After you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, you will need to pay the SEVIS fee and apply for an F-1 visa or J-1 visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.  Canadian students are exempt from the visa requirement (see below) but not the SEVIS fee payment requirement.  You may enter the U.S. up to 30 days prior to your program start date.

Paying the SEVIS fee

What is the SEVIS fee?

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) charges a one-time SEVIS fee for students beginning a new F-1 or J-1 program. This fee is separate from the visa application fee.  SEVIS is the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System.

Do my dependents need to pay the SEVIS fee?

No, F-2 and J-2 dependents do not need to pay a separate SEVIS fee.

When do I pay the SEVIS fee?

At least three business days prior to your visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate or at least three business days before entering a U.S. port of entry if you are exempt from the visa requirement.

How do I pay the SEVIS fee?

Can I transfer the SEVIS fee if I have already paid it previously?

The SEVIS fee is transferable in some circumstances. It is attached to your name, not to your SEVIS number. Save your receipt of payment with all your important immigration documents. If you paid the SEVIS I-901 Fee using another institution’s I-20 or DS-2019 and you have decided to attend Georgetown University instead, simply save both the receipt and the unused immigration form for which the original SEVIS I-901 Fee was paid and bring them to your visa interview. You can transfer your fee from one institution to another online or request a refund of the fee by contacting or calling I-901 Customer Support at 703.603.3400.

Applying for an F-1 or J-1 Visa

In order to come to the U.S. as a student, you will need to apply for an F-1 or J-1 entry visa at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country.

A visa is an entry document.  It needs to be valid when you enter or re-enter the U.S.  It does not determine how long you may stay in the U.S.  If your I-20 or DS-2019 is valid into the future, you may stay in the U.S. with an expired visa if you are otherwise maintaining your status.  If you apply and are approved for Optional Practical Training (F-1 students only), you may stay in the United States past the end date on your I-20 if you are maintaining your status.

Arriving in the U.S.

When Can I Arrive?

Arrive in the U.S no more than 30 days before your program start date. Your program start date is listed on the first page of your I-20/ DS-2019.

What Documents Do I Need to Bring?

When arriving in the U.S., you must present the following items at the port of entry. Be sure to pack them in your carry-on luggage, not in a checked bag.

  • Passport (valid at least 6 months into the future)
  • Valid F-1 or J-1 visa (unless Canadian citizen)
  • I-20 or DS-2019
  • SEVIS fee payment confirmation
  • Copy of admissions letter or admissions email
  • Financial support documents

Travel Outside the U.S. after Arrival in F-1 or J-1 Status

While students are permitted to enter the United States up to 30 days prior to their program start date, we discourage F-1 and J-1 students from making immediate international travel plans after having entered the United States. International travel requires prior verification with the U.S. Government. Since immigration records will only be updated and registered AFTER the add/drop period, students should wait to leave the United States until our office has completed the registration process with the U.S. Government.  SEVIS registration will be complete 30 days after the program start date listed on the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019.