apply for your visa. For a complete list of U.S. Embassies and Consulates, please visit Several standard items are required for the student visa application:

  • A Non-immigrant visa application form (DS-160) and other supplementary forms (if applicable)
  • A current passport, valid for at least six months • I-20 form (for F-1 students) or DS-2019 form (for J-1 students) 
  • Evidence of financial support for the period of time and amount indicated on the I-20 or DS-2019, such as bank statements or scholarship/grant/sponsorship letters 
  • Proof that you will return to your home country after finishing your studies (for example, proof of permanent residence outside the United States, preferably in your home country, proof of property, presence of immediate family, future employment offers, etc.)
  • Visa application fee (preferably in cash in the currency accepted by the U.S. Embassy or Consulate)
  • One or more passport-style photographs
  • Proof of payment of the SEVIS (I-901) fee

The consular officer may request additional documents, such as evidence of English language proficiency, school records to verify academic preparation, additional evidence of strong ties to your home country and/or your ability to support yourself while in the United States. Read all visa application documents carefully so that you know exactly what you are agreeing to when you enter the United States on a student visa.

A brief interview with a consular officer may be required as well. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the reasons for which you have decide to attend a U.S. university, your ties to your home county, and your future plans after completing your academic program.

If approved, the consular officer will stamp a student visa in your passport. Please read it carefully and confirm it is a student visa (F-1 or J-1) and the information printed on the visa is accurate. If you receive a multiple entry visa, you may use it to enter the United States as many times as you wish up to the date of its expiration as long as you have a valid I-20 or DS-2019 form. If you receive a numbered-entry visa, you will be allowed to enter the United States only for the number of times specified on the visa stamp up to the date of its expiration.

SEVIS Transfers and Changing from One USF Degree to Another

The SEVIS fee is not required when transferring schools within the United States, changing to another degree program or level, requesting a program extension, renewing a student visa, or using F-1 program benefits such as practical training. If you are in lawful status prior to travelling internationally and have less than a 5 month break in your studies, you will not be required to pay the SEVIS fee.

SEVIS Transfers: If you are transferring to USF, you must request your previous institution to release your SEVIS record to USF. Once the SEVIS transfer is complete, USF will issue a new I-20 that will be mailed to you. Be sure to provide your previous institution with a copy of your USF acceptance letter and inform them you would like to be transferred.

Change of Degree Level at USF: If you are changing from one USF degree to another, you will get a new I-20 at the end of your current program. If you plan to travel in-between the degrees, you should inform the respective admissions office (graduate or undergraduate) of your plans and where you would like your I-20 sent.

Tips for Making Travel Plans

IEP students are expected to arrive by the program start date. In most cases, the date of the IEP start date will also be the program start date indicated on your Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019). If you cannot arrive by the program start date specified on your Certificate of Eligibility, notify the IEP office.

If you wish to travel within the United States before the start of classes, you may do so on your student visa. You may enter as early as 30 days before your program start date on your Certificate of Eligibility. U.S. Embassies and Consulates usually issue the F-1 or J-1 student visa as early as 120 days before the entry date on the Certificate of Eligibility. Do not enter the United States on a tourist visa (B-2) or under the Visa Waiver Program.