Skip to main content

What is a Student Visa?

A student visa is a government-issued immigration document granted by a consulate general or embassy, which allows you to legally study in a specific country for a specific date range. Typically, a visa is an endorsed sticker or stamp placed on the inside pages of your passport. Your student visa is as important as your passport; without it you will not be able to study abroad, if required by your program.

Every country has their own process, requirements, and fees for applying for a visa. Some countries may require you to travel to an in-person appointment at a consulate or embassy in select U.S. cities. You can find the most up-to-date visa information by contacting the consulate or embassy of your host country. 

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.

What to Know About Applying for a Student 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.

passport-170.pngYou Need a Passport

Before you can apply for a visa, you need a passport that is valid for at least six months after your program end date. Find your program dates on the webpage for your program.

consulate-170.pngYou Apply to a Consulate

A consulate general or embassy is a government office operated by the country you will be studying in, but located in your home country. To find out which consulate(s) you can apply to, identify which one serves the jurisdiction of your home and/or school address. Talk to your GLO adviser for more info.

visa-170.pngVisas Cost Money

The cost to apply for a visa varies by country, but typically includes a fee paid directly to the consulate (ranging from $55-$1,000). These fees are set by the consulate, not by Northwestern, and can fluctuate. 

plane-170.pngYou May Need to Travel 

Visa processing procedures vary by country. In most cases, you are required to appear in person at the consulate. Consular appointments are limited, so plan ahead! Keep in mind that your consulate may be out-of-state, requiring you to fly, drive, and/or stay overnight to make your appointment. 

academicadvisers-170.pngVisas Require a Specific Timeline

Most consulates accept visa applications 90 to 120 days before your program begins. When requesting an appointment, account for your program start date, the application window, and the processing time required for the consulate to issue your visa, which can take up to 8 weeks.

 

Other Considerations

Non-U.S. Citizens

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 sure to contact the Northwestern Office of International Student & Scholar Services to ensure you understand any INS requirements and that you do not jeopardize your residency status by participating in a program abroad.

Be aware that it may take non-U.S. citizens longer to obtain a visa, so research this information early on in your planning.

Permanent Residents (Green Card Holders)

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 sure to contact the Northwestern Office of International Student & Scholar Services to ensure you understand any INS requirements and that you do not jeopardize your residency status by participating in a program abroad.

Be aware that it may take non-U.S. citizens longer to obtain a visa, so research this information early on in your planning.

USCIS International Travel as a Permanent Resident: Information from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services

Reentry permit or refugee travel document (I-131) application: Application for Travel Document

Be aware that it may take non-U.S. citizens longer to obtain a visa, so research this information early on in your planning.

 

Visa Resources

These resources are helpful for checking basic entry requirements. Visa processing services are also listed.

NAFSA's Visas for EA

Country-specific student visa information for common study abroad destinations

U.S. Department of State Travel

Entry requirements for U.S. citizens; best for tourism as it does not give student visa information, but still provides a good snapshot

CIBTVisa HQTravisa

Perry Visa

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a visa?

GESI, Northwestern Programs, and Exchanges

Students participating in the following Northwestern programs and exchanges will likely need to apply for visas to enter their host country to study:

  • U.S. citizens participating in the GESI program in Ghana, Uganda, and Vietnam. GESI students in Bolivia, Costa Rica, and Guatemala will apply upon arrival.
  • U.S. citizens participating in Northwestern programs in China* and France
  • U.S. citizens participating in the Journalism Residency Qatar and Semester in Qatar programs
  • Exchange students in all locations (given the longer duration of their time abroad)
  • Students who do not carry U.S. passports (all programs)

U.S. citizens participating in Northwestern study abroad or Journalism Residency programs in locations other than those listed above will likely not need to apply for a visa in advance of departure (but may need to obtain a visa upon arrival).

*GLO will assist with batch visa processing for specially designed programs in China, as long as students complete and submit their requirements to GLO by the published deadlines. Students who do not comply with GLO’s deadlines will be responsible for processing their own visas at their own cost.

For students participating in all programs, GLO and/or your exchange institution will provide guidelines and requirements about the visa application process for your host country via Canvas and email, as appropriate. However, GLO is not responsible for obtaining your student visa, nor is GLO responsible for visa complications, delays, or denials. Although GLO is willing to help you with the visa application process, we do not have any control over visa requirements or granting visas: the decision to issue you a visa rests solely with the consulate or embassy of your host country.

Affiliated Programs

You will find basic information on your program page and will recieve more detailed information from your program provider.

What is a Money Order? Where can I get one?

Money orders can be purchased at the post office or at most banks. The only payment types accepted are cash and debit.

What’s a passport photo?

 Passport photos are a type of photo with specific size, color, and composition requirements. Every country has their own requirements, so be sure to check the requirements for the photos you need before having passport photos taken.

United States Passport Photo Requirements

  • Official ID photos
  • 2 x 2 inches in size
  • On photo paper
  • Full face, front view, looking straight ahead
  • No dark glasses, hats, or headwear (unless worn daily for religious reasons)
  • Can be different from the photo in your current passport
Passport photos can be taken at the Wildcard Office at Norris, Walgreens, or CVS.

How do I get proof of international health insurance?

Students who are enrolled in GeoBlue International Health Insurance who need proof of insurance for the purpose of their visa application can now download a letter directly from the GeoBlue student site. Log in, create an account if you haven't already, and download a visa letter.

Can I leave the United States while my visa application is in process?

You typically give up your passport to obtain a visa, so international travel during the months before your departure date (especially summer) is not recommended and could complicate or jeopardize your participation in your program.