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Student and Exchange Visas

Studying in the USA

For general information on visa categories and requirements, please consult our overview.

Canadian Citizens do not need visas to study in the U.S. You do need to obtain an I-20 (or DS-2019) Certificate of Eligibility from the university that you plan to attend. At the time you receive the I-20 (or DS-2019) you will be registered with SEVIS, the student tracking system. You will be assigned a SEVIS number, and be required to pay a registration fee (see below).

When you cross the border to study you will need to provide the Officer at the port of entry:

  • Proof of identity and citizenship (a Canadian passport for example)
  • The original I-20 (or DS-2019) certificate
  • Proof that you have paid your SEVIS fee
  • Proof that you have the funds to pay for the school that you plan to attend
  • Proof of your ties to Canada

30-Day Policy

Students applying for initial-entry F-1, F-2, and M-1 and M-2 visas may now be issued those visas up to 120 days before their academic program start date (as compared to 90 days under previous regulations). J-1 and J-2 visitors may be issued visas at any time before the beginning of their programs. Students or exchange visitors, however, will not be admitted to the U.S. more than 30 days before the start of their study or program by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

If a student or exchange visitor wishes to travel earlier to locate housing, he or she will have to qualify for a B visa and then re-enter with the correct visa.

For persons residing in Canada, it would normally be better to enter in B status and then return to Canada to re-enter in F, M or J status, as that will eliminate the need for costly and time-consuming processing of a change-of-status at DHS that could delay the start of the academic or professional program.

SEVIS Fee

F-1, M-1 and J-1 visa applicants with I-20 (or DS-2019) forms issued on or after September 1, 2004 are required to pay a SEVIS fee before applying for the visa. This is a one-time fee charged to F-1, M-1 and J-1 visa applicants to cover the cost of administering the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS).

SEVIS fees are as follows:

For foreign citizens applying to become F or M students or J exchange visitors pay the following SEVIS I-901 fee amounts

  • I-901 F-1/M-1 visa applicants (full payment) - $200
  • I-901 J-1 visa applicants (full payment) - $180
  • I-901 Special J-visa categories (subsidized payment) - $35
  • I-901 Government visitor (no payment) - $0

For schools petitioning for initial SEVP certification

  • Petition fees increased from $230 to $1,700.
  • Site visit fees increased from $350 to $655 per campus.

For schools that are already SEVP-certified

  • Petition fees for change of ownership increased from $230 to $1,700.
  • Site visit fees for addition of a campus increased from $350 to $655.
  • There is no fee for recertification.

For more information on SEVIS fees, please visit ICE.gov.

Certain short-term exchange visitor (au-pairs, summer work/travel and camp counselors) pay a reduced fee of $35.00. The fee must be paid and fully processed at least 3 days prior to the date of the visa interview. Proof of payment of the fee should be presented at the time the applicant applies for the visa. The fee is nonrefundable. No refunds will be made because a visa has been refused. Refunds will only be made for payments made in error.

The SEVIS fee may be paid by the applicant, by the sponsor or by a third party. The fee is paid to the Department of Homeland Security in the United States. It cannot be paid at the Embassy or U.S. Consulate.

To find out if the fee has been paid on your behalf, you should check with your school or sponsor. The person paying the fee will receive a receipt, either by return mail or electronically. Those paying through the Internet may print off the fee receipt. You will require this receipt to apply for the visa. If there is any doubt as to whether or not the fee has been paid, you may confirm receipt of payment by either e-mailing the SEVP School Certification Branch at schoolcert.SEVIS@dhs.gov or calling them at (202) 305-2346.

Exceptions and Special Circumstances

Persons with I-20 (or DS-2019) forms issued before September 1, 2004 are not subject to the SEVIS fee.

J-1 visa applicants participating in an exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government (G-1, G-2, G-3 and G-7 visas) are not required to pay the fee.

The fee is not charged to derivative F-2, M-2 or J-2 visas applicants, nor to those with I-20 (or DS-2019) forms issued before September 1, 2004.

Students who have been accepted at more than one school may have more than one SEVIS record. As the SEVIS fee is based on the individual applicant, not program, there may be cases where the applicant has paid the fee against one SEVIS record but is applying for a visa against another. That is acceptable.

Applicants taking part in two or more different programs, such as exchange visitors, are required to pay separate SEVIS fees for each program, even if only one visa is issued.

You will not be required to pay the SEVIS fee each time you apply for a visa. It is charged only at the time of the initial visa application. If you reapply for a visa based on the same program then you will not be required to pay a new fee. If you apply for a new visa based on a different program a new fee will be required.

The SEVIS fee receipt is valid for twelve months. If your application is refused, you may reapply using this fee receipt provided it is within twelve months of the initial payment. The fee receipt may be used if you are reapplying for the same visa or applying for a new visa for a different program provided the SEVIS fee payment meets the fee required for the different program.

For more detailed information, including online payment options, please visit SEVIS online.