Berkeley Pre-Arrival Prep 1: Visa

The international exchange is a great opportunity to explore more cultures, academia and yourself. I was motivated to go study abroad for a year during fresher’s week in my first year at Glasgow. Don’t get me wrong – I am really happy in Glasgow: a great university, wonderful people and lots to do. Yet, the option of discovering another continent as a student is a priceless experience.

As a psychology student at GU, the places that offer exchanges are limited. My first choice was the university of California. As the University of California has 10 different campuses I had to list my top 3 choices, number 1 was Berkeley. The Berkeley campus, aka “Cal”, is a very well known university, especially for the social sciences and its top research. I began my reading online about  Berkeley, California and the United States. Berkeley quickly became my dream, I spent lots of time reading and talking about it & even hung up little motivational notes on my desk. Overall, I invested a lot of time in my applications and also met up with one of the previous exchange students that had returned from Berkeley herself. The hard work paid off – I made it happen. I am at Berkeley now and I would like to take you along my adventures in the United States of America.

UCB Campus

UCB Campus

However, before I landed at the San Francisco International Airport, there were several things that had to be done.

VISA 

The USA somehow makes it a little tricky to enter their country. I felt a little thrown into cold water when I had to fill out all this different forms and finding an interview appointment. Therefore, I hope to help you a little with this blog post.

The most important tip I can give you is to start this process as early as possible!

  1. The first step is to wait for your acceptance e-mail from Cal and then they will tell you what to do. The first step for me was to create a ‘CalNet ID’ to register on the Berkeley website. Then you have to complete the NIF (Non-Immigrant Information Form). It is an online application form for international students to confirm their status in the USA. After the completion of the NIF and your financial documentation the information gets processed and they will send GU a Visa document called DS-2019.
  2. GU will let you know once the DS-2019 has arrived and you can pick it up from the student services. Once you have this document you can go online and find the nearest US embassy to you and read up about Visas.
    This is a good starting point: http://travel.state.gov/content/visas/english.html
  3. On the US visa website you will have to complete an online nonimmigrant Visa application, named DS-160. Most exchange students request a J-1 visa. The form asks you many different questions from your country of origin all the way to if you have ever been involved in human trafficking. It took me a long afternoon to complete this, take your time and don’t rush through it.
  4. If I remember correctly I then had to complete an I-901 form and pay a SEVIS fee, which is a government fee, of $180. This is for especially for exchange students. http://www.ice.gov/sevis
  5. Only then can you schedule an interview at the US embassy. Before you have the interview you already have to pay online for your J-1 visa though, which is $160.
  6. Bring along all of your documents, forms and receipts with you to your interview. You cannot take anything inside the embassy besides these documents. At the embassy in Frankfurt you may give your belongings to the officers at the entrance after going through a complete security check. I did not have to wait too long in all the queues and everything went pretty quickly. The so called ‘interview’ consisted of only one question: “What are you going to do in the USA?”. I handed in my passport and DS-2019 and was finished in half an hour.
    Important: note that they take your passport and then send it to you by post with your visa.

You should still read up about the visa application process yourself just to double check and to try and understand it a little. It is a pain to do all of this, but just think about the wonderful time you will have once you finally enter this country!

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