Visa Information

What Is a Visa?

How Do I know if I Need a Visa?

Common Visa Application Materials

How Long Will it Take to get a Visa?

Additional Suggestions

What Should I Do If a Problem Occurs?

Non US-Citizens

International Students (F-1 Visa)

Permanent Resident (Green Card Holders) 

 

What Is a Visa?

  • A visa is an official document, often placed inside your passport, that a foreign government issues to you, allowing you to enter that particular country, for a specified period of time, and participate in certain activities legally.
  • Many countries require students who are going to study for a semester or year to obtain a visa before they depart for their study abroad program.
  • Countries typically break visas down into types that reflect the purpose of your visit—tourism, studying, and working, among many others. The exact name and type of visa you require will vary from country to country but it is likely you will need a non-immigrant student/study visa. This basically means that you do not intend to take up permanent residence in that country and that your stay is for temporary study.
  • The requirements to obtain a visa depend on the host country, type of visa, duration of the program, and nationality of the applicant. The foreign country’s U.S. based Consulate/Embassy should be able to provide you with a list of requirements based on these factors.
  • Visa applications can be submitted in a number of ways, by mail, in person or online, depending on the consulate.
  • Being granted a visa is a privilege, not  a right. A consular office may deny your visa application, so it is best to adhere to their requirements and apply as early as possible.
  • A visa is not a guarantee of entry into the foreign country. The bearer of a visa is subject to inspection at the port of entry by Immigration officials, who have authority to deny admission. Therefore, the recipient of a visa should carry with them, for possible presentation to Immigration Inspectors, all the evidence submitted to the Consular Officer when the visa was obtained.

How Do I know if I Need a Visa?

  • Obtaining a visa is your responsibility. It is important that you know what is required of you before attempting to enter a country. Failing to obtain a visa (or the correct visa) could result in a denial of entry into a country, and even criminal charges.
  • Unfortunately, unlike a passport, there is no single study abroad visa application form and process as the requirements differ from country to country. You can find the most up-to-date visa information by visiting the website of the U.S. based consulate or embassy of your host country.
  • Each consulate location has its own website and requirements may vary from location to location. Some consulates will only allow you to apply at the consulate providing jurisdiction over your home state, whereas others will allow you to apply using your school’s address. For example you may be able to apply for your visa via the mail, whereas another student attending the same program, but applying at a different consulate may need to apply in person, so be sure to check the website for the consulate in the location representing the correct jurisdiction (usually Chicago for St. Olaf students/Minnesota residents).
  • While all consulate and embassy websites differ, they can be navigated fairly similarly. Look for a section titled Consular/Visa Services and once there look for a ‘student’ or ‘studying in…’ section. Here you will find detailed information the visa and the application process.
  • You may be required to apply for your visa at an in-person appointment at the consular office. In some cases, you may be able to apply in person in the Twin Cities, or you may need to visit the nearest consular office, which could be in Chicago or elsewhere in the U.S. which could require a full day of traveling depending on the distance and missing class, so please plan accordingly.
  • Once you have committed to your study abroad program, you will find more specific information regarding visas in your online study abroad account. Your host program for example ACM, CIEE, University of Otago, DIS, etc. will also share visa information, instructions, and supporting documentation with you.
  • Additionally, should the process become too overwhelming, many visa-processing agencies such as CIBT, Travisa, Perry International, etc. exist to help research and submit visa applications. These agencies are very useful for quickly determining whether you are required to obtain a visa and whether an in-person appointment is required. This is especially useful when researching non-U.S. student situations.The International and Off-Campus Studies Office recommends Perry International to provide these services.You can fill out a form on their website and Perry Visa will email you the visa requirements usually within 24 hours. Keep in mind if you choose to use their services you will have to pay a service fee in addition to the visa fee.

Common Visa Application Materials

While the actual visa application process varies from one country to another, there are standard application materials that pertain to just about every country. These include:

  • Passport – All visas require that you have a valid travel document in order to apply for your visa. If you do not currently have a passport, you must immediately apply for one as you cannot start your visa application without a valid passport. Remember your passport must be valid for at least six months after your intended return date.
  • Passport photos. These can be purchased at many different locations including Walgreens (best option in Northfield), Target, Costco, Sam’s Club, and some passport centers. Don’t attempt to take your own photo. You only have enough time to apply for your visa once, and you can’t afford to have your application rejected due to a poor quality photo. Every country has their own photo requirements so be sure to check the requirements before having passport photos taken. Most require a 2″ X 2″ photo with a plain white background.This photo should be different than the one in your passport. Please make sure you have a neutral expression (that means no smiling) and that both of your eyes and ears are fully visible.
  • Proof of your St. Olaf Student Status-In addition to an official transcript and letter of enrollment, you will also need your official study abroad acceptance letter from International and Off-Campus Studies.
  • Acceptance letter- A letter from your abroad institution on their own letterhead stating that they are sponsoring you. A student visa is only given out to people who have a confirmed place of study at a registered institution for a set period of time. It should include things like tuition and room and board costs, proof of housing, start and end dates of the program, etc.
  • Evidence of Financial Support- Bank records indicating that you or your parents can cover the costs of your tuition and living expenses while abroad. This could include a certified bank statement, statement of income, financial aid or scholarship award letter, etc.  
  • Visa Fee Payment-The most common payment method is by Money Order. Money Orders can be purchased at the Post Office, Bank, Cub Foods, Kwik Trip Gas Station, etc. for a small fee. You will need to pay for the Money Order in cash.

