Understanding Your I-20

Your I-20 is a very important document which will be enable you to apply for your F-1 visa. You must bring the original I-20 with you to your visa interview. You will also need to show your I-20 to the Customs and Border Patrol Agent at the border when you enter the United States, so be sure to pack it in your carry-on luggage.

  • Each section of your I-20 has a number. Following is an explanation of what information is contained in each numbered selection of your I-20:

Your SEVIS Identification Number is located in the upper right-hand section of your I-20 and begins with N. You will need this number to pay your SEVIS fee.

  1. This section contains your personal information: your name, country of birth, country of citizenship and your birth date. Be sure to check the information in this section very carefully to ensure it is accurate and matches the information in your passport. If there are any errors, please notify TESS.inc immediately.
  1. This is standard information about the school that you are applying for and is the same for all students. You will need the school code in order to pay the SEVIS fee.
  1. This section identifies the reason which your I-20 has been issued (Initial Study, Transfer, etc…).
  1. This section identifies the type of program you will be studying in: Language Training, Bachelor’s or Master’s.
  1. This section stated the details of your program of study: Your major or program of study, the dates of you program* and the length of your program**.
  • * This is very important information. You must be aware of your program start and end date. You are allowed to enter the United States to begin your program no more than 30 days before the program start date listed on your I-20. You must also ensure that you are aware of your program end date. If you need to extend your program for any reason, you must request this before the end date listed in this section.
  • ** The program length (stated in months) is standard length and the same for all students depending on their program: 24 months for ESL, 48 months for bachelor’s programs and 12 for master’s programs.
  1. This section identifies whether you have made the English proficiency requirements for admission into the program.
  1. This section outlines the specific financial information for your program.
  1. This section identifies your funding sources for tuition, living expenses, miscellaneous fees, etc.
  1. This section may or may not contain a note for the Consular Official.
  1. This section contains the name and signature of the school official who issued your I-20.
  1. This section requires you to print your name, sign your name and date the I-20. You must do this before your visa interview and before entering the United States.

Payment of SEVIS Fee in Countries Where the Automated I-901 Is Unavailable

Currently students residing in or citizens of Ghana, Kenya, Gambia, Nigeria and Cameroon are not able to pay the SEVIS (I-901) free online. While the guidance suggests students can pay either by mail of by using Western Union, attempting pay by Western Union has been problematic. Therefore, students residing in these countries should pay the SEVIS Fee by mail.

How to pay the SEVIS Fee by mail:

  1. Download from I-901 from: https://www.ice.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Document/2015/i901.pdf
  1. Complete this form and mail it along with a check or money order* for the required amount to:

I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee

P.O. BOX 970020

St. Louis, MO 63197-0020

United States

By Courier (to expedite delivery to SEVP):

I-901 Student/Exchange Visitor Processing Fee

1005 Convention Plaza

St. Louis, MO 63101

United States

Phone Number: 1-314-425-1809 (United States Country Code 011)

  • Please note: checks and money orders must be drawn on a bank located in the United States.
  1. Along with your application, include a request that the receipt be mailed to you attention to:

TESS USA The Exchange Students Service Inc.

294 Millbury Ave. / Millbury MA 01527 USA


  1. The TESS staff will scan and email this recipe to you once it is received.
  1. Further information can be found at: https://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901#wcm-survey-target-id

How to pay the SEVIS fee by Western Union Pay Service:

  1. Fill out the Form I-901 online at fmjfee.com. A payment coupon will be generated upon completion of the form.
  2. Print the copy of the payment coupon and take it to your local Western Union.
  3. Fill out the Quick Collect/Quick Pay Form according to the information found at the bottom of the printed coupon. Example below:

Company Name (or Code City):   SEVISFEE

Account Number: Coupon Number (ex: 010222013872390)

Amount: $ 200, 00*

  • Please note that the payment amount may differ according to your specific visa type.
  1. Present the coupon and your payment to the Western Union Agent for processing.

Payment will be linked to your Form I-901 a you online payment confirmation will be available immediately at www.fmjfee.com.

