So you’ve been accepted to study abroad with BCA – congratulations! This is an exciting time as you begin to imagine your life abroad. You’ll also have a number of materials to complete for BCA and your host program. This might include applying for a student visa. But don’t worry – all this information is available in your BCA portal online and your program adviser is here to help!
What is a visa?
A visa is a document that grants permission to travel or study in a different country. This is typically a sticker that is placed in your passport that can then be viewed by border staff as you enter and exit countries. Decisions about who is eligible for a visa is determined by the country’s consulates or embassies.
How do I apply for a visa?
The first step is to ensure you have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months past your program end date and has at least one blank page (where the consulate or embassy can attach your granted visa). If you do not have a passport, apply for one immediately! US citizens can find more information about this process online at https://travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/passports.html.
It’s important to recognize that visa requirements vary by country. Some BCA program locations don’t require you to apply for a visa in advance (instead, you’ll work on the visa process after your arrival). Either way, you will find program-specific visa instructions in your BCA online portal. While there are some common requirements across countries, it’s important to remember that visa requirements can even vary by consulate for the same country. Because of this, you’ll want to be sure that you’re following the instructions that are specific to your circumstances.
Typical visa application materials include:
- an acceptance letter
- additional passport-style photographs
- proof of international health insurance
- proof of financial means (indicating that you or your guardians can cover the cost of your living expenses abroad)
- a visa application form
Please note that BCA will give you your acceptance letter and proof of international health insurance, so you can already check some things off your list!
Some countries may require you to have an in-person appointment to apply for your visa. This can sometimes even mean traveling out of state to the consulate that represents your visa. Others may allow you to submit your materials by mail. Either way, it’s important to understand how long it will take to process your visa and be sure you submit your materials in plenty of time before your program starts. Remember, you won’t be able to participate on your program without a visa, if it’s required!
Tips to Navigate the Student Visa Process
- Don’t plan international travel (where you’ll need a passport) during the visa application period (typically no more than 90 and no less than 30 days before your program start date). You will need to submit your passport as a part of the visa application process, so you won’t be able to leave or re-enter the country during this time
- Keep yourself on track! BCA will provide program-specific visa information once you have been accepted to a program. We encourage you to read this information carefully and create a checklist and timeline for yourself.
- Make photocopies of all the materials you will be submitting as a part of your visa. Some consulates will request copies – but either way, it’s good to be prepared!
- Be prepared and be polite! You may need to contact the consulate for more information or for your visa appointment. It’s important to be polite and respectful to the consular staff – they often have discretion around visa application materials. You’ll also want to be sure you have all the required materials ready to go when you arrive for your appointment (consulates won’t even make photocopies for you).
- Don’t give up! Although the visa process can feel overwhelming at times remember that study abroad students successfully apply for and receive visas each semester. If you have questions or concerns, please feel free to reach out to your BCA program adviser. In many cases, you will ultimately have to be in touch with the consulate directly, but your program adviser can help you prepare for these conversations, outline your questions and share past experiences.
Remember, you don’t need to worry about this until you have been accepted into your study abroad program (other than applying for a passport – go for that now!). While the visa application process can be bureaucratic and paperwork heavy, it is not typically too challenging (and also ends with a semester or year abroad!). You can think back on the process and smile while enjoying mussels in Belgium, hiking in New Zealand, eating dinner with your host family in Ecuador, or volunteering in a local school in Spain!