All nonimmigrants require a valid visa stamp in their passports before coming to the U.S. under any nonimmigrant status, including F & J. An exception to this rule exists for citizens of Canada (and Bermuda under limited circumstances), who are visa exempt. All students must make sure that their passports are correctly stamped upon entry with their intended status.
Visa stamps in passports are used only for admission to the U.S. Upon entry into the U.S. visa stamps do not contribute to one's legal status and may expire while the the nonimmigrant is residing in the U.S. However, an expired visa must be renewed following a departure from the U.S. with the intent to return in the corresponding legal status. Do not mistake the validity of your visa for the duration of approved stay in the U.S.
Visit this link for a list of embassies, consulates and diplomatic missions. Each website will have specific visa application procedures for your area. This State Department website gives information about visa wait times in your area. Note that visa application procedures, appointment times and visa issuance times are subject to change without notice.
Visa application appointments must be scheduled in advance. Allow at least one month to schedule your visa application appointment. In some instances, applications must be scheduled many months in advance. Note that visa applications will often require a document from the U.S. such as an I-20, DS-2019, or I-797. You should schedule your visa application appointment for a date when you will have all requisite materials at the time of your application.
F-1 and J-1 applicants must demonstrate to the U.S. consulate that they do not plan to reside in the U.S. permanently. These applicants should be prepared to provide the consulate with ample documentation that they plan to return to their home country.
F-1 and J-1 applicants must also pay the SEVIS fee prior to their applications for initial F or J status.
Some visa applicants may be subject to additional processing which will increase the typical processing time. Administrative Processing is a general term used for a security review of a visa application. It can add weeks, sometimes months to the usual visa processing time. Once a security review is begun, there is nothing the university or other interested parties can do to accelerate the process. You should inform the ISO and your advisors if you have been subject to review.
Consult with the ISO before any departure about needed documents for the visa application.