What is a visa?
A visa is a document that denotes the conditions of entry into a country, and usually appears as a stamp or adhesive document in your passport. Depending on your destination country, you may or may not need a visa to study in that country.
After you are accepted to a program and submit any needed paperwork to your program, you will start the process of applying for your visa. You are not alone though--Your study abroad advisor and program abroad are here to help and support you in this step!
- In most countries, Americans who plan to study there for more than 90 days need a visa in order to enter the country. In limited cases, countries may have you bring documentation to apply for a residence permit after arrival instead.
- Summer programs less than 90 days are often (but not always) exempt from this regulation and students may be able to enter as tourists without a visa.
- If you are not a US citizen, you may have more complex visa requirements so please be diligent in checking into this requirement for participation.
How do I apply for a visa?
Visas are obtained from the host country's government. Foreign countries have embassies in Washington, D.C., and consulates in designated cities across the United States that usually issue visas for residents within certain regions. Usually, NDSU students must apply for the visa by mail or in person at the country's Consulate (Consul General) in Chicago. The cost, requirements and ease of this process vary from one country to another, but can involve significant time and energy. It is your responsibility to contact the embassy or consulate and submit the proper documents. You can be denied entry to your host country if you do not have the proper documents - even if you have been accepted by your study program and have your plane ticket. Visa requirements are often available through these resources:
- Search for the consulate or embassy closest: A consulate in Chicago is most often the location responsible for residents of North Dakota and Minnesota and so lists their requirements on their website. To find these requirements, search for their page (e.g. "Consulate of Spain Chicago visas");
- Your program will often provide information about this process online or in emails;
- US State Department: Learn About Your Destination; or
- Contact your study abroad advisor for assistance with finding the information online.
When do I apply for a visa?
Before you can apply for your visa, you must have a passport. If you do not have a passport already, you will likely want to apply for one as soon as you are accepted for your study abroad program. The US Department of State offers helpful instructions on how to apply for a U.S. passport.
You usually cannot apply for a visa more than 90 days in advance of when you will be arriving in the country. Because some consulates are extremely busy processing visa applications right before the start of a new semester it is best to apply as early as possible within this window. Consulates often outline their projected timelines online which can be helpful for planning.
Below are some common items required for visa applications and how to obtain them. Note that not all visa applications require all of these items, so be sure to check the requirements for your specific country, type of visa (often a student visa), and length of stay. It is your responsibility to obtain the necessary documents.
- Visa Application: This form is specific to each country and sometimes specific to the visa type, so be sure to download the appropriate form from the embassy or consulate website. Read instructions carefully: some forms require that the application must be typed, while others might require completion with only capital letters or completion in a particular color of ink. The form may also specify that you write dates in the format DD/MM/YY or other format. Common questions:
- Passport Type: Ordinary or Regular
- Passport Place of Issuance: This is listed on the photo page of your passport. It is most commonly "US Department of State".
- Sponsor: Your school abroad is your sponsor, and you can use the contact information from your Letter of Acceptance from the University Abroad for these fields.
- Photos: You do need official passport photos taken because consulates are very particular about the format. You can get your passport photo taken at Bison Card for $10, or for slightly less at places like Walgreens, Walmart, CVS, etc.The photo does NOT need to match the one that you used to get your passport, but if you have an extra photo from when you did that this is a great use for it.
- Passport: Because a visa is often a stamp or sticker that is attached to your passport, it is common for visa applications to require the submission of the physical passport. The passport is then returned with the visa included inside.
- Letter of Acceptance from University Abroad: These are usually issued automatically as part of your acceptance process. They often arrive 1 month after you complete their application paperwork in the fall or 1-2 months afterwards during the spring. These must be the original signed paper letter rather than a copy.
- Letter of Approval from NDSU: Your study abroad advisor provides this letter, often when the the letter of acceptance has arrived from abroad.
- Proof of Financial Means: Most students use a combination of documentation because they are using multiple means to cover costs. Several scenarios are listed below; select whichever combination accurately describes your situation.
