One of the best places to find general information about Visas is at www.afsusa.org/study-abroad/faq/visa. Full visa guidelines are not publicly accessible because immigration laws, visa policies, AFS policies, and deadlines regularly change. If you or a student would like in-depth information about a visa process for one of our programs, please email email@example.com.
Important Notes About the Visa Process
- Most students will be required to work with the Consulate that has jurisdiction over their state in order to apply for a visa individually after AFS has guided them on how to do so.
- In a few cases, students will apply for a visa or residence permit after arrival in their host country.
- In ALL cases, AFS is available to provide guidance, however, students are responsible for compiling the required documents and either applying at their Consulate, sending documents to AFS, or bringing documents to their host country, depending on what requirements and instructions dictate.
- Visa-related expenses are the responsibility of the participant and are not included in the cost of the program fee unless specifically noted.
- Some visa fees may occasionally be charged by AFS invoice (in the few cases when processing fees are due to AFS).
- There are a few Faces of America-, Scholarships-, and Sponsored Program Scholarships that cover visa fees.
- See the "Types of Programs" section below for more detail on advising students about budgeting for visas.
All participants must have a U.S. passport that is valid for up to 6 months after their intended return from the AFS program.
- The passport signature page must be signed by passport holder.
- Students can apply for or renew U.S. passports at the main U.S. post office in their home communities, or they may use the U.S. State Department website: http://travel.state.gov/passport/.
Please Note: it is generally recommended for parents who are sending their children abroad to also have a valid U.S. passport. Currently, it is a requirement for parents of students applying for the India visa to have passports. Other countries do not require parents to have a passport in order for their children to apply for a student visa, but it is advisable to have updated international travel documents.
Legal Guardian Issues
Students with estranged legal guardians or legal guardians living in different states or countries can often run into additional challenges with the visa process.
- Many student and tourist visas require Parental Consent in order for minors to receive a visa.
- This may be communicated via a Parental Consent Form which is a different form than the one that is a part of the AFS application.
- This is standard practice that all legal guardians must sign this type of form.
- Minors who run into challenges with the AFS Parental Consent Form may not be able to obtain a visa.
Non-U.S. citizens may have a different visa process from U.S. Citizens. They may be eligible to participate on AFS USA programs, but we must be aware of their and their parents’ status in advance as we will need to consider them on a case by case basis. Additionally, non U.S. Citizens are responsible for ensuring that their U.S. residence status allows them to leave for the duration of their program and to re-enter the U.S. without problems.In order to be considered for participation, non-U.S. citizens must have:
- A valid passport from their home country.
- A valid U.S. Visa or Residence Permit document that will not expire for at least 6 months after the end of their program.
- Those who are in the U.S. on Political Asylum or Refugee status may not be able to participate in AFS programs.
- AFS USA currently cannot support undocumented participants or DREAMERs on our programs.
Visa Support Documents from AFS and Host Country
Many visa processes will require visa support letters or other special documents from the host country partner office and from AFS USA. Supporting documentation may include host family information, school enrollment forms, official acceptance letters, insurance and liability information, among other possible requirements. Depending on the partner office and the host country's regulations, supporting documentation may be scanned/electronic or it may need to be an original, with live stamps and signatures. The timing of these documents can be unpredictable and, usually, students cannot apply for visas without them. It is common for these documents to arrive very close to departure time, though usually with just enough time for students to apply for the visa. We always recommend that students who must wait for AFS Support Documents to apply make sure they have prepared all their other required visa paperwork diligently so they can submit their visa applications as soon as they receive their Visa Support Documents from AFS. AFS will keep students informed of expectations for the timing of those documents as much as possible, though participants will often need to be flexible and ready to act quickly.The unpredictable timing of visa support documents is just one of the reasons that personal travel outside of the U.S. during the 2-3 months before departure is strongly discouraged. There are occasional questions about this travel discouragement or requests to be excused, and firstname.lastname@example.org addresses them on a case by case basis.
How Sending Students are Notified of Visa Instructions
After students are transferred/accepted to the program, participants will be provided with access to the country overview pages on our website, which include the Visa FAQ pages.
Once the Visa Guidelines webpages are updated on the AFS-USA website, the Visa Department emails the relevant group of students to let them know that information is posted and to provide the link for accessing it online. Note that visa requirements are not under the jurisdiction of AFS and are subject to change at any time, even after we have posted instructions. To find out approximately when students should expect to receive their instructions, see the section below regarding the general timeline for sending visa instructions. You can check the student's contact log in Global Link to see what Visa information has already been sent.
General Timeline for Posting Visa Instructions
Winter/Spring programs depart from January through April. We will begin updating AFS Visa Guidelines in mid-to-late October through January. Guidelines will be posted in order according to the earliest departures and longest visa process.
