Stephen F. Austin State University

Passport and Visa

OIP does not provide a service for passports or visas, but can recommend companies that do provide visa services for students who are traveling abroad. It is up to you to find out what you need based on your travel plans and your citizenship, and to take the necessary steps to ensure that you have the required documents before, during, and after your international experience. Not having your travel documents in order can jeopardize your eligibility to travel, and is not sufficient grounds for a refund of any fees paid or owed to SFA or third party provider, so please read the following information carefully!


In order to travel abroad, students must hold passports that will be valid for at least six months AFTER the end of the proposed study abroad program. For information on how to apply for a passport, the requirements, the costs, and the estimated processing times, please visit the US Department of State.

Students who need to renew or apply for a passport with limited time before travel will be able to expedite their passport processing. The Houston Passport Agency handles appointments for expedited passport applications and renewals. If you are not a US citizen, you must contact the embassy or consulate from your home country to inquire about passport application or renewal requirements.


If a visa is required before your departure, you will apply through the nearest host country consulate within the U.S. and should refer to the consular office's website for more information on visa fees and processes. A visa is an official document issued by the government of the host country that grants entry for your stay. Visas may be stamped or glued directly into a passport for convenience, or they may be issued separately, in the form of documents which must be carefully protected to ensure that they are not lost or stolen. Some nations require everyone who enters to get a visa, while others have reciprocal agreements with certain nations which waive visa requirements.$0 $0 $0 Visas are issued by the government of the foreign country to which you wish to travel. You must apply to receive a visa by following the specific requirements of that government. The granting of a visa is always the prerogative of the foreign government; you do not have any inherent "right" to receive a visa. A visa application typically involves a fee, which may be as little as $30 or as much as $300. Some governments require that you travel to the nearest consulate in order to apply for or receive your visa; the nearest consulates for countries to which SFA students travel are generally located in Houston.

Who needs a visa?

This completely depends on the country to which students are traveling. The U.S. Department of State Travel website can help determine whether or not you need a visa to study abroad. Each country (or sometime, a group of countries together, such as the SHENGEN countries in Europe) sets the visa requirements to visit/study in/work in/live in that country. In some countries, a visa is necessary just to cross the border for any length of time (China, Vietnam, Brazil), but for other countries, a visa is only necessary for people planning on staying for more than 30, 60, or 90 days.

What documents do I need to get a visa?

Again, this completely depends on the country. For a student visa, most countries require proof of enrollment in a university or recognized study abroad program, some kind of assurance that you will be covered financially for the duration of your stay, and proof of international insurance at the very least. Other countries, such as the United Kingdom, have much more involved processes for obtaining visas that may require a doctor's appointment, TB test and/or HIV test, a federal background check, or a biometrics appointment. One thing that will be required for all visas (and for all traveling, even if a visa is not required) is a passport valid for at least 6 months after returning to the United States once your program is finished. If you have traveled frequently, please also check to make sure that you have enough blank visa pages left in your passport prior to sending your passport to the consulate.

Does it matter what type of photos I send?

Yes! Most consulates are VERY particular about the photos they need. Usually, they need to be 2" x 2" head and shoulder shots, and sometimes they are even more specific than that on the dimensions and other particulars (as the U.S. is for passport applications). Don't use scanned or digital photos.

How long does it take to get a visa?

Once again, this depends on the country. Some visas can be processed completely by mail and can be done in 2-3 weeks or less, while others may take a number of months. It is important to start planning early to obtain a visa. If you do not already have a passport or your passport will expire less than 6 months after your return from study abroad, you will need to start even earlier, as it can take up to 12 weeks to receive your passport after applying for one or renewing it.

Where can I find information about visa requirements for the country I'm going to?

The internet is a great resource for finding visa requirements, but the results of a simple search can be daunting. A good place to start is to find the website of the nearest consular office for that country, typically Houston. Typing "Houston," "Consulate" "Student Visa" and "Name of Country" into a search engine will usually bring back a number of results. Note that not all embassies or consulates have websites. There are also agencies that assist with the process of obtaining a visa, and their websites can also be helpful in finding requirements.

ENTRY REQUIREMENTS CAN CHANGE AT ANY TIME. We advise that you pay close attention to consular updates, as you are responsible for knowing and addressing the requirements for your host country and study abroad program.

If you need to send your visa application in by mail, you are almost surely required to mail your actual U.S. passport along with your visa application. This means that you must plan to remain inside the United States from the time you send your visa application in until you receive your visa, which could take from one week up to two months, depending on where you are going. You will also need to be sure to make photo copies of all documents you are sending in with your passport and send your visa application through certified mail with a tracking number. Some consulates/embassies have certain mailing requirements, so make sure that you know if there are requirements and what they are.

Are there different procedures for international students who are applying for a visa to study abroad?

Visa requirements differ depending on your country of citizenship, so keep this in mind when seeking information or asking questions about the visa application process. If you are not a US citizen, make sure you also have all documents required to re-enter the United States upon completion of your study abroad program. Please contact your SFA International Advisor to ensure that you will not jeopardize your current status by participating in a program abroad.

What are my responsibilities in obtaining a visa?

For students participating on SFA faculty-led programs, OIP will typically help you with all of your visa arrangements. For students traveling abroad for a summer, semester, or academic year, it is your responsibility to find and make sure that you understand all of the visa requirements, gather the required documentation, pay the visa fee, make travel arrangements to apply for or pick up your visa (if necessary), and make sure you do so in a timely manner so you have your visa in hand before you need to leave for your study abroad experience. If you are having trouble finding or understanding the visa requirements, OIP will help you to find information, but you are responsible for making an appointment to receive such help.

Can I do independent travel prior to the start of my program?

Please be aware that the visa application process for some countries may require students to surrender their passport for several weeks or months prior to the start of the study abroad program. These consular requirements may impact your independent travel plans. You should investigate the visa requirements prior to planning independent travel (including travel over breaks or arriving early to your program site).