When Should I Apply?

  • You should always apply for a visa before you travel to your study destination.
  • Most consulates will not let you apply more than 90 days before your study abroad program starts.
  • Begin the visa application process as soon as you receive your letter of invitation from your host university/program. A good rule of thumb is to submit your application at least two months in advance. That way if any snags occur, you’ll still have time to remedy the issue and keep your application on track. There’s nothing worse than not having your visa the day you’re supposed to leave.

How Long Will it Take to get a Visa?

  • Visa processing can take as little as a couple of days to several months depending on the country and your nationality.
  • The website of the U.S. consulate or embassy of your host country should list the average time it takes to process a visa.
  • Make sure you apply early as only a few consulates have the option to rush or expedite a visa application. If it is an option it’s usually very expensive.
  • As you will need to mail your passport to the Consulate, which they will keep as they process your visa application, you should not plan any international trips (including Canada and Mexico) in the months leading up to your program. If international travel while your passport is being processed at the consulate is absolutely necessary, in rare cases, you may be able to apply for a second passport. You would need to contact the local passport agency for more information.

Additional Suggestions

  • You should make copies of your visa application materials, in case they are lost or not returned during the visa application process. Having copies of all documents will save you time, energy and most importantly, money.
  • Please write your personal cell phone number and St. Olaf email on your application form. The consulate will be contacting you at the number and email you provide if there are any errors on your application, missing documentation, or if they have questions regarding your program of study. Consulates often allow applicants to submit additional documentation if they can reach you within 24 hours. Otherwise they will reject your application, keep your visa payment and return an empty passport.
  • For consulates that require an in-person visa appointment, the available time slots often fill up quickly. You may need to book an appointment months before you plan to apply, so plan accordingly! If you can only select an appointment near your departure date, you should see if your consulate offers a waitlist or an appointment calendar that you can continue checking for earlier appointments that open up.

What Should I Do If a Problem Occurs?

  • If a problem occurs when applying for study abroad visa, you should contact your respective consulate or embassy as soon as possible. If you’re not able to resolve the issue, please contact the International and Off-Campus Studies Office and we can contact the consulate or embassy with you to try and resolve the situation.

Non US-Citizens

  • Immigration law in the United States is rapidly changing, and if you have concerns about your country of citizenship or that your U.S. immigration status may be problematic for travel purposes, you should contact the International and Off-Campus Studies Office.
  • It is your responsibility to research the entry requirements and complete the visa application for citizens of your home country traveling to your study abroad country.Be aware that it may take non-US Citizens longer to obtain a visa, so research this information early on in your planning.
  • In addition you are responsible for knowing the re-entry requirements and documentation you will need to return to the U.S.
  • The International and Off-Campus Studies Office can provide you with a verification letter, proof of enrollment, and some other supplemental visa application materials, upon request. Requests need to be made at least five business days in advance of when you plan to submit your visa application.
  • Non-US citizens need to be aware that they may face complications that other students on a program do not encounter.

International Students (F-1 Visa)

  • International students frequently study off-campus while enrolled at St. Olaf. International students must contact the Visa Coordinator prior to studying abroad to verify reentry requirements for F-1 visa holders to the U.S. and to update their I-20 form, if needed.

Permanent Resident (Green Card Holders)

  • U.S. permanent resident (green card holder) students traveling abroad for study can find it difficult to navigate the ins-and-outs of the visa process.
  • Remember in addition to a visa, you must travel with the passport of your country of citizenship, or obtain a reentry permit or refugee travel document (form I-131). You cannot travel abroad on a “green card” alone.
  • If you are unable to apply for a passport and will be using a U.S. issued Travel Document for your study abroad program, please make sure the country of your study abroad program will allow you to enter without a passport and will issue a visa without a passport. Not every country will allow travelers without a passport.
  • Upon your return to the U.S. you will need to present both your green card and passport/U.S.Travel Document. You may be subject to “secondary inspection” upon your return, where you could be taken into a separate room and asked questions about your time spent outside the U.S.

Please note: Information presented here was based on requirements available at the time of publication. Countries can change their visa requirements at any time or they may be interpreted differently by various consulates or airport authorities. Always review the most current official documents and government websites, and rely on those specific details over anything presented here.