Pre-Arrival and Arrival

This information will prepare newly admitted students currently residing outside of the U.S. navigate the immigration process before departing for Northwestern. Topics covered are divided between pre-arrival and upon arrival.




Congratulations on your acceptance to Northwestern University! The International Office staff looks forward to meeting you and assisting you with your immigration and acculturation needs during your time at NU.


For students currently residing outside the U.S. there are several tasks regarding immigration to the U.S. that require immediate attention. In order of sequence, these tasks are:

Step 1. Request an I-20 or DS-2019. Step 2. Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee. Step 3. Apply for a visa stamp at the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home-country.

For more information regarding this process, please visit the New Students section of the IO website.

Step 1

Before entering the U.S. to begin a program at Northwestern, all international student are required to have an I-20 or DS-2019, also known as your Certificates of Eligibility. An I-20 or DS-2019 is an immigration document created by Northwestern in SEVIS (Student & Exchange Visitor Information System), an internet-based student tracking system maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) allowing you to apply for an F-1 or J-1 student visa to enter the U.S.

Please read the document entirely and ensure that the information contained on page 1 is accurate.

Students bringing dependents (spouse and children) will receive an I-20 or DS-2019 for each dependent.

Step 2

Individuals applying for an F-1 or J-1 student visa stamp are required to pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee. In order to pay the SEVIS Fee, a student will need his/her form I-20 or DS-2019 and a credit card. Upon payment, it is important to print the SEVIS Fee Receipt. The easiest way to pay the fee is online.

Are you a transfer student to Northwestern? If so, you will not be required to pay the SEVIS Fee.

Step 3

Using the I-20 or DS-2019 and proof of payment of the SEVIS Fee (i.e. payment receipt); it is now time to apply for a visa stamp. Application for an F-1 or J-1 student visa stamp must be made at the U.S. consulate or embassy in your home country.

  • Anyone admitted to multiple schools must decide which school to attend before applying for a visa stamp.
  • Visa processing may vary depending on the location of the U.S. consulate or embassy. For information specific to the consulate or embassy nearest to you, visit the U.S. Consulates and Embassies Abroad website.
  • Many consulates and embassies provide on-line appointment scheduling check the aforementioned website for more information.

Visit the F-1/J-1 Visa Information page for additional information and resources.


International students make up approximately ten percent of the overall student population at Northwestern. The international population at NU is diverse with students and scholars coming from more than 100 countries from around the world.

Interested in seeing what incoming international undergraduates had to say in 2007? Check out their interviews.

For a sneak peak into life at Northwestern, take a few moments to enjoy any of the following:

For the parents of our international students, please familiarize yourself with some of the following resources and information. We encourage parents to contact the IO should they have questions or concerns.

Life at NU – Additional Resources:


Plan ahead when making travel arrangements. Orientation programs are offered before the first day of school and are often mandatory. Check with your academic department if you are unsure about the dates of orientation. Students interested in housing options should refer to the Housing section below.

Keep in mind F-1/J-1 students are not allowed to enter in F-1/J-1 status until thirty-days prior to the start date listed on the I-20 or DS-2019. Anyone entering more than thirty-days prior to the start date may be denied entry in F-1/J-1 status.

Individuals who have been admitted to Northwestern and who carry an I-20 or DS-2019 issued by Northwestern should not enter in B-1/B-2 Visitor status. B-1/B-2 Visitor status is purely recreational and is not appropriate for any type of academic study at Northwestern University. If you have questions, please contact the IO.


At some point during the flight to the U.S. airline personnel will have passed out a white I-94 card to be fill out and submitted to customs in the airport. Upon inspection, the Customs and Boarder Protection (CBP) officer will ask for several documents, these are:

  • Northwestern issued I-20 or DS-2019;
  • A valid passport (valid six-months into the future);
  • A valid F-1 or J-1 visa stamp (placed inside the passport at the consulate or embassy abroad);
  • I-94 card.

These documents should be kept with the traveler at all times. Be prepared to present these documents to CBP upon arrival.

It is very important that this entry is recorded correctly and you may need to confirm with the CBP officer entrance in F-1 or J-1 student status. A few points to keep in mind:

  • Entry stamps are required on the I-20 or DS-2019, I-94 card, and inside the passport.
  • The CBP officer will tear off and keep the arrival portion of the I-94 card and will return the "departure" portion.
  • All three entry stamps should indicate a written "F-1" or "J-1" depicting the recorded entry status.
  • All three entry stamps should also note "D/S," which stands for "Duration of Status."

Duration of Status (D/S) indicates you have been admitted to the U.S. in F-1 or J-1 status for the duration of your academic program. This period of time is indicated on the I-20 and DS-2019. If you are not provided a "D/S" on entry, ask the CBP officer for clarification.


U.S. immigration regulation states all F-1 and J-1 visitors attending Northwestern must "check-in" at the IO within five days of arrival. A registration hold has been placed on all incoming international students. This registration hold prohibits a student from enrolling in classes until he/she has been to the IO. When checking-in at the IO, please bring photocopies of the following documents:

  • I-20 or DS-2019;
  • Biographical page of passport;
  • F-1 or J-1 visa stamp; and
  • I-94 card (copy of front and back).

In addition to photocopies, all students are required to complete the International Student Check-In Form. Please print and complete this form before you come to the International Office for check-in.

International students are required to provide a U.S. address. At Northwestern, this information will be gathered upon Check-In at the IO. An updated U.S. address is also required in CAESAR, NU's student portal system.


All international students are required by U.S. federal immigration regulation to maintain a permanent foreign and U.S. address. F-1 and J-1 students must always maintain Current and Permanent Address types in CAESAR as these addresses are automatically reported from CAESAR to SEVIS.

For more information, please review the F-1/J-1 Address Information Guide.

To access CAESAR to change or update your address:


International student orientation is held prior to the official start of the fall quarter each year. Orientation is a great opportunity to network with newly arrived students, learn about life in the U.S. and at Northwestern, and learn more about your F-1 or J-1 status while in the U.S. Attendance is mandatory.


All students at Northwestern must submit the Admission Health Record and proof of immunizations as required by the state of Illinois. NOTE: Penalties for not fulfilling health requirements include a hold on subsequent registration and a non-refundable $100 late fee.

All international students entering or continuing at Northwestern are required to hold valid health insurance. You may fulfill this requirement by enrolling in the insurance program available through the university or by enrolling in another program approved by the university.

Insurance plans in the United States for your dependents are limited and expensive. You are therefore advised, if at all possible, to seek appropriate coverage in your home country for your dependents before coming to the United States.

For more information:


International students have many options regarding housing. Students can decide to live on-campus, either in Evanston or Chicago, or off-campus in the university's surrounding neighborhoods. The following list is comprised of on-campus and off-campus resources as well as information regarding temporary housing.

The University has four housing offices to help students find housing on- and off-campus:

Many international students choose to locate housing in the Evanston or Chicago area. The following is a list of resources to help in that search:

Newspapers (classifieds section)

The Chicago Tribune
The Chicago Sun-Times
The Chicago Reader

Apartment Locators (FREE)

Grad Properties by Colfax Realty
The Apartment People

Popular Locations Evanston:

Evanston: The Park Evanston
Evanston Place

Popular Locations – Chicago:

McClurg Court Center

Temporary Housing

There are many options for short-term housing. These are listed in order from least to most expensive: