Studying abroad will give you the opportunity to broaden your perspective, reflect on your goals, and develop a global network of friends and connections that will stay with you for the rest of your life. One of the biggest obstacles students face when deciding to study abroad is the visa application process, which varies by country and circumstances.

This guide will help international students determine how to obtain a student visa, including what is required, additional steps and obstacles added by the pandemic, and ways to manage the process to give them the best chance of obtaining a student visa.

Student visa requirements

The requirements that students abroad must meet to obtain a student visa vary greatly depending on the country in which they are studying. However, there are some general requirements that you should be aware of. These include:

  • A valid passport (make sure it doesn’t expire before your visa)
  • Clean criminal record
  • The ability to pass a health check.
  • A full course of the COVID-19 vaccine (for most countries)
  • The financial ability to support yourself for the entire duration of the visa or proof of financial aid that will cover your study abroad experience.
  • Valid health insurance or a payment in the country’s national health system.
  • A biometrics appointment where you provide fingerprints and a photograph.

What qualifies for a student visa?

Regardless of the path you choose to take classes abroad, you will need to be a full-time, face-to-face student at an accredited college or university to qualify for a student visa.

As the pandemic has required many universities to switch to a blended learning program (a combination of face-to-face and online), governments have been flexible with face-to-face requirements.

That being said, this change will be short-lived and, as a rule, you cannot get a student visa for an online course.

Student visa application process

Once you’ve determined the country you want to study in and the path you’ll take, it’s time to prepare for the actual application process. As mentioned, this varies by country, but the general steps you need to follow will remain the same.

Step 1: Find the exact requirements for the country, university, and program

The amount of research needed at this stage depends on the amount of assistance you receive from your university or program provider. If you are enrolling directly or have not received a guide from the provider or your local school, you will need to find them on your own.

Fortunately, they are usually listed on the country’s embassy website, and VisaHQ is also a useful resource for finding this information.

Please review these requirements carefully and make sure you complete them all on time. You must start this process at least 6 months before the start of your study semester abroad to allow enough time to meet all the requirements.

Make note of any steps that require an appointment, document filing, or government processing. These steps will most likely cause delays, so be sure to follow them as soon as possible!

Step 2: Apply to the university or apply for the program or exchange

Once you have determined that you have sufficient time to complete all the student visa requirements, you will need to apply for a program. Again, it depends on the path you choose.

Direct entries:

Direct enrollment is usually the cheapest option, but it also requires more steps. You will need to check the application deadlines and make sure you apply with plenty of time to spare. Be prepared to provide them with your transcripts, titles, and employment history.

Once the university accepts your application, you will need to follow the specific application process. These are some of the documents that universities usually require:

  • academic transcript
  • Graduation certificate (when applicable)
  • Language proficiency certificate
  • payment deposit
  • A scan of your current passport

When completing the student visa application, you will be required to provide proof from the university that you have successfully enrolled and are in good standing.

This usually comes in the form of a number or document provided by the international department of the university.

Direct exchange:

When going through an exchange program with your home university, the process will be clear and simple. Your study abroad or international department will provide you with detailed steps to follow and will likely have a working relationship with the foreign university to facilitate the entire process.

Still, be sure to allow plenty of time to complete all steps, especially those that require appointments outside of school (such as medical exams, background tests, or biometrics). Work closely with the school and ask as many questions as necessary. They are there to help you through the process.

Step 3: Complete your student visa application

You have finally completed all the necessary steps to apply for your student visa, now what? Well, you’re not done yet. Now you need to get all your documents together, fill out the entire form (found on the embassy website or provided to you in the previous step), and submit everything.

Each country has a slightly different process for submitting your documents and applications, which you will need to determine. This is usually done through an online portal, by submitting documents by mail, or by meeting in person at an embassy.

During the application, you will need to explain your previous international travel and may be required to provide a scan of previous passports and correspondence in your current passport.

This step is usually the longest, as the government will review your application and make sure the information you provide is correct. In some cases, they will request additional documentation and follow-up questions. Be honest and direct, and before you know it, your visa should be in the mail!

How long does a student visa last?

The student visa will last for the duration of your program, approximately one to two months. In some cases, the visa will be valid for a certain period of time (for example, one year from the date of issue). Pay close attention to the expiration date of the visa. You do not want to risk being found guilty of the visa delay.

If you plan to stay in the country longer than your student visa allows, you must apply for a new visa (usually a working holiday or visitor visa). It is common practice to leave the country and do so again, but it is not always mandatory.

Student visa costs and financing options

There are many costs to studying abroad beyond tuition or program fees. Some of which will be incurred in the student visa application process.

How much does a student visa cost?

You will need to pay a small fee to complete your student visa application. It usually ranges from $100 to $200 but varies by country. That being said, there are other costs associated with the student visa application process. These generally include:

Correspondence expenses
The cost of your health exam and possible X-rays
The cost of a background check
Any travel expenses required to attend appointments.
Fees for submitting previous graduation transcripts or certificates
A passport application fee (if you don’t already have one or need to renew it)
Payment to the country’s health system.

In addition to the processing fee, you can choose to expedite the visa application process for an additional cost. While it varies, expect to pay anywhere from $600 to $1,000 to expedite your application. Many colleges will refund part of this full fee, so check with them to see if you can get some of that money back!