One of the least talked about struggles of studying abroad is applying for a student visa. Unlike passports, obtaining a visa is a long, tedious process that cannot be expedited. Before you start dreaming about living in another country and traveling around the world… plan out how you are going to get this done. The visa application program differs depending on where you study abroad, so make sure you check with your abroad counselor as well as with your local consulate.
What is a student Visa?
In order to visit another country for longer than 90 days, you must have government approval. For students, this is approved as a “student visa.” In order to get your visa accepted, you must go through an application process and provide proof that you are enrolled in a school in your host country. This being said, you cannot apply for a visa before getting admitted to your program.
How do I get it?
There are a few different ways to apply for a visa, but each one of these takes time. Every country offers various ways of obtaining a visa, some stricter than others. Depending on the country you study abroad in, they will have you attend an application center or make an appointment at a consulate. Visa’s take about 6-8 weeks to be processed so make sure you take this into consideration when making an appointment.
1.) Make an appointment at your local consulate.
Months before you plan on traveling abroad, go online and make an appointment at the consulate, in the state of your home school. For example, if you go to the University of Texas and are planning on traveling to Barcelona make sure you make an appointment at the Spanish embassy in Texas. This is not always emphasized and has caused so many issues for students. These appointments need to be booked MONTHS in advance, as they fill up fast. Applying at a consulate is the cheapest option since you are not going through anyone else.
2.) Visa Application Center
Some countries give you the option to apply for a visa at application centers. If this is the case for you, the process is way less stressful, but should still be taken seriously. (Spain does not allow this). This being said, make sure you get an appointment and give yourself enough time for it to be processed and sent to you.
3.) Travel Visa Services
Many abroad programs offer visa programs that make it easy for students to apply. This can be pretty costly but is generally the easiest option. You will be required to send in all the paperwork along with your passport and proof of residency. They handle the rest and then mail you back your passport and vias. BUT, the process takes longer than other options AND means you will not have a passport for about two months. This being said, do not plan on traveling or leaving the country during that time because it will not be possible. (This happened to me and it sucked) Again, make sure you are proactive and give yourself enough time to send in all the required material.
Things to Consider
You will not be allowed to travel abroad without a visa. I have heard actual horror stories about students not being able to go because they didn’t figure out their visa situation. You don’t want to be one of those kids. Make sure you give yourself time and plan appointments far in advance. Although your study abroad coordinator might think she is giving you the correct information, double check with your local embassy that you are following the correct procedures.