Important information for Nonimmigrant students and Exchange Visitors:

  • You must complete the Form I-901 online at fmjfee.com prior to visiting you local Western Union. Completing the form online will generate a unique coupon number that you will need to validate and process your I-901 SEVIS fee payment at Western Union. You cannot submit a payment via Western Union without the coupon number.
  • You do not have to print and bring the coupon to Western Union; you only need the unique coupon number in order to submit your payment.
  • If a third party is paying your I-901 SEVIS fee on your behalf, you will need to provide them with your coupon number to enter into the Account Number filed of the Western Union Quick Pay/Quick Collect Form.

Preparing For Your Visa Interview - Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Do I need to attend an in-person interview to get my visa?

Yes. If this is your first time applying for an F-1 visa, an in-person interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest your home is required.

How early can I apply for my visa?

The earliest you are able to attend a visa interview is 120 days prior to your program start date ( you can find this information in item #5 on your I-20).

What documents do I need to make an appointment for my student visa? *

  • Your passport, valid for a minimum of 6 months beyond you expected entry date into the United States.
  • Your original Form I-20, signed by the Designated School official and by you.
  • The online visa application (Form DS-160).
  • Receipt of payment for the SEVIS (I-902) Fee.
  • Machine readable visa fee (If applicable).
  • Reciprocity fee (If applicable).
  • Be sure to check with your local Consulate or Embassy to see what additional forms may be required.


  • Please note: The details and order of processes will vary at Consulates. This information meant as a general guide.

How long will I have to wait to have my visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate?

Appointment wait times vary depending on the Consulate or Embassy where you make your appointment. To view wait times for interview appointments and processing visit: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english/general/wait-times.html/


What documents do I need to take with me to my appointment?

  • Your original I-20 signed by the DSO and by you.
  • Documentation of finances.
  • SEVIS fee receipt.
  • Original letter of admission.

What should I not bring with me to the visa interview?

You should reference the website of the Embassy or Consulate where you will have your appointment, but in general, you should not bring these items with you to the interview:

  • Backpacks
  • Laptops
  • Cell Phones.

How long will the visa interview be?

Visa interviews typically last between 3-5 minutes. This is a conversation not a document review.

Will the visa interview be conducted in English or my native language?

This depends. Typically, if you have been accepted into an undergraduate or graduate degree program, the visa interview will be conducted in English. However, if you are coming to the United States to study English as a Second language, the interview is likely to be conducted in your native language.

What question will I be asked?

Most Consulates and Embassies have a “What to Expect” video on their website which you should view. While there is not a set script that the Consular Official will read form, in general, the Consular Official will focus on the following areas:

  • A greeting: The first thing that Consular official will do is greet you. Try to appear relaxed and return the greeting.
  • Request to see your documentation: You should have all of the required documents (see FAQ #3) organized and ready to hand to the Consular Official. You should not bring unnecessary documentation with you.
  • Immigrant Intent: Since F-1 student status implies a temporary stay in the United States with no intention of immigrating, you must prove to the Consular Official that you plan to return to your home country upon completion of you studies. Therefore, you should be prepared to discuss that you have strong family and professional ties (a business, job offer, property, etc.) to your home country.
  • Why you want to come to the United States to Study: Discuss the personal and academic reasons behind your decision to study in the United States. Also discuss how having earned a degree (or improved your English) in the Unites States will assist you in realizing your future career goals.

Is there anything I should not say during the interview?

DO NOT say that you want to study in the United States because you have friends or family here and do not mention unimportant reasons (e.g. you like American pop culture).

DO NOT say anything to indicate that your ultimate goal is to stay in the United States, apply for permanent residency, etc. Such statements will result in a denial of your visa application.

When will I know if my visa application has been successful?

The Consular Official will notify you at the end of the interview.

What will the next step be after successfully getting the visa?

This process will vary depending on the specific Consulate of Embassy, but you will need to submit your passport so that the visa can be applied. This usually takes three to five business days.

Where can I find additional information on the rules and regulations for   F-1 visa holders?

