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Passports & Visas

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Passports & Visas

IMPORTANT: U.S. passport processing is experiencing delays due to COVID-19, with regular processing taking up to 11 weeks and even expedited processing taking up to 7 weeks. If you are thinking about studying abroad in 2023 and need to apply for a new passport, we recommend applying as soon as possible! More information can be found on the State Department's website.

Passports Are the First Step in International Travel!

In order to apply for entry into another country, you must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months past your return date (and some countries require up to 18 months validity). If you do not currently have a passport with this validity, you should apply for a new passport immediately. See the State Department's website for instructions on how and where to apply for a new passport.

Regular passport processing times are typically 4-6 weeks. Expedited passport services are available for an additional fee. General expedited services take 2-3 weeks door-to-door. However, there are faster expediting services through the Colorado Passport Agency if you are traveling within 14 days or need a passport to secure your visa within four weeks. Note that these timelines are currently much longer and appointment availability at the Colorado Passport Agency is extremely limited (see note at the top of this page).
 
Pro-Tip: Most students need to have their passports 3-6 months prior to departure in order to apply for student visas.

We also strongly recommend your emergency contacts have a valid passport. This way, not only will they be able to visit you (if applicable), but having a valid passport also ensures they would be able to come to you in case of emergency.

 

What's the Deal with Visas?

Many countries require that you obtain a visa in order to study, intern, or even visit. The visa is issued by your host country's government, granting you permission to enter and stay in the host country; it is generally stamped inside your passport but can also be electronically linked to your passport number.

Visa application processes can vary widely depending on your passport, destination country, and even your specific program, so it is important you pay close attention to the visa instructions provided by your program, and apply as soon as you are able to do so. For some countries, the visa application process is a long, complicated process entailing substantial fees and out-of-state travel to a consulate whereas other countries may just require a quick online application; similarly, the processing time for visa applications can range from 24 hours to 3 months. See the FAQs below for more info.

Pro-Tips:

  • Know you aren't able to apply for your visa until after you have been accepted into your program (as a formal acceptance letter is a common requirement for visa applications). And application deadlines are set with visa timelines in mind.
  • Once you are accepted into your program, you will find a new item in your MyCUAbroad checklist telling you where to find the visa information specific for your program.
  • Some students even take visa requirements into consideration when choosing where to study. When planning your study abroad program, if you have questions regarding a particular country’s visa requirements, please contact your program manager.
 

Education Abroad and the University of Colorado Boulder are not responsible for obtaining student visas nor are they in any way responsible for visa complications, delays, or denials. Unfortunately, the University of Colorado does not have the ability to influence visa requirements or consular decisions. Although we're happy to help you in whatever way we can, the decision to issue a visa rests solely with the consulate or embassy.
 

Independent Travel

Some visa applications require students to surrender their passport for several weeks or months prior to the start of the education abroad program. This may impact students' independent travel plans (including travel over breaks or departing early in advance of the program). Students are responsible for researching and complying with any applicable entry requirements for independent travel plans. 

Many of our resources are geared towards advising U.S. citizens on visa requirements. If you are a passport holder for a country other than the U.S., know that visa  process for you could look quite different than that required for U.S. passport holders. For example, while U.S. passport holders may not need a visa to go on certain programs, you might, and you may need to apply in person, which usually involves out-of-state travel. Additionally, you may be required to obtain more than one visa if you hope to travel to multiple countries, or some countries require a transit visa if you are flying through their airport. It is your responsibility to research and complete the visa requirements for your individual situation carefully.

The consulate for your intended host country will have the most up to date information. However, if you are going on a program through a partner organization (CIEE, ISA, etc.), your organization will have additional information for you about the visa process. There are also a number of visa services that may be able to help you through the process (for a fee). Some of the common ones are Travisa, CIBTvisas, and TravelVisaPro, but there are many. Please note that Education Abroad cannot recommend any one service over another.


If you're an international student, make sure you're also talking to International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) about the requirements for maintaining your U.S. visa. Know that you must maintain full-time enrollment status while abroad, or else you risk jeopardizing your U.S. immigration status.

