Applying for Your I-20/DS-2019

Congratulations on your admission to Columbia University! Now that you have been admitted to a full-time program of study, we will help you obtain the Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for F-1 (I-20) or J-1 (DS-2019) student status.

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Application Alert

Beginning 5 PM Thursday, March 9 through 11 AM Monday, March 13, you will not to be able to submit or upload documents for this application as we will conduct our Compass database migration. Do not worry, you will be able to submit applications again starting 12:00 PM Monday, March 13. We are sorry for any inconvenience.

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Before You Apply

What is a COE?

A COE is an official document processed by educational institutions that certifies your eligibility for F-1 or J-1 student status to visa officers at U.S. consulates,  immigration inspectors when arriving to the U.S., and other government agencies.  A COE is processed through SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), a government database.

Why do you need a COE?

You will need a COE:

About F and J student visas

Please review our Comparison Between F and J status chart. If you are eligible for both F and J status, you may choose the status you prefer.

Eligibility for a COE

There are two important qualifications. You must:

Application Timeline

Please contact us only after 4 weeks have passed from the time you submit a complete COE application. We have a very high volume of applications that are processed in the order received. If your program begins in May, June or July, your application will have priority over fall admission.

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How to Apply

Steps to Apply for I-20 or DS-2019

A complete COE application includes both the online application form and supporting documents.

Step 1.

Complete and submit the online application.

The online application form will ask for:

  •  information about you (and your dependents, if any)
  •  your permanent address abroad
  •  your passport number
  •  a $100 processing fee payable with a MasterCard, Visa or American Express credit card
Step 2.

Upload your supporting documents to us.

Use our upload form to upload the documents below as a single PDF file for processing. Please submit your application one (1) time only. Please note: Upon submitting you may get a screen asking for your username and password. Please ignore this -- if you get to this screen, we received your document. Please do not submit your application again.

Step 3.

Print the upload form's confirmation screen for your records.

Step 4.

Pay for your courier delivery.

We cannot ship your COE until this is complete. Review these instructions.

Step 5.

Wait 4 weeks

Please be patient and wait 4 weeks before making any inquiry.  You will not receive a message while your application is pending unless we require additional information.

We will email you when your COE has been processed and is ready to be shipped. This message will include your SEVIS number. You will also receive an automated message from the courier service with your tracking number.

Step 6.

Receive your I-20 or DS-2019.


Step 7.

Pay your SEVIS fee

Note: SEVIS transfer students do not need to pay a new I-901 SEVIS fee.

Step 8.

Apply for your visa at a U.S. consulate.

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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)


If you are in F-1 status through another school—including post-completion OPT—and have not yet reached the end of your 60-day grace period—your current school must “transfer out” your SEVIS record to Columbia before we can issue a “transfer-in” Columbia I-20. Please consult our Transferring to Columbia (F-1).


If you are in J-1 student status at another school and would like to continue at Columbia in J-1 status, please consult our Transferring to Columbia (J-1 student). Note that the transfer of your record must be initiated BEFORE the end date on your DS-2019.

If you are married, your spouse (and children under 21 years of age) will need a dependent COE to apply for an F-2 or J-2 visa. You will need to provide proof of additional funding beyond your personal expenses. Your dependents’ information will be part of your application and their COEs will be processed and sent to you at the same time.

If you are not yet married at the time of your application but will be married before you come, you may include your future spouse in the application. However, you must be legally married at the time your spouse applies for an F-2 or J-2 visa.

If you are in a relationship but not legally married, your partner is not eligible for a dependent visa, but may apply for a B-2 visitor visa to accompany you under a provision for Cohabitating Partners described in the Foreign Affairs Manual for visa officers. Look for 9 FAM 402.2-4(B)(5).

Yes, it does. Please follow these instructions.

If you are studying at Columbia's American Language Program (ALP):

  1. Apply (from a different Columbia office) for your ALP I-20

  2. Use the I-20 from ALP to apply for your F-1 visa and to enter the U.S.

  3. After you finish your ALP program, follow the instructions on How to Apply above for your academic program I-20. As an ALP student you may disregard items 7 - 9 on the list of documents.

If you are studying English at another language school:

  1. Get your I-20 from your English as a Second Language (ESL) school

  2. Apply for your F-1 visa and enter the U.S. with your ESL school’s I-20

  3. After your ESL program is complete, follow the F-1 transfer instructions to transfer your SEVIS record to the ISSO.

No, this is not allowed by F-1 regulations. We are not authorized to issue I-20s for English language study. The start date of your academic program's I-20 will be the first day of the term.

Keep in mind that you are not allowed to enter the U.S. more than 30 days in advance of the program start date.

No because each I-20 will be created in a unique SEVIS record. Each I-20 would have a different SEVIS number and a different program start date. You have to start with the ESL I-20 and then transfer your ESL SEVIS record to us to process your academic program I-20.

Unfortunately, no.  If you visit the U.S. with a visitor visa (B1/B2) or with a visa waiver (ESTA) before enrolling in a program, you will need to leave the U.S. before you begin your program and return with a valid F-1 or J-1 visa and I-20 or DS-2019.

If you apply for a Change of Status in the U.S. from the government's immigration agency (USCIS), regulations do not allow you to start your academic program until your student status has been approved. Application to change status can take well over six months to be processed.

  • If your application is complete, your COE will be processed within 4 weeks. 
  • If we need additional information, we will email you to let you know what we need. Your application will not be considered complete until we have received and reviewed the additional information. 
  • If you have not done so already, please setup and pay for shipping of your COE by following these instructions.
  • Once your COE is processed and ready to ship you will receive an email with the information needed to schedule your visa appointment.

Please email if you have questions about your documents or this process.

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Do you have more questions?

Please email us at if you have questions about your documents or this process.