Far From Home: A Guide to Pre-Departure Preparations

Written by: Chong Tien Ee (19-E3) and Zhao Keyang (19-I1)

Designed by: Jo Yeoul (19-A2)

 

You’ve just gotten some offers from US universities. It’s not nearly as exciting as getting your Hogwarts letter, but close enough. Offers typically start rolling in between March and April and this is when you will need to choose. It is common for prospective students to receive multiple offers, so do consider all your options before deciding on which school to go to. Be sure to check your junk mail box because applicants often miss out on offers when an offer gets mistakenly sent to the junk mail box. Upon confirming your attendance at one university, make necessary preparations before flying out of Singapore. 

   

Student Visa

Although obtaining a Visa seems daunting, most Singaporean students have no difficulty in obtaining their Visa. Here are the steps to applying for one:

 

  1. Accept a university’s offer, and you will receive a form, also known as I-20, from your university. 
  2. Pay US$200. This is called the SEVIS fee and the money will go to the administration that keeps track of your status and transfers as a university student in the US. You can pay this fee online at www.fmjfee.com. Your SEVIS fee must be paid 3 business days before your scheduled Visa interview. You must print your SEVIS fee payment receipt and bring it along for your interview. 
  3. Fill up the DS-160 online Visa application form. It can be accessed through http://ustraveldocs.com/sg. When you complete this form, you will be given a barcode. 
  4. Bring the barcode to the nearest SingPost, SAM Kiosk or SAM web to make a payment of US$160. This is considered the Visa application fee. You will receive a receipt for your payment. 
  5. Schedule your Visa interview at http://ustraveldocs.com/sg. You can apply for your visa up to 120 days before the start date stated on your I-20. 
  6. Go for your interview at the US embassy at your assigned interview time. Bring along your SEVIS and Visa fee receipts, your passport, a recent photo of yourself, I-20, academic transcripts and proof of funds for education, such as financial statements or scholarships. TOEFL applicants need to bring their scores. 
  7. Arrive at the US embassy at least 15 minutes before your interview time and wait at the sheltered area and allow initial document check to be conducted. You will need to go through a security screening before approaching the consular waiting room. A document check will be conducted and a barcode sticker will be given to you. Approach intake window 2 and get a queue number for fingerprinting. Your fingerprints will be collected and recorded at window 3. After which you can join the interview line. 
  8. Enter the interview room and be interviewed by embassy officers. During the interview, you will be asked to prove that you have significant ties outside the US, which is most likely your parents or other family members, and your intention to return to your country of residence. However, this does not mean you need to promise to return to Singapore once the 4 years of education is over. The embassy understands that some prospective students will want to continue graduate education in the US or look for jobs in the US. However, they do want to see that your intentions to study in the US are genuine, and you are not just going to the US in hopes of being able to migrate there. Lastly, show your ability to finance your education. If your application is approved, the US embassy will return your passport and Visa within 3 business days. 

 

Now that you have your Visa, you are allowed to enter the US up to 30 days before the I-20 start date. Always remember to bring your I-20 with you in your carry on luggage, as the immigration officers at the airport will stamp your I-20 and take your photograph and fingerprints. In order to maintain your status as a student with a Visa, you have to be admitted to a school for the duration of your stay. This means you will need to complete at least 12 credit hours per semester. However, in cases of medical emergencies, thesis writing term or final semester, you are excused from the minimum requirements of credit hours per semester. There will be advisors for these matters in your university, so do approach them if you have any queries or come across any difficulties during your university life. If for some reason you are out of class for more than 5 months, you will need a new F-1 visa. Take note that you must always carry your I-20 with you when traveling outside of the U.S. If it expires while you are outside of the US, you need to apply for a new Visa.  

 

Once you complete your studies you will be allowed to stay in the US for up to 12 months with a Visa called OTP, which means you need to seek a temporary internship directly related to your course of study. Students with a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math (STEM) are allowed to stay up to 29 months. To participate in OTP, you will need to get an OTP endorsement for your I-20, an Employment Authorisation Document (EAD) and a Social Security number. More details will be provided for you by your school nearer to your graduation date. 

 

Useful links

Pay your SEVIS fee here:  www.fmjfee.com

Fill up the DS-160 online visa application form and schedule a VISA interview here: http://www.ustraveldocs.com/sg

 

Accommodation

You are going to a country across the Pacific Ocean for higher education, on your own and you require a place to stay. There are many housing options available. Upon confirming your attendance at a particular school,  information regarding accommodation will be sent to you. 

 

Most schools offer on-campus dormitories for first-year students. These dormitories are typically near libraries, cafeterias, and other school facilities. There are different types of dormitories but it is common for students to have at least one roommate and share communal living spaces with other students. Some schools offer suite type dormitories on campus. Suites allow a group of students to stay in an apartment-like space, with bathrooms and a kitchen to be shared with the people living in the same suite. Some schools offer single rooms as well, but this option is not common. Students who live on campus will most likely be offered meal plans so they can have their meals at the school cafeteria. Living in an on-campus dormitory will bring you closer to the social and academic scene of your school. 

 

Some students may also choose to stay off-campus. They usually lease an apartment alone or with friends. These students are usually in their third or fourth year and have a better idea of the city they are studying in. It is usually not recommended for first-year students to seek off-campus housing options because they need time to adapt to their new environment. Some universities actually provide the service of giving students who prefer to live off-campus advice on how and where to look for places to stay off-campus. They may even suggest some trustworthy landlords in the area. 

 

Homestay programmes are another option and a great way for you to immerse yourself in American culture. This programme provides accommodation to international students by connecting them with local host families. These host families will provide the international student with a place to stay, meals and most importantly, support. International students can experience American culture firsthand through participation in the host family’s daily routines. The host family will take care of most of your needs and they may help you get more acclimated with life in the US.        

 

With all this information in your mind and the valid documents in your hand, all that you have left is to pack your bags and buy a plane ticket. Fly across the world and get ready for the beginning of a new adventure. 

 

Bibliography

  1. U.S. Visa Information Service for Singapore (n.d.). Apply for a U.S. Visa. Retrieved from http://www.ustraveldocs.com/sg
  2. Department of Homeland Security (n.d.). Form I-901. Retrieved from http://www.fmjfee.com/
  3. International Student (n.d.). Accommodation Options for US Schools: Study in the USA. Retrieved from https://www.internationalstudent.com/study_usa/way-of-life/accommodation/
  4. Postgrad.com (n.d.). US Student Accommodation. Retrieved from https://www.postgrad.com/study-in-usa/postgraduate-programs-in-america/usa-student-accommodation/
  5. International Student (n.d.). Homestay Programs. Retrieved from https://www.internationalstudent.com/homestay/
  6. International Student (n.d.). Money Matters: Study in the USA. Retrieved from https://www.internationalstudent.com/study_usa/way-of-life/money-matters/ 

 

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