Once you have received your visa and entered the United States, you will be required to understand and follow the federal rules and regulations that govern students in F-1 status. You will be reminded of these student portal section ate your school International Student Orientation and you can also find additional information on the Study in the States website: http://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/students

Education USA

Before you attend your visa interview, you may want to schedule a meeting with the Education USA Center near the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in you home country. Education USA Centers are run by the U.S. Department of State and offer advising to students on how to successfully obtain an F-1 student visa. For more information and to locate a center nearest to you please visit: https://educationusa.state.gov/find-advising-center


Education USA Centers can help you with the following:

  • Information regarding types of U.S. student visas available to study in the United States.
  • Key point about planning and applying for your U.S. student visa. At most locations you can also schedule a time to meet with an advisor for advisor for additional assistance.
  • Information about arriving in the United States after you have been granted your student visa.
  • Detailed information regarding the SEVIS system; what is it and what you, as an international student, need to know and do.
  • General information regarding U.S. higher education.

Entering the U.S.A & Customs and Border Protection

All persons arriving on an international flight into the United States are required to go through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). This can be an intimidating experience because you will be tired and newly arrived in the United States. Try not to worry and just be prepared with all of the required documents. When you disembark form the plane, you will come into a large, open area with many lines. You must go to the section for non-U.S. Citizens and Permanent Residents. This is normally called the Visitors Area. You must have the following documents ready to show to the agent at the window.

  • Your passport (valid for six months beyond your date of entry) which contains your student visa.
  • Your I-20. Please do not pack this in your suitcase or live it at home. This is very important document which shows you are legally able to enter the United States.
  • Any letter of support that the school has issued you. You may not have one of these and that is okay.

What you can expect at CBP:

  1. CBP is a busy place and the officers try to move through the line quickly. Try not to feel nervous as this process is one that everyone must go through.
  2. The officer will ask you a series of questions (e.g.: How long will you study? When was the last time you entered the US?, etc.). You should answer all questions clearly and honestly. If you fell you need an interpreter, ask the official to provide you with one. Most students go through this process with no trouble provided they are prepared and have all of the documents (above) ready to show to the officer.
  3. The officer will ask to see your passport. He or she will inspect it, and put an arrival stamp in it.
  4. After the officer has asked the questions he or she may determine that it is necessary to send you to a separate room called the Deferred Inspection Area. Again, try not to be nervous. This just means that they would like to ask you more questions and have a closer look at your records. Answer all questions honestly.


You must be very careful about what food you bring into the United States. You must declare (show) all the food items that you have to the officers. Some food items are permissible and some are not. If you are trying to enter the United States with items are not allowed, they will be taken from you.

Remember: Everyone must go through this process so don’t feel intimidated. Act politely and answer questions honestly at all times. For more information on CBP and items that you can bring with you into the United States visit: www.cbp.gov and click on travel.

Transfer Student

What is a Transfer Student?

Transfer students are students who have an F-1 visa and are currently in the United States and studying at another institution.

Transfer students must:

  • Apply to and be accepted by a school or an Intensive English Language Course.
  • Begin the school or the course during the program´s next available start date.
  • Begin the school/course program within five (5) months of completing the previous program (or OTP)
  • Bring the school/course acceptance letter and the Transfer Request Form to a International Student Advisor at your current school in order to have the SEVIS record transferred.
  • Notify the International Program Office at your school if they are currently out-of-status and in need of applying for reinstatement.
  • Attend all mandatory orientation meetings.

Transfer students do not need to:

  • Pay the SEVIS pay.
  • Obtain a new F-1 visa (unless you are planning to leave the country and your current visa is expiring).

International Travel for Incoming Transfer Students:

  • Please notify the International Student Advisor if you plan to travel outside of the United States before you begin your program at your school/course.
  • If your F1 visa is expired, you will need to obtain a new visa before beginning your studies at you school/course.


IMPORTANT: Transfer students are normally given their school I-20 document at the International Student Orientation. If you would like to receive your I-20 before that, please notify the International Student Advisor to request this.