Blog 🍎 School 21st June 2021

The Ultimate Guide to International Student Visas [And How to Help Your Students Apply]

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James Leach

James is senior content marketing manager at BridgeU. He writes and directs content for BridgeU's university partners and our community of international schools

The student visa application process can seem daunting and complicated. To help, we’re explaining all the processes and documents for the most popular international study destinations.

Once the university application process is out of the way, it’s tempting to imagine that the worst of the paperwork is over and done.

If you’re working as a counsellor at an international school then that’s probably not far from the truth (at least, that is, until September comes around again).

But unfortunately, your students can’t take a break from paperwork just yet.

As soon as they receive any and all of their acceptance letters, the clock starts ticking on another important document submission deadline – applying for their student visas.

For an international student, a visa is often the final piece of the application jigsaw. It’s also one of the most important steps in the whole university enrolment process – after all, it’s the document that ultimately gives a student the right to live and study in their new host country.

It’s therefore completely understandable for the student visa process to be one of the most nerve-wracking components of the enrolment process.

For many students, there’s likely a tiny but niggling fear that their visa application will be rejected for some reason and they won’t be able to take up the place at university that they worked so hard to attain.

Luckily, in most cases that fear is totally unfounded. As we’re so fond of reminding our students, most host countries are keen to welcome international students and there is plenty of guidance out there to ensure that their visa application journey is as smooth as possible!

But, as ever, the different international destinations will all have slightly differing visa application processes. And getting to grips with them can be hard.

Your more self-sufficient students may not come to you to ask about visa issues at all.

If your students do approach you for help and you’re unsure of where to direct them – don’t worry, you’re in luck.

We’ve compiled the visa processes and requirements for some of the most popular international study destinations. Click on any of the named countries below and you can get a quick and digestible overview of the student visa process.

The United States of America

Disclaimer: the USA visa process has a lot of different names for forms. Bear with us, we might throw a few different ones at you.

In order to study university or college classes in the USA that take up more than 18 hours a week, all international students need what’s called an F-1 student visa to enrol on an academic program. The US visa process typically has a lot of steps, so we’ll quickly take you through the most important ones. (It’s worth noting that the order of these steps may vary depending on the US embassy or consulate in your/your students’ country).

Step 1: Get accepted!

Hopefully, by now your students will have received one or more acceptance letters. If so, then this is the first step of the visa process ticked off their list. But they’ll need to keep their acceptance letter in a safe place. It’s going to come in handy later!

Step 2: Receive an I-20 form from the university/college

Next, the student’s university will send them an I-20 form. This basically proves that a student is eligible for what’s called ‘Nonimmigrant Student Status’ – in other words, it proves they’re going to the USA to study, and not to take up permanent residence.

Once students have completed the I-20 form, it’s important they keep a tight hold on it. They’ll need it for their visa interview!

Step 3: Complete the online visa application

Ready for another obscure form name? This one’s called the DS-160 and it’s the actual US visa application.

Once students have completed their form (and attached their photo ID) they’ll need to print off the confirmation form. Once again, this is required for the visa interview. Students will also need to pay a small processing fee for this form.

Step 4: Attend the visa interview

For many students, the visa interview can be the most nerve-wracking part. And it’s not hard to see why. This interview obviously has an effect on whether the application is ultimately successful!

Students will need to bring relevant documentation (e.g. passport) and completed forms with them to the interview (hence why it’s important to keep them handy!).

Visa interviews for the USA can also be a lot like the university application, in that students may also get asked questions about their higher education goals and how these goals relate to their career plans!

Finally, students may also need to provide proof that they have sufficient financial resources to support themselves when studying in the USA.

Step 5: Pay the SEVIS fee

This is the last bit of US visa jargon, we promise!

When students apply for their visa, they’re required to pay what’s called a SEVIS fee. The SEVIS fee contributes to funding the Student Exchange and Visitor Program, which is what allows students to enroll at university in the USA in the first place.

The SEVIS fee is another $350 for the F-1 student visa, so it’s important for students to budget for this before starting their visa application process!

Free Resource: University Preparation Checklist

The United Kingdom

There have been a few recent changes to the student visa application process in the past few years, partially due to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.

