Study Abroad at UCLA| #1: Visa

Recently I’ve been getting so many questions about my experiences at UCLA and the processes leading up to it. The process is a stressful one and that’s exactly why I decided to write this blog post in the hopes that it will help at least one person prepare better for their exchange at UCLA. There will be multiple parts to cover as much information as possible.

A little bit of background info to give you an understanding of what shaped my experiences: I am currently a 3rd and final year student at Utrecht University. I belong to USE (Utrecht University School of Economics) and major in Economics and Business Economics, and minor in Law. I went on exchange to UCLA at the beginning of my 3rd year for the fall quarter of 2016-2017, meaning from September 2016 to December 2016 – so a little over 3 months. My courses started on 22nd September but I left for LA about a week earlier to give myself some time to adjust and take care of all the admin stuff before school started (and I’m so glad I did!).

People often ask me if UCLA was my first choice and why I chose to study abroad at UCLA (over UC Berkley). I tell them UCLA was indeed my first choice and I chose UCLA for several reasons: first because I have quite a few friends who attend the university; second I had never been to the States before and I quite liked the idea of going to the west coast and experiencing the LA lifestyle (including the sun); and third I picked UCLA over Berkley because UCLA is closer to the city of LA itself and there is so much to do.

So assuming you got accepted to go to UCLA and you know your UCLA website ID, password, application ID, and your UCLA student ID number – always keep these handy because you don’t know when you will be asked for it – let’s get started by answering “How do I apply for my visa?”.

 

Visa

As an exchange student you will be applying for the ‘J-Exchange Visitor Visa‘. You should begin by checking out: http://www.eap.ucop.edu/ReciprocalExchanges/Pages/VisaResources.aspx

And then go to the US Department of State’s website http://usvisas.state.gov/  and look at the ‘J–Exchange Visitor Visa’.

Then follow the following steps:

1. Complete the Online Visa Application

  • Online Nonimmigrant Visa Application (a.k.a. Form DS-160)
  • You can learn more about completing the DS-160.
    • You must:
      1) complete the online visa application and
      2) print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.
  • Photo – you will need to upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.

2. Schedule an Interview

I recommend that you schedule your interview as early as possible. Especially if you are going for the fall quarter your interview will be some time in the summer months (June, July, August) and for the US embassy those months are the busiest. For example I went to make an appointment in May and even then the first available date was in mid June.

If you are an international student like me, and you want to go back home for the summer you have the option to apply for your visa (i.e. attend the interview) in your home country. Just make sure to select the country that you want to be interviewed in the drop down option; note that once you have chosen the country you can’t change it.

3. Gather and prepare the following required documents before your visa interview:

  • Passport: valid for travel to the United States – Your passport must be valid for at least six months beyond your period of stay in the United States (unless exempt by country-specific agreements). If more than one person is included in your passport, each person who needs a visa must submit a separate application.
  • Nonimmigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160 confirmation page
  • Application fee payment receipt, if you are required to pay before your interview
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. If the photo upload fails, you must bring one printed photo in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.
  • Form DS-2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status) – A SEVIS-generated Form DS-2019 is provided to you by your program sponsor after the sponsor enters your information in the SEVIS system. All exchange visitors, including their spouses and minor children, must be registered in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Each person receives a separate Form DS-2019.
  • Additional Documentation May Be Required:
    • The purpose of your travel;
    • Your intent to depart the United States after your travel;
    • Your ability to pay all travel costs; and/or
    • Other documents the consular officer may request.
    • Evidence of your employment and/or your family ties may be sufficient to show the purpose of your travel and your intent to return to your home country. If you cannot cover all the costs for your travel, you may show evidence that another person will cover some or all costs for your travel.

4. Attend Your Visa Interview

When going for the interview it is advised that you do not bring anything except the necessary documents (NO ELECTRONICS). You can put your things, including your phones and electronics in the Rijksmuseum locker for free. Or you can do what I did and ask a friend to come with you and wait outside.

But since you are a visiting student you shouldn’t have any problems, for me the face to face “interview” took literally 20 seconds, they didn’t even ask questions, it was more like a chat with the interviewer saying “oh I see you’re going to UCLA, how exciting”. The interview was painless enough but the waiting time that was hell!

5. Receive Your Visa by Mail

After the interview you will leave your passport with the embassy and they will mail it to you (with the stamped visa) within a specified period of time. If you plan on travelling in the summer keep this in mind! Mine arrived within a couple of working days.

If you still have any more questions regarding the visa application process check out the frequently asked questions page: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/frequently-asked-questions.html

or feel free to contact me!

 

*Disclaimer: this information is specific to me and based on my personal experiences. Also the information may be time sensitive so I advise you to check the relevant websites for more updated information.

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