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Pre-Arrival Checklist

Follow this pre-arrival checklist for new students to make sure you complete all required steps related to your F-1 or J-1 status.

Step 1: Request your I-20 or DS-2019

Freshman, Transfer, and Graduate Students

Three to five (3–5) days after you have confirmed enrollment through the Enrollment Confirmation System, you will receive an email invitation to the UW’s MyISSS immigration portal which will give you access to your immigration profile and where you can request your I-20 or DS-2019 for studies at the UW.

Once you receive the invitation, use the link from the email to login with your UW NetID and password. Follow the online instructions to complete the information and upload required documents to request an I-20 or DS-2019. A copy of the biographical page (photo page) of your passport and proof of funding for studies in the U.S. are required. This request must be completed online through your MyISSS profile and is the only way you can request an I-20 or DS-2019. Be sure to Submit your Create I-20 or DS-2019 request once you have completed all requirements and information. An I-20 or DS-2019 issued by the UW is required before you can apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa from the U.S. consulate or embassy.

Undergraduate Exchange Students

Review the Learning Content information through your UW Study Abroad account.

Step 2: Apply for Your Visa

Obtain a passport

If you are living outside the U.S. you must obtain a passport from your home government.

Apply for your F-1 or J-1 visa**

As soon as you receive your I-20 or DS-2019, schedule a visa appointment at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Important! Apply for Your Visa as Early as Possible

  • F-1 visas may be issued up to 120 days before the program start date listed on your I-20
  • J-1 visas may be issued at any time before the start date of your program

**Citizens from Canada and Bermuda do not need to apply for a visa. You will simply present the I-20 or DS-2019, I-901 SEVIS fee receipt, and financial documentation to the immigration officer at the U.S. port of entry. A passport will be required. For more information, visit U.S. Department of State’s travel pages.

Visa Interview Tips and Required Documents

Review the Visas page for information about preparing your supporting documents and getting ready for your visa interview

Visas for SEVIS Transfer Students

If you are changing schools within the U.S. and transferring your SEVIS record to the UW, there are visa and travel policies unique to your situation.

  • You can travel with a valid, unexpired F-1 visa and a “transfer pending” UW I-20, even if the visa has your previous school’s name on it. As long as your visa is still valid and you have not been outside of the U.S. more than five months between the end of your previous program and your return to the U.S.
  • You are allowed to stay in the U.S. with a transfer pending I-20 as long as the end of your previous program and the start of your new program is no more than 5 months. You are also allowed to travel outside the U.S. with a transfer pending I-20 and return at any time to the U.S.

Step 3: Pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee

All F-1 international students and J-1 exchange visitors must pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee. This fee is separate from visa fees.

USCIS I-901 Fee

Step 4: Plan Travel

Earliest Admission Date (30-Day Arrival Window)

Students issued an Initial (new) I-20 or DS-2019 are allowed to enter the U.S. up to 30 days before the program start date printed on their I-20/DS-2019. This is the earliest date you are allowed to enter the U.S. and is called the “30-Day Arrival Window.” The Earliest Admission Date is printed in the Program of Study section on the I-20 form.

Entry to the U.S. more than 30 days before the program start date is against U.S. immigration law. The only exception is for students whose SEVIS record was transferred from a previous school and they have received a Transfer Pending I-20. The Earliest Admission Date will be blank in the Program of Study section on a transfer pending I-20 form.

SEVIS Transfer Students — Earliest Admission Date and Multiple Trip Exception

  • The 30-day rule is only for travel with an Initial I-20. If your I-20 Form Issue Reason is “Transfer Pending” and the Earliest Admission Date is blank, you are allowed to return to the U.S. at any time between the end of your previous program and the start of your UW program.
  • You can use your UW “transfer pending” I-20 for one entry to the U.S. before your academic program starts at the UW. You will not be eligible for a travel signature for multiple entries until after your academic program begins.

Travel Signatures

30-day arrival window Requirements
First entry Your first entry into the U.S. using your UW I-20/DS-2019 does not require a Travel Signature
Multiple entries Multiple trips during the 30-day arrival window are not recommended

Step 5: Enroll in Classes and Health Insurance

Who Must Have Health Insurance?

All F-1 and J-1 students must maintain adequate health insurance and are required to purchase the UW’s International Student Health Insurance Plan (ISHIP) designed specifically for UW international students and their dependents. Review the ISHIP Frequently Asked Questions for further details on the health insurance program.

Review the insurance waiver eligibility requirements to see if you qualify for an insurance waiver. If you are enrolling in online courses only at the UW, you will be prompted to enroll in health insurance during the class registration process. Once you have registered, submit an insurance waiver if you are not physically in the U.S.


ISHIP coverage generally begins September 1. Students who plan to arrive in the U.S. before the ISHIP coverage begins, should purchase a separate short-term insurance plan to cover medical needs that might occur before the ISHIP coverage begins. Short-term options are available through private insurance companies.

Step 6: Review Post-Arrival Checklist

Review the Post-Arrival Checklist to be prepared for your arrival in Seattle.

Step 7: J-1 Students Only

Review the Health Insurance Information for J-1 Exchange Visitors

Review the ISS health insurance information, including the U.S. government’s specific J-1 health insurance requirements. It might seem early to start reviewing and completing this form, but we want you to have plenty of time to understand the insurance requirements and coverage options.

When you complete the ISS Immigration Check-In for J-1 students, you will be asked to confirm your health insurance meets the U.S. government’s legal requirements (review instructions in the post-arrival checklist).

Review the Welcome Brochure

The purpose of the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program is to promote mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries through education and cultural exchange. Review the Department of State’s Welcome Brochure.