Students can apply for their visa to the UK as much as 6 months before they’re due to start their course (meaning that if they start a UK degree in September of this year, students can start their application in March!).

A UK student visa will normally cost £348 for applicants who reside outside the UK.

How to apply for your student visa in the UK

In order to be eligible for an international student visa, students need to provide evidence of an unconditional offer from their chosen university. UK universities will typically send students a reference number, called a Confirmation of Acceptance for Studies (or CAS for short).

Note that students can only begin the visa application process CAS. Students also need to remember to put their CAS number on the student visa application.

Financial eligibility

Students need to show proof that they can support themselves financially when studying in the UK. This includes:

  • Course fees – students need to demonstrate they can cover their course fees for one academic year.
  • General living costs – it’s recommended that students need £1,023 per month if they’re studying at a university outside London and £1,334 if they’re studying at a university in London.

There are a few exceptions. If students are coming to the UK from select countries around the world, they won’t be required to prove they have enough money to support themselves. The UK government has put together a handy list of these countries here.

What happens after the submission of the visa application?

Typically, after students have submitted their applications for a UK student visa, they can expect to wait around 3 weeks for a response.

Usually, students will only be contacted if their supporting documents need to be verified or if they’re required to attend an interview.

The good news? UK student visas are tailor-made for the tech-savvy student! Successful applicants either receive:


In Canada, a student visa is often referred to as a ‘study permit’. The Canadian government has put together a helpful ‘eligibility’ tool to help students check whether they will need a study permit.

Students can apply for a Canadian study permit online, but they’ll need to ensure they have their acceptance letter for a ‘designated learning institution’ (a.k.a their chosen university), in hand.

Students also need to prove that they can support themselves financially when they take up their university place in Canada (e.g. proof that you can pay your tuition fees and living expenses). They’ll also need to submit medical records that prove they’re in sufficiently good health.

As an added bonus, Canadian study permits are valid for another 90 days after international students graduate from university, leaving time to do some travelling or apply for a work permit to take up a more long-term job.

The Netherlands

For some of the countries we’ve already covered, we know that the international student visa process might have seemed like a bit of an intimidating and lengthy process.

Luckily, applying for a student visa in the Netherlands is a much more straightforward process.

EEA/EU students

Applicants to the Netherlands from a country in the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) don’t need a student visa to attend a Dutch university.

This exemption also applies for students from any of the following countries: the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Monaco, Japan, South Korea or Vatican City. Residents of these countries only need a resident permit (also known as a VVR). We’ll explain more about this in the next section.

Non EU/EEA students

For applicants outside the EU or EEA, there’s a bit more paperwork to do.

For courses in the Netherlands that will last more than 90 days (and we’ll assume that’s going to be the case), students will need an entry visa (or MVV for short) and a residence permit (VVR) that enables undergraduate students to live in the Netherlands for an extended period of time.

What are the required documents for a Dutch visa?

Students need to prepare and provide all of the following:

  • Completed visa application form.
  • A valid passport.
  • Health & travel insurance (note that if you’re an EU or EEA student then their EU Health Insurance Card should be sufficient.
  • Academic transcripts.
  • Proof that they can support themselves financially throughout their studies.
  • Proof that they’ve paid all relevant legal and visa application fees.

It’s worth noting that usually, the university will apply for both the MVV and VVR on the student’s behalf.

The MVV will allow entry into the Netherlands and then a student’s host university can assist them with the transition onto the VVR resident permit. It’s worth noting that the host university will often charge for this service.


Germany’s visa application process is similar to that of the Netherlands.

EU/EEA countries

Your German university applicants won’t need a visa to attend university in Germany if they’re based in an EU/EEA country (this includes Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein).

Other countries

Germany also provides a few exemptions for international students applying from selected other countries from around the world. Read the list below carefully, your country might be featured…

  • Students from the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, Japan or South Korea don’t need a student visa, but they will need to go to the Residents’ Registration Office within two weeks of arriving in Germany to apply for a residence permit.
  • Students from Andorra, Brazil, El Salvador, Honduras, Monaco, San Marino or Taiwan only need a visa if they plan to work before or after studying in Germany.

