Over years, information keeps changing and current personal experiences are the best source of updated information. Smruti has gone through the F1 visa process in the recent years and below is her experience. Thanks to her for taking time to write and share her experience with our readers. It is very well written and captures all aspects of the process. You can share your experiences as well here
Going through pages and pages of online material, trying to find the most reliable and encompassing information and guidance on student visa to the US – it is a journey as testing as the long haul to the promised country. Most of the information is dated, some advice scare you so much without being helpful and some are very didactic without being useful. Here’s something that might help, based on the reliability of personal experience.
Getting your F1 Student visa
- Obtain your I-20 from the University. I-20 is a document that is sent with a number along with details about the University and your program. Even if you do not have the I-20 but have a confirmed admission, you can request them to send the SEVIS Id so you can do the slot booking at the US Consulate right away.
- Pay the HDFC visa fees at any of the designated HDFC branches and obtain the receipt.
- Pay your SEVIS fee ($200). This can be done online through a credit card on their website. You can take a printout of the payment verification or also wait for them to send the official confirmation through post which will take a few weeks time. (www.fmjfee.com/)
- Book your slot in the Consulate. Through personal experience, I prefer the Chennai Consulate but of course it depends on the availability and your convenience. Book a date well in advance to be on the safer side. You can at the most reach US 30 days before your course begins (as stated on your I20) but you can attend the interview any time from 120 days before your course starts.
- Prepare for the interview on the basis of these questions –
- University details, your interest in the course and University, future goals, assurance that you will return to India.
- Financial details – how will your education be sponsored. Get all the documents that you can, there is no definite list. Bank account statements, sponsorship letters, assistantship letter, loan papers, property documents, FDs, CA’s asset evaluation – basically all that will be useful in satisfying the interviewer that you have enough funds for the study – mostly liquid and non-liquid.
- Remember the more genuine you sound, are clear about what you want to do an d say it with confidence, easier it is for the interviewer to judge and be convinced.
- Prepare for the interview on the basis of these questions –
- Reach the consulate in advance. Don’t get scared by the lines or by the nervousness of people around you. Take the positive vibes from people who come out smiling victoriously!
Steps after getting F1 Visa – What you need to do ?
- Finances : Get your financials in place. Decide how you will carry money – DD, travelers cheques, currency, card. You can take a credit card or you also get pre-loaded international cards from all the major banks in India. You have to give them a cheque or cash and they will immediately give you the card if you have an account in their bank. Remember this cannot be used for online transactions but at POS and for withdrawals at ATMs. For currency, according to regulations you cannot convert more than Rs. 50000 in a month’s time but can carry up to a maximum of $10000. So plan it in advance or use the services of multiple agents.
- Temporary Stay – You can book accommodation at the campus through the University correspondents or get temporary accommodation in the city and look for places and roommates once you reach there. The latter is a better idea although there is uncertainty when you are leaving from the country about where and with whom you will stay. Campus accommodations are more expensive, have too many hindering rules and mostly will not let you stay on during vacations.
- What to Carry – Some things you need to remember. To get travel chargers since the plug-ins in the US are different than in India. You can get these at the airport or at most electrical shops. Clothes befitting the climate of where you will be going including essentials like shoes, gloves, mufflers etc. Comforters, bed spreads, pillow, utensils, food, transcripts, photocopies, etc. Do not carry pirated stuff. Check List of things to carry to USA
Arriving in the America as F1 student :
- Booking tickets : Ensure that there is sufficient time gap between connecting flights. By sufficient I mean at least four hours. This is from experience. Also, check the finer details before you book. Once I booked a flight via New York that had a 3 hour gap between flights in which I had to get down from plane, go through immigration, get my baggage, have it scrutinized if asked, re-check them in, take a cab from JFK to LaGaurdia airport and board another flight. I had missed seeing the ‘Change of Airport required’ while checking the itinerary! Another time there was a technical snag that was discovered just before take-off and we were stranded for more than an hour before it finally took-off, which cut the time gap between flights.
- Immigration – Port of Entry – Remember the immigration happens at the port of entry i.e. the first city that you land in US. There are usually long lines and depending on the airport and time there could be long waiting time. Have your passport, I20, SEVIS fee receipt ready along with the declaration form. On the back of the declaration form write your SEVIS id, University name and number.
- Proceed to obtain your check in luggage. The authorities might want to scrutinize your bags. If not, you can just re-check your luggage in.
- If you are proceeding to another location you will have to go through security check again.
After landing in US as International Student
Visit your University, talk to someone from the International Students office, meet advisers and professors and other students. If you have a job, then obtain a SSN (Social Security Number). Remember, without a SSN it is extremely difficult to manage in this country. Lease, phone connection, utilities, credit card – everything is available only if you have a SSN. Do not expect others, including family and friends to let you use their SSN. Your credit history is evaluated through your SSN. Preferably get a matrix connection from India. To stay connected with people in India use cheaper methods like Vonage, free voice and text apps, Gtalk, web chat, etc.
Enjoy your student life and be geared up for fun and some hard work!
What has been your experience ?