- Study abroad program where you will not be expected to pay for tuition or other costs on-site: This information will automatically be included in the Letter of Approval from NDSU. You may still need to include documentation of funds to cover costs not included, such as housing, meals, or spending money.
- Using financial aid, loans, and scholarships: Follow the instructions in your program application on this site to verify that you have a program budget and how to set up an appointment with the appropriate advisor in Financial Aid and Scholarships. They will be able to provide documentation of the amount of aid that you will be receiving.
- Using personal finances: Provide a bank statement showing that you have the needed amount in a bank account.
- Parent Support: Usually visa documentation will provide an explanation of what kind of documentation is needed. If you need a letter of support notarized, this can usually be done at a bank.
- Proof of Insurance: How to obtain this documentation varies by program.
- For NDSU exchange and direct programs where you purchase required insurance through NDSU: order your insurance online following the instructions in your NDSU application. The letter will be sent to you by email. If you need the letter by a certain date, contact the study abroad advisor to let them know at least one week in advance of when it is needed.
- For ISEP exchange and direct programs: Purchasing your insurance is required to accept your placement, and you will receive documentation of coverage at that time.
- For other programs: The program will provide this document. Contact them with any questions.
- Itinerary: Some consulates require a confirmed/purchased flight itinerary, while other consulates only ask for a sample itinerary and recommend not purchasing a ticket until the visa is issued.
- Mailing Envelope: Follow any listed requirements for this envelope, as the consulate may require that the envelope be a specific type of envelope through the US Postal Service, etc. Address this envelope to an address where you will be when your visa finishes processing.
- Processing Fee: Pay attention to whether there are requirements for how this can be paid, such as by credit card, money order, or official check. It is common for embassies and consulates to NOT accept personal checks.
- Applying in Person: Some visa applications require that an application be submitted in person. If you have questions about whether this requirement applies to you, contact your study abroad advisor.
- Examples of Countries Requiring In-Person Applications: Spain, France, and Italy. Other countries may have this requirement as well; check the requirements for your visa to verify. Some countries have honorary consulates located closer; check online or ask your study abroad advisor for advice on whether any options exist for your country.
- Courier service for visas: In a few cases a visa can be submitted by a courier service such as Perry Visa, Travisa, A Briggs - Passport and Visa Expeditors. Note: Not all consulates accept visa applications by courier. Please check with consulate or your study abroad advisor before using a courier service.
For longer stays of more than 6 months consulates often have more stringent requirements, such as these:
- Medical Verification: Contact your physician to request the appropriate evaluation. Some visas require that a specific form be completed, while others only require a letter or written statement. Rarely, visas may also require specific tests to verify that you are free from conditions such as tuberculous, HIV, etc.
- Criminal History Record: This is sometimes required for longer stays. If you will need a criminal background check it is critical that you request one as soon as possible as this request can take 11-13 weeks.
- If you can submit a state history check: You can request your background check on the appropriate page for your permanent residency: North Dakota Criminal History Record Check, Minnesota Public Criminal History, or search online for the equivalent for your state. NOT ALL CONSULATES ACCEPT STATE CRIMINAL HISTORY RECORDS. SOME VISAS REQUIRE A FEDERAL CRIMINAL HISTORY RECORD.
- If you need a federal criminal history record: You can request your criminal history record by following the instructions for an FBI Identity History Summary Check. This requires having your fingerprints taken at the local police or jail. Some consulates may accept a summary check issued but an FBI-Approved Channeler, which shortens the time considerably.
- Apostille: Some visa applications require that documents (such as a criminal history check) be verified by the addition of an apostille, which is an internationally recognized certification. An apostille can only be attached by an authority at the same level that originally issued the document.
Do you need to get your visa as quickly as possible? Think about expediting it.
Do I need a passport for travel to Canada or Mexico?
Please click here to visit the U.S. State Department website for up-to-date news about the upcoming travel requirements to Canada, Mexico, Central and South America, the Caribbean and Bermuda. Deadlines are always subject to change, so please monitor the US State Department website at travel.state.gov.