For students coming to Germany from any other country, it’s necessary to apply for an international student visa. We’ll explain the application process in more detail.

What documents do my students need for their German visa?

As students start their applications for their German international student visas, they’ll need the following documents:

  • Their passport.
  • A completed visa application form.
  • Two photos.
  • Academic transcripts.
  • Proof that they’ve been accepted into a university in Germany.
  • Proof that they can support themselves while living and studying in Germany.
  • Valid health/travel insurance.

Students enrolling on an English speaking course in Germany will need to show proof of a TOEFL or IELTS qualification.


Like the Netherlands and Germany, students won’t need an international student visa if they’re from an EU or EEA country – though they will still need to apply for a Spanish residence permit.

International students from a non EU/EEA country will need to apply for an international student visa for any degree programmes that last longer than 90 days. They will also need to apply for a residence permit within one month of arriving in Spain.

How to apply for a Spanish student visa

After being accepted by their chosen university in Spain, they should get in touch with the consulate or embassy in their home country to see what documents they will be required to present. Broadly speaking though, international students can expect to be asked to supply most of the following documents:

  • A completed visa application form.
  • A valid passport.
  • Letter of acceptance from their host Spanish university.
  • Information about the degree programme they’ll be studying in Spain.
  • Proof that they can support themselves while living in Spain.
  • Health insurance (international students need a minimum coverage of 300,000 euros).
  • Medical certificate.
  • Proof that they don’t have a criminal record in their home country.

Applying for a Spanish student visa can take anywhere from a few weeks to three months, so make sure they leave plenty of time to apply before they enrol on their degree programme!

Hong Kong

Students can start their student visa application when they have received their offer from a Hong Kong university.

When applying for their HK student visa, students will need a local sponsor. This can be the university they plan to enrol at. In addition to a finding sponsor, Hong Kong applicants will need to submit a number of supporting documents. These include:

  • An application for Entry for Study in Hong Kong (this is also known as an ID995A form – yes, sorry, it’s not a very catchy name!).
  • Photocopy of a passport or a valid travel document.
  • A letter of acceptance from their Hong Kong university
  • Proof of accommodation (if they’re still under 18 when they apply for their student visa)
  • Proof that students can support themselves financially in Hong Kong.
  • A parent will need to authorise a student’s sponsor as their guardian while they’re in Hong Kong if they’re under 18.

If the sponsor in question is a university, they will have to submit some supporting documents too:

  • An application for Entry for Study in Hong Kong (this is also known as ID995B – are you keeping track of the different serial numbers?)
  • A declaration that the sponsor university will provide the student with accommodation while they’re living in Hong Kong.

If the sponsor is a person, they’ll need to submit:

  • A photocopy of their Hong Kong identity document.
  • A photocopy of their travel document/passport.
  • Proof of their financial standing (e.g. bank statements, tax receipts and salary slips).

Students applying to university in Hong Kong from another country will need to post their documents to the nearest Chinese consul or embassy in their home country.


What sets the Australian international student visa apart from other countries is that international students need to prove that they only intend to live in Australia on a temporary basis whilst towards a degree – this is called the Genuine Temporary Entrant requirement.

As well as this requirement, international students also need to provide:

  • Evidence of sufficient funds to cover travel, tuition and living costs while they’re living in Australia (as of 2018, students have to prove that they have $20,290 to cover living costs while studying)
  • Students not coming from an English speaking country will need to take an English language proficiency test. In Australia, the TOEFL, IELTS, Pearson Test of English and Cambridge Advanced English are all accepted!
  • In some cases, students might also be asked to provide health/medical records.

How to apply for your Australian student visa

No matter which country students are coming from, all international students coming to Australia need to apply for the Student Visa Subclass 500 (sounds like the name of a new type of smartphone, but sadly it’s not). Prospective Australian applicants can apply for this visa online.

When students apply for their Australian student visa, they’ll need to supply the following documents.

  • A completed visa application form.
  • A paid visa application fee.
  • Proof of enrolment in an Australian university.
  • Copy of their passport.
  • Evidence of sufficient funds, English proficiency and health insurance cover.
  • 4 passport-sized photos.

