Prior to graduate school, I never dreamed of getting a chance to study or even be inside the prestigious Ivy League universities in the US. Yale, Princeton, Harvard… those were elite names a third-world student myself could never see or experience in my life.
MBA in the Asian Institute of Management opened up possibilities; business school made my dreams more concrete and my whole world smaller. Not only were we able to work with people of different nationalities from Kazakhstan to Brazil, but I’ve also been blessed with the opportunity to study programs and experiences in Yale University School in New Haven, Connecticut for General Network of Advanced Management last March and now to the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia.
I’ve been to the US a few times for travel, but to actually study and live there is a completely new experience. I already have a valid US tourist visa, but as a student you still need to apply for a US student visa (either a J-1 or an F-1) to study in any American university.
Applying for a student visa is definitely more complex than the standard tourist visa, and it took me at least two months to get the whole thing sorted. There are a lot of websites you need to coordinate with, so to help you future student applicants sorted, I’ve compiled all resources you need in one blog post. (thank me later!)
This article will focus only on how to apply for the F-1 visa. If you intend to apply for J-1, I have no experience and won’t be of any help, sorry!
What and Who Needs a US F-1 Visa?
To study in the USA, you need a student visa–either a J-1 or an F-1 visa. You need to know which visa type is eligible for you.
- F-1: all non-immigrant students are eligible.
- J-1: students who are either:
- students with non-personal funding source that accounts for more than 50% of the total study costs–either via scholarships and grants from non-personal sources: e.g. government, foundations, international organization, etc.
- Exchange students in a program pursuant between the US & your home country government / foundation
I had the option to choose between the two. While both visas allow you to work while studying, there are long-term implications with J-1. J-1 visa students require you to return to your home country for at least two years before you can come back to the US.
For F1 visa, you can remain in the United States up to 60 days after the end of the program. You can opt to stay and work under the OPT program (not applicable for students under shorter stay)
How about for short study programs?
For short recreational studies that are non-credit towards a degree or certificate, visitors can come on a tourist visa. Otherwise, all students in academic institutions need the necessary student visa.
For more information regarding student visa, you can check on the US government website here.
When should I apply for a US F-1 Visa?
Again, applying for a student visa is a lot more work than expected. It’s also a lot more expensive! You need proper coordination with your school’s international student services office for proper documents. To be safe, you should apply 2-3 months before the start of your program. The earlier, the better!
List of Requirements
Before getting into the nitty-gritty, this is the checklist of documents you need to acquire for your US F-1 visa:
- Valid Philippine passport – make sure it is valid at least six months after intended entry to the US
- I-20 form
- SEVIS FEE receipt
- Proof of funds – either your or your sponsor’s proof of financial support. Your sponsor can be your family or any sponsoring institution.
- Ties to home country
You will need to show proof of sufficient funds for the duration you will be in US for education–whether you will be there for one semester or for four years.
II. Step-by-Step Guide
Step 1: Get accepted to a US school; get the I-20.
The school will help you obtain a temporary social security number (or a 9-digit Admission ID) and I-20 to initiate the visa process.
You will need the I-20 before moving forward. Prior to that, you need to send to your school a copy of your passport and financial documentation. You will then need to fill up some details via online form or email. Processing times can take up to one month, so plan accordingly.
Once your I-20 is ready, you should receive an email from the school’s international services office guiding you the next steps, e.g. paying the SEVIS fee and shipping request form, and payment of shipping. Shipping would probably cost around $60-$100 USD, your I-20 will be sent to you via snail mail from the US educational institution, e.g. DHL, UPS or FedEx. Your I-20 Form should look like this:
Step 2: SEVIS Fee
All international students are required to pay the SEVIS fee which costs $200 USD for F-1 applicants. To pay, you can do so via Western Union or via credit card on fmjfee.com. See links for more details.
For a better overview and more information on SEVIS fee, see this website.
Step 3: DS-160 Form
Once you’ve obtained your I-20 and SEVIS, the next step is to complete your DS-160 form to book your US Embassy appointment. You can fill it up online on the US Consular Electronic Application Center website.
