A visa is written permission to enter and reside in a foreign country for a specific period of time for a specific purpose. Most countries have mandatory visa requirements based on reason for entry. (e.g. student, tourist). Students are responsible for knowing which visa they need and for applying for their visas.
For studying abroad on summer or short term (less than 30 days) program directors will assist you with the visa application process/forms in your predeparture meetings.
Students studying for a semester or year are responsible for applying for their own visas. Visas are mandatory for students in most countries if studying for more than 90 days. Students need to plan in advance for the extensive paperwork and cost required for getting a visa. Many countries now require an in person visa interview (in Chicago, New Orleans, etc.) for securing a visa. Students failing to secure the proper visa risk not being admitted to the host country and not being allowed to enroll in the host university. The Office of International Education can help you with your application.
To begin the process, go to your country of destinations’s consulate website. The U.S. State Department has a helpful list at http://travel.state.gov/travel/tips/brochures/brochures_1229.html. Determine if you will need a student visa. Factor in how long you will remain in country; be sure to include any pre-university language schools and any after the semester travel plans. If there is a chance you will remain for a second semester, go ahead and apply for the visa for the whole academic year, otherwise you may need to travel home to the states to get another visa.
Many countries now require an in-person interview as part of the visa application. Interviews are at consulates determined by the state in which you reside. Foreign embassies and consulates are located throughout the United /States and represent autonomous countries subject to their own laws. The Italian consulate in Detroit may have different requirements than the Italian consulate in San Francisco for example. Always prepare your visa application for the consulate in your home geographic area.
Be sure to budget extra time and money to secure your visa before your departure. Belmont encourages students to secure their visas on their own, but the Office of International Education staff is available to answer questions.
Be prepared for your visa interview. Do not go to your visa appointment with missing documents or the wrong type of photo, as it will delay the process. There is security and immigration control associated with the application, even an incorrect date can cause you to have to start over.
Be prepared to bring your parents’ or guardian’s bank statements or pay stubs. The consulate is trying to determine if you will have sufficient funds while you are in their country to cover your expenses. Proof of financial resources is always a part of a student visa application.
During the interview it is important to defer to the Consulate officer if your visa application has missing items or is incorrect. Politely ask how to fix it.
Going through customs, it is important to respond to customs officers’ questions in a mature and respectful way. Students have been held up for hours after expecting special consideration or service for not having the documentation they need to enter a country. The visa process is simpler if you follow exactly the foreign country’s request for information.
NOTE**Rules and requirements change quickly. If you want the most up to date visa requirement, fax the foreign consulate for their requirements.
(Adapted from NAFSA article by Elaine G. Carrasco)