Acquiring F-1/J-1 Status

Once you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, you can acquire your F-1 or J-1 status.

Steps for F-1/J-1 Status
Pay the SEVIS fee

Pay the SEVIS fee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

  • This is required for all initial F-1 and J-1 students.

Obtain the visa

Apply for an F-1 or J-1 US entry visa  at a US embassy or consulate in your home country. 

  • Once approved, the consulate will place a F-1 or J-1 US entry visa sticker in your passport.

  • For additional information on the visa process and potential issues, see the US Entry Visa section of our site. 

  • If your visa application is delayed or denied, please email us with any other relevant details.

Enter the United States

Enter the United States within 30 days of the program start date on Form I-20 or DS-2019.  

  • For additional travel information and documents requirements, see our travel page.  

NOTE:  Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from the US entry visa requirement but still must pay the SEVIS fee and present form I-20 or DS-2019 when entering as an F-1 or J-1 student.

Health Insurance requirement for J-1 Students and J-2 Dependents:  The US Department of State requires J-1 and J-2 Exchange Visitors to be compliant with certain health insurance standards.  Please immediately review the J-1 Insurance information.


Other Options

The above process applies to the majority of students who will be travel from abroad and enter the US to gain F-1 or J-1 status. 

Instead of travel, certain new students may be eligible to acquire or continue F-1 or J-1 status under the following scenarios.

For eligible students who:

  • Currently hold a valid non-immigrant status in the US 

  • Will not travel internationally before the start of their F-1 or J-1 program

  • Will apply for a change of status with USCIS to gain F-1 or J-1 status

Note: Students will need to update ISSS on the progress of their change status application. In particular, if not approved before the I-20/DS-2019 start date and/or once it is approved by USCIS.

For students who currently hold a valid SEVIS record at another institution in F-1 or J-1 Student status and will request their current F-1 or J-1 SEVIS record to be transferred to Penn.

To determine transfer eligibility, students should consult with their current F-1 or J-1 program sponsor.

  • For F-1 students:

    • Must report to ISSS within 15 days of program start date on the I-20

    • F-1 transfer students who still have an unexpired F-1 entry visa from their previous program may continue to use that visa for travel.

  • J-1 students must:

    • Must obtain approval from the current J-1 sponsor and Penn, in which both parties confirm that there is no major change in the J-1 visitor's program objective.

    • Must report to ISSS within 20 days from program start date on the DS-2019

For F-1 students changing from one degree program to another within Penn may apply for a new I-20 for their new program in iPenn.   The online request must be submitted to ISSS at least 3 weeks before the current program expires.  Please consult with your ISSS Advisor with any questions.

For J-1 students, please consult with your ISSS Advisor.

A student returning from a leave of absence should apply for a new I-20 or DS-2019 in iPenn after their academic school has confirmed their return to Penn and updated their student record. Contact ISSS with questions.


What's Next

Be sure to check-in with ISSS when you arrive at Penn.  Visit the Welcome to Penn section of the site to help you with non-immigration related items like housing and campus life.