Entering the US
Everything you need to know about getting your F-1 student visa and entering the US . . .
A passport is issued by your home country government. This document must be valid at all times. If the passport will expire within 6 months, students should begin the process of renewal through their countries Embassy or Consulate.
I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status
The I-20 form will be issued to students by Occidental College once the application for admittance has been approved. This document proves that the student has been officially admitted to the College. This document is very important and should be kept securely with your passport at all times. The I-20 is taken to the US consulate or embassy in your home country as one of several required documents to apply for an F-1 visa stamp in your passport.
US Visa Stamp
This stamp is issued by a US embassy or consulate in the student’s home country. It is placed in the valid passport and allows the bearer to travel to the US for a particular purpose. While there are many different kinds of visas for many different purposes, most international students attend Occidental College on F-1 student visas. Contact the US Embassy or Consulate in your home country to ask what the specific requirements for an F-1 visa are. F (student) visas cannot be obtained in the U.S.
I-94 Admission Number
After inspecting your documents at the port of entry, the immigration officer will record your admission electronically. This admission information is sometimes needed to apply for benefits. You can access yours by going to www.cbp.gov/I94. You will need to provide this information to IPO during the semester check-in and if you obtain an on campus job.
An internet-based system that requires schools and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to exchange data on the immigration and academic status of international students. Information pertaining to an F-1 student's stay in the United States is available to U.S. embassies and consulates as well as to the USCIS.
Designated School Official
An employee of the College that has been authorized by the immigration authorities to sign immigration documents and advise international students on visa regulations.
Obtaining an F-1 Visa
As a non-U.S. citizen studying in the U.S., you will need to obtain an F-1 nonimmigrant student visa before entering the country and as soon as possible after you receive your I-20.
A visa is a stamp inside your passport, which is your official authorization permitting travel to the United States. Your F-1 visa is proof that you have the permission of the United States government to travel to the US to be a student and remain for the time allotted under your I-20 (Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status – for Academic and Language Students). While your F-1 visa is valid, you may leave and re-enter the U.S. according to the number of entries printed on your visa.
You can apply for a visa at a U.S. consular office in your home country. Because of many recent changes in the law, you can expect delays in visa processing. Note that F-1 visas cannot, as a general rule, be obtained from inside the U.S. There may be exceptional cases through a lengthy and expensive process on condition of special approval.
To apply for your F-1 visa you will need to bring several documents to the U.S. consulate
- A passport, valid for six months into the future.
- Your I-20 document, which was mailed to you by the College.
- Evidence of financial support, such as an original Certificate of Finances from your bank, personal bank statements, or a letter of financial award from Occidental College, proving that you have sufficient funds to support your studies at Occidental. You mailed this documentation to the College with your application and it was signed and returned to you by a College official. The amount that you are required to demonstrate is listed on your I-20 form under the Financials section.
- The acceptance letter from Oxy.
- Proof that you have a permanent residence outside the United States.
- Two or more unofficial passport-sized photographs.
- A non-immigrant F-1 visa application from the U.S. consulate or embassy itself.
- Receipt for payment of the I-901 SEVIS fee.
Go to Study in the States and click on "I want to study in the States" for information on the I-901 SEVIS fee and instructions for paying. The website also has extensive information about all aspects of being an international student in the US. Additional materials may be requested by the U.S consulate to prove your eligibility for a student visa. Please call the embassy or consulate before you go to be sure you have all required materials.
These may also include:
- Evidence of English proficiency.
- School records to verify academic preparation.
- Additional evidence of strong ties to your home country or of your ability to support yourself financially while in the United States.
- Application fee.
- Personal interview.
Normally, your F-1 visa will be a “multiple-entry" visa for the duration of your degree or exchange program. Under this type of visa, you may leave and re-enter the U.S. up to the expiration date on the visa, as long as you have a valid I-20. If you receive an F-1 visa with a different entry permission such as a single entry visa or one for a period shorter than your exchange program or degree, please notify the International Programs Office upon arrival. You may remain in the US with an expired F visa, but it will have to be renewed if you leave the country.
For comprehensive information on obtaining visas, please see http://travel.state.gov/visa/temp/types/types_1268.html.
Entering the US
Your I-20 form lists the latest date by which you must arrive at Occidental College. You may not arrive more than 30 days before the arrival date listed on your I-20. If you are planning on traveling in the US before coming to Oxy, make sure you count the days properly. If you anticipate being delayed beyond the start date, contact IPO immediately. Contact IPO if you have any questions about your arrival period.
Documents To Carry With You On Your Person; NOT In Your Checked Luggage
• Valid passport
• Acceptance letter from Occidental
• I-20 form
• Supporting financial documents
Customs & Immigration
You will need to clear U.S. Customs upon arrival to the United States. If you are scheduled to change planes in the U.S. prior to arrival in Los Angeles, you should expect to clear customs at the first airport where you land. The customs officer may ask you several questions regarding your visit to the U.S. such as, “Where is Occidental College located?”, “How are you paying for your university tuition?”, “Where will you be living?” or “What are you studying?” IMPORTANT: You should explain that your major is “Liberal Arts and Sciences” even if you are an exchange student with a different major at your home institution.
The customs officer will then take your snapshot and fingerprint you. It is a quick process and hassle-free. Don’t be hesitant or apprehensive. Be sure to retrieve your I-20 from the customs official and take it with you. The customs officer will record your entrance electronically.
After picking up your luggage and turning in the completed customs form, the officers will need to know whether you have any food with you. Please note that all food from foreign countries must be carried in sealed containers i.e. cans or factory wrappers. Perishable or opened food should be declared and Customs officials have the right to confiscate it.
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