How to Apply for a J-1 Visa From Overseas

If you are interested in participating in an exchange program to come to the U.S., here is an introduction to the application process.

By , J.D. University of Washington School of Law
Updated 3/28/2024

The J-1 visa allows entry to the U.S. for participation in already-established exchange visitor programs. The object is to foster mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and those of other countries in the world, through educational and cultural interaction. For more information on basic eligibility, see A J-1 Visa to the U.S.: Who Qualifies?.

If you are interested in participating in such an exchange program, here is an introduction to the application process. Getting a J-1 visa from overseas involves four major steps:

  • You apply to, and are accepted by, an exchange program.
  • Your designated program sponsor sends you a Form DS-2019 "Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status."
  • You apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate in your home country.
  • You enter the U.S. and claim your J-1 status.

(If you are Canadian, your application procedures will be different from those of other applicants. Nolo's book U.S. Immigration Made Easy contains details.)

Step One: You Find a Sponsoring Exchange Program Organization

You cannot start the J-1 application process until you have been admitted to an exchange program approved by the U.S. Department of State (DOS), through its Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The State Department provides a list of approved organizations, on its Find Designated Sponsor Organizations page. You'll probably need to get started well in advance.

Step Two: Your Sponsoring Organization Issues a Certificate of Eligibility

Once a program has accepted you, it will issue you a Certificate of Eligibility, or SEVIS Form DS-2019. You do not fill out or sign any part of it. But be sure to carefully check the form for accuracy. Ask your sponsoring organization to correct any errors. You'll use the DS-2019 in the next steps of your application process.

Step Three: Applying at a U.S. Consulate in Your Country

Anyone with a Certificate of Eligibility (Form DS-2019) from an exchange visitor program sponsor can apply for a J-1 visa at a U.S. consulate in their home country. You must be physically present in order to apply there.

You can normally apply any time before your program begins. Because of processing delays, it's best to apply as soon as you have your DS-2019 form. Check with your local U.S. consulate regarding its application procedures. Many insist on advance appointments. Just getting an appointment can take several weeks, so plan ahead.

Your application will consist of the following:

  • Form SEVIS DS-2019, filled out by your sponsoring organization.
  • Receipt for having paid the SEVIS fee, which was $220 in 2024, though exceptions are made in some categories: federally sponsored exchange visitor program (program codes start with G-1, G-2, G-3, or G-7) pay no fee; au pairs, camp counselors, and summer work/travel program participants pay $35. Unless your school helps with paying this, go to, complete the online Form I-901, and pay with a credit card.
  • Form DS-160, Nonimmigrant Visa Application. This must be prepared and submitted online.
  • Fee receipt showing that you have paid the relevant visa application fee at a nearby financial institution. The amount, and the financial institution at which you must pay, depend on the country. See the Exchange Visitor Visa page of the State Department website for details. Also check the website of the U.S. consulate where you plan to apply for your visa in order to learn where to pay your fee in advance.
  • Visa reciprocity fee. There's a small chance you may have to pay an additional fee if you are from a country that charges similar fees for visas to U.S. citizens. The DOS keeps a list, by country.
  • Your passport, valid for at least six months beyond your intended period of stay in the U.S.
  • One passport-type photo of you and one of your spouse and each of your children, 2 inches x 2 inches. It's best to go to a professional for these, to make sure they comply with the government's many requirements.
  • Long-form birth certificate for you and each accompanying spouse or child (possibly with English-language translation, depending on the consulate's needs).
  • Marriage certificate if you are married and bringing your spouse (possibly with English-language translation, depending on the consulate's needs).
  • If either you or your spouse has ever been married before, copies of divorce and death certificates showing termination of all previous marriages (possibly with English-language translation, depending on the consulate's needs).
  • If your program involves studying at a school: transcripts, diplomas, and results of any standardized tests required by the school you will be attending, showing your previous education and your qualifications to pursue your chosen course of study (possibly with English-language translation, depending on the consulate's needs).
  • Documents showing reasons that you will return to your home country, such as ownership of real estate, relationships with close family members staying behind, or proof that a job will be waiting for you on your return.
  • If you are entering a flight training program, documents showing your reason for the training (be specific) current employer and your position, who is paying for the training (name and relationship), your most recent flight certifications and ratings, information on what kind of aircraft the training is for (document must be signed by a school official in the United States), certified takeoff weight of the aircraft type (document must be signed by a school official in the United States), and current rank or title if you are presently working as an active pilot.
  • If your program doesn't include salaried employment, proof of sufficient funds, such as:
    • USCIS Form I-134, Affidavit of Support from a U.S. friend or relative, or a letter from a friend or relative promising support.
    • Bank statements.
    • Personal financial statements.
    • Evidence of your current sources of income.

For more information on these requirements, see the DOS website.

Attending Your Consular Interview for a J-1 Visa

Most consulates will require an interview before issuing a J-1 exchange visitor visa. During the interview, a consular officer will examine the forms and documents you've submitted for accuracy. The consular officer will verify your DS-2019 record electronically through the SEVIS system.

Documents proving your ability to finance your study will be carefully checked, as will evidence of ties to your home country. During the interview, you will surely be asked how long you intend to remain in the United States. Any answer indicating uncertainty about plans to return home or an interest in applying for a green card is likely to result in a denial of your visa.

Because of security requirements, you are unlikely to be approved for your J-1 visa on the same day as your interview. The consular officer will need to compare your name against various databases of people with a history of criminal activity, violations of U.S. immigration laws, or terrorist affiliations. This can add weeks or months to the processing of your visa, particularly if you come from a country that the U.S. suspects of supporting terrorism.

Once your visa is approved, you might also need to pay a visa issuance fee, depending on what country you are from.

Step Four: Entering the U.S. Using Your J-1 Visa

You'll be allowed to enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the start of your classes or program, but no earlier. When you arrive in the U.S. with your new J-1 visa, the border officer will examine your paperwork, ask you some questions, and if all is in order, approve you for entry.

The officer will stamp your passport and note your period of stay as "D/S" for Duration of Status. In addition to the annotation in your passport, you can download an I-94 Departure Record confirming your arrival date and status from the Customs & Border Protection website. Duration of Status means that you can stay until the completion of your program. As a practical matter, however, you will likely be permitted to remain up to the expiration date on your SEVIS Form DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility.

Each time you exit and reenter the U.S., you will get a new Form I-94 for the same "D/S" period.

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