If your studies at CU are sponsored by your government or company, you must make sure that your scholarship will permit you to study outside the U.S. In order to be fully accepted into your study abroad program, you are required to meet with your Sponsored Student Advisor in ISSS. Please plan to contact your ISSS Sponsored Student Advisor and scholarship sponsor several months before you need to commit to your study abroad program, as some sponsors require documentation and need time to secure approval with the Ministry of Education or company headquarters abroad.

Please note that ISSS Advisors are unable to advise on visa requirements for your study abroad destination.

Taking Care of Your Passport and Other Important Documents

  • Make two paper copies and electronic scans of the photo page of your passport, visa (if applicable), all airline tickets and/or itineraries, other ID cards, and bank cards.
  • Leave copies of all your important documents with your parents or another responsible party, and carry the duplicate copies separately from your wallet or purse. Email yourself electronic versions so you always have a copy.
  • If you lose your passport abroad, immediately report it to the U.S. Department of State. You will also need to contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to obtain a replacement, and you may also need to obtain a new visa. See the U.S. Department of State’s FAQs on Lost Passports for more information.
 

FAQs

A visa is official permission granted by the authorities of your host country, giving you permission to enter and remain in that country for a certain purpose and period of time.

Your visa is often a physical stamp within your passport, but it could also be electronically linked to your passport number. So in order to receive your visa, you need be able to provide the consulate with actual passport that you will be travelling on.

After you are accepted into your study abroad program, you will be given information on any required visa process for your host country. You should hold off on starting the visa process until you receive instructions from your program.

In the meantime, if you want to get an idea of what the visa process may look like for your destination, you can start by referencing the Entry/Exit Requirements section in the Country Specific Information pages on the U.S. Department of State Website. There, you will find a quick overview of what's generally required and a link to the country's embassy or consulate website, which will have further detail. Note that a number of countries require that you apply for your visa through the consulate that has jurisdiction over your home state (or in some cases, the state where you are going to school). Different consulates can have very different visa processes (even within the same country), so make sure you are referencing the instructions for your consulate.

Know that entry requirements can change at any time! Pay close attention to consular and program updates, as you are responsible for knowing and addressing the requirements for your host country and education abroad program. 

If you are a non-U.S. passport holder, we recommend directly contacting the consulate based here in the U.S. to confirm the steps required for your passport.

This is a very important question, especially for students going on spring programs when there is a narrow window of time between applying for a program in the fall and the deadline to apply for a student visa. Check the application timeframe on the consulate website very carefully. Usually consulates have a beginning and ending date during which they will accept visa applications. (For example, they might accept visa applications between 30-90 days before your scheduled departure.) Apply as early as possible. This means you should start gathering the required supporting documents well in advance so that you have everything ready to go when the consulate will first start accepting visa applications.

However, some of the documents you may need won't be available until after you are accepted into your program.

This requirement varies from consulate to consulate. Some consulates accept visa applications by mail, while others require students to submit visa applications in person or to pick them up in person (or both). Some program providers have obtained permission from consulates to do batch processing of visa applications where they will collect your visa application and submit it on your behalf, but this is not common. If your program is able to provide this service, they will let you know once you have been accepted into your program.

The cost for obtaining visas varies from zero to over $500 to apply.

Education Abroad includes the estimated cost for a student visa application within the program budget that it sends to the Office of Financial Aid. This is the same as is posted on the estimated costs page. This estimate factors in the cost of applying for the student visa (including the cost of applying in person if necessary with airfare, lodging, and meals). Financial aid takes into account the total estimated cost for the program, including these visa expenses.

