In order to successfully obtain an F-1 or M-1 student visa to the United States, you will need to show that your education will be fully financed and all your day-to-day living expenses (including the expenses of your spouse or children if they plan to come with you) will be paid without your having to work in the United States.
If you will be on an F-1 visa, your existing financial resources must clearly cover a 12-month academic term, and you must be prepared to prove that your further years of study will be covered as well. The government does not expect you to be able to pay for all your years of education the day you get your visa, but it will expect you to show where the money will come from.
If you will be on an M-1 visa, your resources must cover your entire 12-month (or shorter) study term.
If your family will not be coming with you, and you normally support them, you may also be asked how they will be supported while you are gone.
Possible Sources of Financial Support
Your financing can come from your own resources or from support by family, friends or scholarships. They can include personal funds, personal assets or property that are readily convertible to cash, or a scholarship or specified funds from other persons or organizations.
Although F-1 students are permitted to work during their student years under certain circumstances (usually on-campus jobs or internships after the first academic year), you are not allowed to rely on this type of work to prove your visa eligibility unless it is an on-campus graduate research or teaching position (usually called a "graduate assistantship") that is part of your academic program.
In fact, you probably will not find out until you get to the United States what type of work you will be able to get. The permitted work will probably be low-paying or a small part of your study program in any case – most likely a position in a place like the school cafeteria or library.
You will need to prove that your financial resources are real and reliable at the time you submit your application for a student visa. For instance, you may need to provide copies of recent bank statements, assets, and family employment.
How Much Will Studying in the U.S. Cost?
Tuition in the United States can be high, ranging from about $5,000 a year at state schools to $32,000 a year at prestigious private colleges or universities. Graduate and professional schools -- even public ones -- can be even more expensive.
You will probably want to look for sources of aid, such as scholarships, graduate assistantships, fellowships or loans. International students cannot receive financial aid from sources supported by the U.S. government. That means that most schools, having few non-federal alternatives, cannot offer much financial aid directly to international students. Your school may, however, be able to help you locate other sources of aid.
You can do some advance research of your own at the websites of the National Association of Foreign Student Advisors, the International Student Organization, and the Institute for International Education.
Beware of services that offer to research possible scholarships for you at a cost. Many of them go to the same resources that are available to you for free -- and some commit outright criminal frauds. For more information on the scams, see the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s website at http://www.ftc.gov.
Find Out How Much Money You Can Take Out of Your Country
Some countries place a limit on the amount of money that you can take outside the country. The U.S. government is aware of these restrictions and will not grant you a visa if they don’t think you’ll be able to transfer sufficient funds to pay for your education. Talk to other foreign students or a lawyer in your home country to see whether there is a way to legally get around this.