When you start the application form, make sure to keep note of the following:
– Application ID. Write down the ID located on the right corner. You will need this to retrieve application later just in case you don’t finish the application or need to get back to it.
– Your passport and travel history information. Information of your international travel history from the past 5 years.
– Study information and arrangements. You must have information on the school’s program, address, contact info, living arrangements, etc.
– SEVIS ID. This is printed on your I-20.
– Digital passport photo. In my experience, I had a lot of technical problems on this one. Pls test your photo beforehand by using this online tool provided by the website.
Step 4: Schedule Visa Interview
Once you are logged in and on your Dashboard, go to New Application / Schedule Appointment and select the Visa Type, Post (Manila), Visa Category (Student) and Visa Class (F).
You will then need to pay $160 (Consular Exchange Rate is PHP 51 = USD 1 valid through 08/01/2018). The only way to pay it is through bank transfer at the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) or online through Bancnet.
You need to print and present the US visa deposit slip when going to the bank. The deposit slip can be found here. It looks something like this:
For other information on bank and payment options, see this post here.
Once you’ve paid, you can then book an interview 4 hours after payment. You will need: your passport number, BPI deposit receipt number, and the 10-digit barcode number from the DS-160 confirmation form.
Select the date and time of your preferred appointment on the Schedule My Appointment tab on the Dashboard.
Step 5: Appear at Embassy
Whew! That was a lot of paperwork. Now it’s finally time to visit the embassy. The Philippine US embassy is located in Pasig, Manila.
You might not get the interview date and time you want as the US embassy is always booked with so much visa applications to reject/approve, so make sure to apply as early as possible!
Be sure to bring a copy of your DS-160 confirmation, ID photo that meets the US visa requirements and taken within 6 months, your current and previous passports, financial documentation (and other proof of ties to home) and a copy of the appointment letter.
Always bring photocopies and originals. Although not stated in the requirements, just be prepared as additional documents may be requested.
The complete address:
Embassy of the United States of America
1201 Roxas Blvd, Ermita, Manila, 1000, Metro Manila
III. Embassy Day: What to Expect
The preliminary work is done, but the real deal is the embassy appointment day. Come to the embassy an hour to thirty minutes before your appointment time, just in case there are any unexpected mishaps.
Prior to coming to the embassy, please bear in mind that the following are not allowed inside: phones, cameras, audio or video recorders, music players, and anything with batteries (I wasn’t even allowed to bring my powerbank).
Outside the embassy there are several people waiting to offer keeping your phone for you at a negotiated fee. Just be discriminate on who you deal with–or better yet, leave your devices at home!
It’s my third time in the US embassy but I still feel that feeling of dread when I’m inside. Even if I knew chances of a denial is slim, I still get that state of stress–either because the embassy is evilly designed to promote fear to all applicants; or all the applicants give off the unsettling energy.
The queues are long and you always seem to be assigned to the sternest consular officer. Just keep calm, listen to the questions and answer truthfully. Most of all, make sure you have sufficient proof that your intentions are truthful and you have ties to your home country.
As an MBA student I was wondering why the US embassy still has not opened a deposit service-it would bring great business to them. They sell souvenir shirts inside but can’t even provide a deposit service to applicants.
Anyway, getting the US visa approved still feels like winning a lottery; especially since you get to see the people in the queue receive different colored slips.
As far as I remember, in the Philippines the green slip requires request for more information; pink means administrative review and the blue one is what you want: it means you’re approved.
IV. Other Important Information
IV. Waiting Period and Results
When you’re approved, your passport should be returned to your address via 2GO, or pick up the visa at the nearest 2GO branch. There is no need to return to the US embassy to pick up the visa. Processing times is 3 working days to one week.
Once you have your passport, you’re ready to fly off to America!
V. Upon Arrival?
It’s not the end yet though.
As soon as you arrive and get settled in the US, make sure you ‘check in’ to your school. Present your I-20, F-1 and passport to the school’s international student services office.
When you intend to travel, bring around your I-20 and F-1 visa with you at all times.
So that’s it! Admittedly, the process is very tiring and cumbersome and you need a lot of patience to go through all this on your own. But good luck, future international students and make us proud!