These requirements vary widely. Check the consulate's instructions early in the process so you will know what you need to do, and what documents you will need to request from outside sources. It could take some time for you to gather all of these pieces. Here are some examples of the types of supporting documents consulates have been known to ask for:

  • Official letter of acceptance from your home university and/or from your program provider
  • Official letter of acceptance from an institution in the country where you will be studying
  • Doctor's letter certifying that you meet certain health requirements
  • Copy of most recent parental income tax returns
  • FBI background check - If you need this, start this process soon! It can take up to 16 weeks to obtain this clearance
  • Certified check or money order for the visa fee
  • Proof of required health insurance
  • Proof of means of financial support (could include proof of financial aid award package, letter from your bank, letter from parents, etc.)
  • Proof of travel itinerary - Pay attention to the details of this requirement. If they ask for a round-trip ticket, you will need to purchase one, even though you might not know exactly when you will be returning home. We recommend booking a flight with a flexible change policy, so that you're able to adjust your return date later on as your plans finalize.
  • Passport photos -  There are many places where you can get passport photos including the Buff OneCard office, Walgreens, CVS, post offices, etc.

This scenario applies to students going to one country in the fall and then to another country in the spring, or combining a fall/spring term abroad with a summer program in another country. Doing back-to-back programs like this is certainly doable (especially if you are flexible on location or order), but some combinations can be challenging - or even impossible - due to visa processes.

This is often due to the fact that many countries require that you apply for your visa from within the U.S., and that you submit your passport to the consulate while your visa is in processing (which can take several weeks). In addition, most consulates have a timeframe in which you must apply for your visa (ex. they won't accept a visa application more than 90 days before a program start date). Meaning that students generally need to apply for their second country's visa between their two programs, so the break between their programs needs to be long enough to complete this process.

If you are interested in doing back-to-back programs, contact Education Abroad as early as you can in your planning process, and we can discuss what combinations might be doable.

If you think you might like to extend your stay for another term, you should reach out to your CU Program Manager as soon as possible. For some countries, it can be quite easy to simply extend your stay for another semester. But for others, it may not be an option at all, or you may need to return to the U.S. between semester and apply for an entirely new visa.

If you plan to work while you are studying, you could be subject to different or additional visa requirements. Check to see if your student visa allows you to work (usually not the case). Even if it is allowed you might be required to obtain a special stamp from the immigration authorities upon entering the country. The hours you are allowed to work could be limited. If you plan to do an internship (paid or unpaid) or volunteer project on your program, check with your program provider to see how this will impact visa requirements. Will you need additional paperwork documenting the nature and hours of your internship or service learning project? Will you need a special visa?  In some countries, it may not be an option at all.

All students must obtain a visa if required by their host country to participate in their program. Failure to obtain a visa will not only prevent you from attending the program, but it could also result in financial and/or academic repercussions for you as well.

You may be denied entry into, or be deported from, a country for which you have not obtained a required visa. Education Abroad and the University of Colorado Boulder are not responsible for obtaining visas nor are they in any way responsible for the consequences of visa denial.

If your host country requires a visa and you don't obtain one, you won't be able to study on your education abroad program.

The following list gives some examples of reasons that a visa might be denied:

  • incomplete visa applications, including missing signatures or supporting documents
  • visa applications submitted without a signed passport
  • visa applications turned in too early or too late
  • visa application submitted to the wrong consulate
  • not complying with certain medical requirements
  • some countries may not issue visas to persons with a criminal record

Congratulations! Your visa usually consists of an official stamp placed inside your passport. However, you aren't done yet! Carefully check all of the information in the visa. Is your name spelled correctly? Are the dates for the visa correct? If anything needs to be changed, contact the consulate immediately to ask them to correct your visa.

Many students and parents report being frustrated in their repeated and unsuccessful attempts to reach a consular official. One thing to keep in mind is that sometimes consulates are understaffed; possibly they are a one-person office. It is important to remain considerate and polite, even when feeling frustrated.

We recommend communicating with the consulate in several ways. Usually consulates have limited hours when they answer the phone. If phone calls don't go through, you can try emailing, sending a fax, or visiting in person if you live in the area. If you visit in person, see if an appointment is required. Usually one of these is the preferred method of communication. Allow several days or more for a response.

Photo by Amanda Bartel courtesy of Unsplash