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  • Cortney Dowdle

All about the F1 Student Visa

Updated: Apr 6

There are some parts of being an international student studying in the USA that can be difficult or challenging. If you’re an international student, you’re thinking “DUH”. All of it is challenging! You’re moving across the globe to try and learn in what may not your first language in an environment that is probably completely new. But if you’ve made it that far or are thinking about it (newbies check out You Are Totally Savvy Enough to Study Abroad and Rock It post), most students who come to the USA to study need either a J1 or an F1 visa. The J1 is called an exchange visa, while the F1 is called the student visa.




This article is going to cover the basic rules of the F1 visa. You may not realize it, but there are certain rules that come with every visa. Things you can and can’t do while attending school. Rules are boring, I know, but these ones will help you navigate some of the dos and don’ts of attending school in the USA. It will also save you a ton of time if you go to a huge school where you need to schedule appointments with an international advisor just to ask a simple question when the answer might be right here in this blog. Let’s dive in, shall we?



Basic Rules of the F1 Visa explained:

  1. Entering the country – if you’ve been approved for the F1 student visa, the rule is that you aren’t allowed to enter the country more than 30 days before the start date listed on your I-20.

  2. Arrival Procedure – this will vary everywhere, but the most important part is that you let the international office at your school know when you get to school, absolutely no later than the start date listed on your I-20

  3. I-20 signature – make sure that a DSO (Designated School Official) signs your I-20 at least once a year. This one isn’t complicated, but you’d be shocked how many students bring their I-20s in with a blank expression. “Do I need this signed?” My sarcastic self always, “John – I know you can read. Is the date on the third page less than or greater than one year old?”

  4. Expiration – don’t let your I-20 expire. Questions about your visa expiring? See the article about “Important Details about Student Visa” If your I-20 expires, it can be auto completed or cancelled, which would be a bunch of complicated paperwork to fix and neither you nor your international advisor have that kind of time. You do not have to worry about this with the visa, though, so check out that article as well.

  5. Attendance – you must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 credit hours at your school, and at least 75% of the credits must be taken in person. Long story short, you can’t come to study in the USA and then take all online classes and attend a school in New York while living in California.

  6. Reduced Course Load – there are really only two reasons you are allowed to ask to be in less than 12 credit hours during any given semester. One is called a Medical Reduced Course Load, which requires (you guessed it) some kind of doctor’s note or medical records to be submitted, and the other is an Academic Reduced Course Load, which means that you get kind of one free pass when you start school. One time, usually the first semester, you can claim that culture shock, language skills, or educational system differences made you struggle and you needed to drop a class.

  7. Program Extension – some students end up needing an extra semester at the end of their program. The basic rule of thumb is just to ask your international advisor for an extension of the program, preferably before the last week of classes. Some schools may require these types of requests months in advance even.

  8. Off Campus Employment – You aren’t allowed to work off campus. Period. End of story. It’s illegal unless you are utilizing CPT or OPT. This is a whole different article, so stay tuned for that one coming in the next few weeks.

  9. Program Completion – Students have 60 days to leave the country at the end of their program. Most DSO’s will list the end date around the time of graduation, so just be mindful if you plan to stick around for the summer on which date you need to leave by.

Overall, I would argue these are the most important rules of the F1 visa. Many times these are covered during orientation when you arrive to school, or each year when you come back. Nothing wrong with doing a little research and being extra prepared though!

One of the best places to find the more formal description of these rules is Study in the States.


Well, savvy internationals, I hope this was a helpful use of your time. Remember to check out the Instagram for daily tips and laughs, and browse the website for more helpful articles, travel pictures, and favorites of mine.


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