How to Obtain a Visa - The Visa Process

What is a Visa?

The Visa Stamp

The visa stamp in your passport is obtained at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and is used for entering the United States. Once you are in the U.S., you do not need to keep your visa stamp current. It is only when you leave the U.S. and need to return to the U.S. that you must  have a valid U.S. visa stamp to re-enter the U.S.

Immigration Status

Immigration status is granted at the U.S. port of entry (or by application to change status through an immigration service center) and is stated on the passport stamped by the port of entry officer and entered into the automatic I-94 system (or on the I-94 sent by the immigration service center). If you entered by sea or air, your I-94 was entered in the online system.

Most UMB international students have F-1 student status. In most situations, your visa type and immigration status are the same, unless you have changed your immigration status after entering the U.S. If you do change your status within the U.S., the next time you travel out of the U.S., you will need to go to a U.S. consulate and apply for and obtain a new visa stamp which matches your new immigration status.  

How to Obtain a Visa

Once you are admitted to the University of Maryland, you will need to get a student visa stamp in your passport to enter the United States (citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from the visa requirement).

If you have been accepted by several institutions, do not apply for a visa until you decide which you will attend and have received your I-20 or DS-2019.

To Obtain a Visa:

1.  Give the OIS the required paperwork and financial documents. 
2.  Receive your I-20 or DS-2019 from the OIS.
3.  Schedule a visa interview.
4.  Pay the SEVIS fee at least 3 days before the interview.

When you go to the U.S. consulate for your visa interview, bring:

  • A valid passport
  • I-20 Form (for F-1 visa) or DS-2019 Form (for J-1 visa) prepared by UM or your sponsoring agency
  • Your admission letter to UM
  • Original financial documents
  • Passport-type photographs
  • SEVIS fee payment receipt

Visit the Department of State's List of Consulates and Embassies to check your local consulate for an exact, up-to-date list of required documents.

You can enter the U.S. no more than 30 days before the start date noted on the I-20 (item 5) or DS-2019 (item 3).

Apply for your visa stamp as soon as you receive your I-20 or DS-2019.

If your application for a student visa is approved, the consular officer will place a visa stamp in your passport. You may then use it to enter the United States.

Transfer students: A person is considered a transfer student for immigration purposes if they are currently in the U.S. as an F-1 or J-1 student and are transferring from one U.S. educational institution to another. See our Transferring Schools webpage for more information.         

Entry to the U.S.

Upon issuance of your F-1 or J-1 visa, you may then make your travel plans to enter the U.S. F-1 and J-1 students are allowed to enter the U.S. no more than 30 days prior to the start date listed on the I-20 or DS-2019. Transfer students are exempt from this 30 day rule. You should carry the following documents with you to the port of entry:

  •      I-20 or DS-2019
  •      Valid passport
  •      Valid F-1 or J-1 visa
  •      Financial documents
  •      Letter of admission to UM

Citizens of Canada and Bermuda


Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not need a visa stamp to enter the United States to study. You do need to present your I-20 or DS-2019 form and the other required documents at the U.S. border. It is important that you make sure you are processed at the border and get an I-94 card with the proper student designation. Canadian landed immigrants, however, must obtain a visa stamp before attempting to enter the U.S. Contact a U.S. embassy or consulate in Canada if you are uncertain.