Visa And Documents

Note: this page wants to give you an overview about VISA regulations to come to study at University of California in the EAP program and some tips about the bureaucratic procedures. Unfortunately this kind of information keeps changing and, for its importance, is critical that you follow only official documentation when it comes to apply for and keep your visa status.

Remember that you must follow the official guideline, deadlines and rules as carefully as possible to avoid any delay in obtaining your VISA. Irregular behavior regarding your VISA can also jeopardize your future applications for US VISAs and your participation in the US VISA Waiver Program (if your country is part of). Please use this page with caution and rely on the official information sources.

Passport and Visa to enter in the United States

As a participant of the EAP program, you are going to receive probably a J1 visa to enter and stay in the US (sometimes a F1). Without this visa, depending on your country of origin, you may not be allowed to enter at all or you may be allowed to stay in the US for up to 90 days.

Applying for the visa is a quite long and expensive procedure that differs from country to country. Your local EAP office should have all the information about that. What you have to do, though, is to

  • go to an American embassy (appointment required)
  • prove that you are part of an exchange program
  • prove that you can financially sustain yourself
  • prove that you will have a place where to stay
  • prove that you are coming back to your own country

You have to fill in some paperwork to fulfill all these requirements and, again, you should ask for more information at your local EAP office.


There are two main fees to be paid when applying for a visa. The first is a visa fee, the second is the SEVIS fee (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System).
They amount to more or less 100 USD each. You should be able to pay the SEVIS fee online (by credit card) or by mail (very slow, avoid if possible). To pay the other fee you will probably have to go to some office or bank they tell you. Keep the receipts of your payments (form I-797 for the SEVIS fee, the bank receipt for the other).

Entering and leaving the United States

When entering the US, you will have to pass a passport and visa check. They do that at your first stop in the US (port of entry), not at your destination. Even if once you have your visa you are entitled to enter the US, they can ask to double-check your documentation, for example your UC admission letter, your financial guarantee, etc… For sure they want to check not only the visa sticker on your passport but also the DS-2019 form (for J1 visa, I-20 for F1 visa) with all the information about the exchange program.

You should enter the United States on the date written on your DS-2019 / I-20 (in any case, no more than 30 days prior to the start of the academic program). If you cannot arrive by this date, you should contact the UCSD Office of Admission and Relations with Schools so that they can update your form.

You generally cannot arrive in the US before, stay as a tourist in the visa waiver program, and then start your "visa period". You may have to leave the US and re-enter and this can be expensive.

Once they admit you to enter, they staple on you passport a small I-94 card. This doesn't contain any critical information, still you have to keep it until you leave the US. The only reason of this card is that it makes easier for them to check that you exit the US before your visa expires. This means that when you leave the US to go back home you must leave that card at the border officer in the airport. Otherwise they will think that you are still in the US and his can jeopardize your future visa applications.
On the other hand, if you're leaving the US but you plan to reenter before the visa expires (for example traveling to Mexico or going back home during your stay) you are not required to leave it at the border. If they take it, there is no problem, they will give you a new one when reentering.

Checking in at your campus

Before the first day of school you have to check in at your campus (usually at the International Office). It has to be not later than 15 days after your arrival in the US. Bring all your documents with you. Remember that failure to check in may result in the termination of your SEVIS record and loss of your J1 / F1 visa status.

While in the US

Once you are in the US, remember that your only document there is your passport (unless you apply for a state ID or driving license). As loosing your passport can bring you a lot of problems, you may leave it in your apartment when moving on-campus or in the surroundings, but you have to take it with you if your drive, if you go out at night, if you go further than few minutes from the campus and of course if you travel. Remember that Immigration Officers can ask for your DS-2019 too. It is not common at all, but there are some checkpoint on the highway (for example south of Los Angeles), or near the airports. You should take this form with you if you are going far from your apartment.

If you're planning to travel abroad, remember that you need the campus approval on your I-20 / DS-2019 form. It's just a signature, but it may take a couple of days for the International Center to sign it.

Keeping your visa status

To keep your visa status in the US, you have to enroll full-time. This means that you have to take a minimum of 12 units per quarter (13 in some colleges at UCB). This requirement is strictly enforced. If you cannot take 12 units, you must talk with the host campus visa advisor (ask at the International Center) before falling below full time. They can evaluate your personal case according to some immigration guidelines they have.

Leaving the US

Unless you ask for an extension, you have to leave the country in 60 days from the last day of your program if you have a F1 visa, in 30 days if you have a J1 visa. Remember that you cannot reenter the US while in this grace period. Don't plan trips abroad (Mexico, Canada, …) in this period! You actually can reenter in the tourist status, but if for any reason they don't allow you to reenter (for example because visa waiver policies change) it would be really complicated to go back home from the country you are (and you may have left something in the US!).

Useful links

SEVIS / I-901 Frequently Asked Questions To look for an embassy of your country in the US.

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