A visa application in Australia normally takes about four weeks.

It’s important to remember that an Australian visa means an international students has certain obligations they have to fulfil while studying in the country.

For example, students have to remain enrolled on their course, attend classes regularly, and maintain their health insurance. If students don’t meet these requirements, the Australian government reserves the right to take their visa away. But don’t worry, we know that BridgeU students are a hard-working bunch, so we don’t envision this happening!


The Japanese student visa system works slightly differently to some of the others we’ve covered, in that students send their visa applications to their chosen university, and the university applies to the immigration authorities in Japan on the student’s behalf.

However, apart from that, the Japanese application process is broadly similar to the others we’ve covered with the other countries.

As with other countries, international students need to have successfully applied to a Japanese university before they can begin the visa application process.

How to apply for a Japanese student visa

Applying for a Japanese student visa is a lot like making an actual university application. A number of the supporting items students need to provide include:

  • An application form, wherein students are expected to talk a little about themselves and what they want to get out of the course.
  • A personal history form, wherein students need to talk about their educational history to date.
  • They’ll need to write an application essay on what motivated them to apply to university in Japan.
  • Transcripts from their previous school.
  • A copy of their passport and some passport photos.
  • Proof that students can support themselves while studying in Japan, including a written pledge from their sponsor/guarantor that they can cover the cost of living if necessary.
  • Some Japanese universities will ask students to provide medical histories.

Once a student has sent these documents to the relevant university, the university will apply to Japanese immigration services on the student’s behalf. When this process is complete, the university will issue a Certificate of Enrollment (or C of E for short).

When the Certificate of Enrollment has been issued, your students can start the next step, which is applying through the Japanese embassy in their home country.

The good news is that this step is really similar to what came before. To apply through the embassy, students need their C of E, a passport, a passport photo and a visa application form.

When students arrive in Japan

Unfortunately, arriving in Japan is not the end of the journey. When students land in Japan to start at university they’ll need to fill in a landing card wherein they need to explain the purpose of their visit.

When students arrive at the airport, they’re issued with their Residence Card, which acts a bit like an ID card for students to carry when they’re studying in Japan.

South Korea

You’re probably used to hearing this by now, but before your students can start their South Korean visa application, they’ll need to demonstrate that they’ve been awarded a place. In South Korea, this is called a Certificate of Admission.

Once students have their Certificate of Admission, it’s time to apply for the visa through their relevant South Korean embassy.

How to apply for a South Korean visa

When students apply through their local Korean embassy, there are a number of things they’ll need to submit in support of the application. The list below might differ depending on what nationality they are or what country they’re applying from.

  • An original passport and a copy of the page that has their photo on it.
  • Proof of their Certificate of Admission.
  • The visa application fee.
  • A completed visa application form.
  • A passport photo.

It will depend on which embassy students are applying from, but they may also be required to submit their high school diploma/academic records and proof that they can support themselves financially while living in South Korea.

When students arrive in South Korea

South Korea is similar to Japan in that international students will need to fill in a landing card when they arrive in the country, explaining the purpose of their trip. Obviously, they’re coming in on a student visa, you can obviously put that on the form!

There’s one more piece of paperwork they’ll need to complete in their first 90 days living in Korea. It’s called an Alien Registration Card (ARC) and it acts as an ID card for the duration of an undergraduate’s time in South Korea.


At the time that we published this article, many countries still had COVID-19 contingency measures in place, South Korea included. This won’t affect students’ chances of studying in South Korea, but we should mention that they’ll need a negative PCR test, taken within 72 hours of their arrival in South Korea.

We know that COVID-19 can make it feel like rules and regulations are changing all the time, so we’d recommend that students check with their relevant South Korean embassy if they’re unsure about anything.

Make sure students have everything ready for university abroad

The student visa application process will require a lot of organisation, but there are plenty of other things students need to do to be fully prepared to move abroad for university.

To help them stay on-track and make sure they start the new semester feeling confident and prepared, why not give them this university preparation checklist? It covers important tasks in key areas like accommodation, lifestyle and finances to make sure nothing gets forgotten! 

Free Resource: University Preparation Checklist