Applying for a Visa (Students)


Verify that you need to apply for a visa

A U.S. visa is an entry document that you must apply for it at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside the United States.

You do not need to apply for a visa if:

  • you are a national of Canada or Bermuda because you are exempt from the requirement to obtain an entry visa in your passport. You do, however, need to obtain a Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 to be admitted at a U.S port of entry.

  • you are a transfer student and you have an unexpired visa issued from the previous school you attended


How to Apply for Your Initial Visa for Columbia

Complete the following steps to apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy.

You will need a Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019) from Columbia University. Don't have one? Learn how to apply for an initial I-20/DS-2019 or a transfer I-20/DS-2019.

Steps to apply for a visa for students
Step 1

Complete the Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160)

Complete the State Department's Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (DS-160) which is the first step in making your visa appointment. 

Read more about the DS-160 application here.

Watch this short video on how to apply online for a visa.

How to apply online for a visa

DS-160 Tips

If you do not know where you will live in New York City, use your department or school address (usually on your admission letter) or the School Address listed on your COE. This is also your U.S. Point of Contact information. The main University telephone number is 212-854-1754.

Dependents must submit their own DS-160 form to apply for a dependent visa.

Step 2

Make your visa appointment

Go to the link for the embassy or consulate where you will apply for a visa to learn about scheduling a visa appointment, procedures and requirements specific to its location. It is generally recommended that you apply for a visa in your home country rather than a third country if possible.

Step 3

Gather your documents for your visa interview

Additional documents for dependents (spouse/children) applying for an F-2 visa:

Additional documents for dependents (spouse/children)  applying for a J-2 visa:

Step 4

Learn what to expect at the visa appointment

Interviews are very short, so it’s important to use the limited time to clearly explain your purpose for going to the United States for a temporary time and your plans after you complete your program.


Most nonimmigrant visas require you to establish that you are going to the U.S. only for a temporary purpose, such as pursuing an academic degree or engaging in research, and do not intend to stay permanently. 

You need to show

  • that you will keep a residence abroad and expect to return there.
  • personal, professional, and financial ties to your home country.

Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans will be taken as part of your application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.

After your visa interview, the consular officer will let you know if further processing is necessary for your application.

Review the Department of State's (DOS) web information on further administrative processing. If your visa processing is delayed, it is important to notify both your academic department and our office.

Step 5

Receive and review your entry visa

Check the entry visa in your passport to make sure that all the information on it is correct. It's much better to fix a problem while you are still home than to notice it when you arrive in the United States.

Your original (not a photocopy) Form I-20/Form DS-2019 should be returned to you. You will need to present it along with your entry visa when you arrive at a U.S. port of entry.


Renewing Your Visa

Please read About Your Visa to understand when you need to renew a visa.

You will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate and go through the entire visa application process again, including visa fees. You do not pay a new SEVIS fee if your SEVIS number is the same as when the previous visa was issued.

The new visa application procedures and documentation requirements are generally the same as the initial visa. You need to establish again that you have nonimmigrant intent, which means that the purpose of your visit to the U.S. is temporary and that you will return to your country after completion of your academic purpose. As a continuing student versus a newly-admitted student, you will need to show that you have been in compliance with student F-1/J-1 regulations, such as maintaining full-time enrollment. 

Some consular posts may have procedures in place that exempt in-person visa interviews for students who have already been fingerprinted during a prior visa application. Eligibility is determined during the appointment scheduling process.