Summer/Fall programs depart May through September. We will begin posting AFS Visa Guidelines in mid-to-late March through July. Instructions will be posted in order according to earliest departures and longest visa process.
Types of Programs
SHORT / INTENSIVE SUMMER PROGRAMS Many summer programs do not require visas for American citizens. When visas are required, they can be complicated but not as demanding as long- term visas for semester and year program participants.
SEMESTER AND YEAR PROGRAMS Semester and Year programs require visas or residence permits, however, the type of visa and application process can vary significantly from one country to another. Some visas or residence permits are applied for after arrival in the host country; many are applied for in the U.S. before departure. Often times, core program participants must apply for their visas individually. For sponsored programs, participants may be required to send their documents to AFS so that AFS can apply for the visa on their behalf. This all depends on the immigration regulations and consular rules of the host country.
Visa fees are not included in the program fee unless specifically noted and must be covered by the participant. Costs throughout the visa process add up, and it will help for students to consider setting aside at least $300 -$2,000 USD for the visa process. This is an average estimate of visa expenses. Some processes are more expensive than this and others are much less expensive. If more detail is needed before visa instructions are posted and distributed, the Visa FAQ’s on the AFS-USA website contains comprehensive Visa Overviews of each visa process under each country.
Best Practices for Preparing Prospective Sending Students
- Before students have completed their full application, volunteers and staff may feel free to share information from the Visa FAQs with participants who are trying to select the most appropriate program, if needed.
- Note that these are not the full, specific visa instructions. These overviews are meant to provide preliminary expectations of what may be required so students can make informed decisions, but all requirements are subject to change at any time and the overviews do NOT provide comprehensive lists of all of the visa requirements.
- As you will see, in some cases students and/or their parents must go in person to the Consulate of their host country in order to pick up or drop off their visa applications. In cases where this is required, exceptions to the rule are at the Consulate's discretion and not necessarily granted. Sometimes travel to the Consulate can involve a flight or a very long drive and overnight stay near the Consulate.
- A productive way for staff and volunteers in the field to support students throughout the visa process is to encourage them to fully read and save any visa emails they receive, contact their consulates or embassy to confirm their application requirements, and touch base with the visa team when any questions or concerns arise.
Helpful Advice to Share with Sending Students
- ALL participants, regardless of program, must have a valid passport in order to travel. If they do not have a passport, they should apply for one now! Information on renewing or applying for passports is available at the US State Department's Passport website: http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html
- If the participant’s our passport will expire sooner than 6 months after their exchange, renew now! If passport applications or renewals are delayed, they may need to be expedited at an additional cost. If postponed too long, this may interfere with their planned departure date.
- Once participants receive their visa guidelines (they will be issued at different times for different programs) they need to read them carefully (dry as they may be) at least twice and then call or email AFS with any questions if they need clarification. The AFS Visa Guidelines will list deadlines and/or the address where students will need to send any required documents. If you have to work with a Consulate, the AFS Visa Instructions will provide Consulate contact information.
- Since our initial mode of contact will be e-mail, it is important for students/families to provide valid email addresses that someone will be checking regularly throughout the cycle prior to departure. Students should promptly share emails with their parents. Parents who know their children may not be in the habit of sharing information promptly should provide their email address as the main contact email. Visa notifications will often be time-sensitive. While we always attempt to provide enough time for students to prepare the required documents, some notifications may require fast action.
- It is common and understandable for families to be anxious and frustrated surrounding the visa process. These talking points may help ease the concerns of participants and parents who will need to apply for a visa:
- Despite how difficult the process can seem, it is rare for a visa to be rejected. It is more common for a process to be delayed because of a missing form or late visa appointment. It is important for the participants and their parents to pay close attention to details and follow the instructions closely in order to minimize delays in visas processing.
- They are not alone in having to tackle all the steps involved with the visa application. Many students will be going through the same steps. You might offer the perspective that all of our hosted students also have to jump through many hoops, some quite costly, in order to study in the U.S.
- It is necessary for students and parents to read their AFS Visa Guidelines webpage and email instructions completely, break them down step-by-step, and take them on bit by bit. If students have to collect unusual certifications, the procedure and advice on doing that will be included in the Visa Guidelines. Checklists and calendar notes will help, too. All visa-related documents and emails should be kept together in a safe place to avoid getting lost and delayed.
- Because of the many parties involved, there are usually variables in the visa process that neither participants nor AFS-USA can directly control. Students and parents should be ready to act quickly to fulfill any unexpected requirements.
- They should expect that visas can be issued very close to departure time.
- If there is a delay with a visa, we will work on arranging a delayed departure, but we try to avoid this as much as possible. Except for any major last-minute change to visa regulations, usually a very small minority of students end up traveling late due to visas each cycle, usually less than 3% of the total number of students we send in a given cycle - and occasionally, no students travel late!