New International Students Pre-Arrival Checklist

Hello Gators!

Follow this pre-arrival checklist for new international students and complete all required steps related to your F-1 international student or J-1 exchange student status.

Pre-Arrival Checklist (F-1 and J-1 Exchange)

Before Applying for a Visa

  1. Review the immigration documents (DS-2019 or I-20) when received. 
  2. Verify that all the information is correct (name spelled correctly, birth date, program dates, etc.).  
  3. Create a folder for all of the important documents – make extra copies of all immigration documents.  
  4. Pay SEVIS fee:   
  5. Locate a local U.S. consulate; schedule an appointment for a visa interview:

Canadian citizens do not need visas to enter and study in the U.S. However, Canadian student must obtain an I-20 or DS-2019 from SF State, and pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee at Canadian students should enter the U.S. with their passports, I-20 or DS-2019 issued by SF State, and other supporting documentation.  

Visa Interview Requirement

The visa interview requirement may be waived for F and academic J visa applicants who:

  • Were previously issued any type of U.S. visa, and who have never been refused a visa unless such refusal was overcome or waived, or
  • Have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility, or
  • Are first-time F and academic J visa applicants who are citizens or nationals of a country that participates in the Visa Waiver Program (VWP), provided they have no apparent ineligibility or potential ineligibility

See Important Announcement on F, M, and Academic J Visas (

Useful Resources

To learn what a visa is and how it works, read the "Understand F-1 and J-1 Visa" section at Visa and Immigration.

We strongly advise everyone to purchase the SF State sponsored insurance at prior arriving to the U.S. 

Fall 2022 international health insurance plan starts as early as August 1, 2022 (Choose "Fall-Early" plan).

Students may request full-refund if they are not able to enter the U.S. for Fall 2022.

F-1 international students are subject to California State University insurance requirement. J-1 exchange students and J-1 research scholars, are subject to U.S. federal and state health insurance requirements.

All international students and scholars can satisfy the insurance requirement through purchase of the SF State pre-approved insurance offered by Relation Insurance Services at Insurance coverage must be purchased and renewed each semester/year. 

No other insurance policies will be accepted as a substitute for the one sponsored by SF State. See further information here

For the health and safety of the SF State community it is REQUIRED all students (both in person and online) submit either their COVID-19 Vaccination Record or request exemption.

The cost to seek a U.S. college education while living in the Bay Area can be expensive

The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) requires international students (those on F-1 and J-1 visa) to verify that they or their sponsor(s) have funds available to pay for the following expenses to study at SF State:

  • Tuition and fees
  • Housing, food, living expenses
  • International student health insurance
  • Books and school supplies
  • Technology for school
  • Travel/transportation/commuting expenses
F-1 and J-1 International students can not rely on U.S. financial aid, school emergency funds, or employment in the U.S. to pay the above expenses. 

Budgeting for International Students

Budgeting is important for international students to do because it will allow them to keep track of their money. All international students should create budgeting plans before coming to the U.S. to prepare for any possible future expenses or obstacles they might come across.

Visit "Plan a Budget" section on Life in San Francisco page for more information.

Finding safe, secure housing is a crucial step to preparing for a successful experience at SF State. Though San Francisco rental prices are high, there are many lower-budget options available to students.

OIP is not able to assist students in finding temporary housing. We recommend that students reserve temporary accommodations before they arrive in San Francisco. First and foremost, students should have a specific destination when they arrive. If they do not have a friend or relative in the area to stay with, booking a hostel or hotel in advance is the best option.

It is not feasible to attempt to find permanent housing immediately after getting off a plane, with luggage, and no knowledge of the city.

Enter the United States during COVID-19

See the "ATTENTION! Travel Alert" section on our Travel Page.

Enter the United States NO MORE THAN 30 DAYS in Advance

Students should enter the United States no earlier than 30 days before and no later than the beginning date indicated on their I-20/DS-2019. While students may want to arrive sooner to find an apartment and prepare for school, U.S. law prohibits them from doing so.

The only exception is for F-1 students who have transferred their SEVIS record from another school to SF State.

Research Airport Transportation in Advance

The San Francisco Bay Area offers many public transportation options that students may use to travel to the SF State campus or their temporary housing. Please visit their websites for further details and make a few plans in advance:

  • Muni (San Francisco’s bus and light rail service)
  • Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) (Bay Area rail system)
  • Taxi (available curbside in designated airport locations)
  • Rideshare services (Uber and Lyft are available in the Bay Area)

Airport Wi-Fi

Both San Francisco and Oakland airports offer free wi-fi. Students can use it to look up directions or book transportation from their phone on arrival. For more information about wi-fi and other airport services, please see below.

Carry the Required U.S. Entry Documents

When entering the United States, international students must present the following documents at the port of entry:

  • Valid passport with valid F-1 or J-1 visa. 
  • Valid I-20 or DS-2019 immigration document.
  • Negative COVID viral test
  • Documentation shows fully vaccinated

Additional supporting documentation:

  • F-1 students: Copies of admission letter and proof of finance for the first year of study
  • I-901 SEVIS fee receipt

OIP recommends that students keep their passports and immigration documents with them in their carry-on luggage when traveling. Students’ families members should also have copies of these documents in case of emergency.

Submit Proof of MMR Immunization in the First Semester

SF State immunization policy requires that all students provide proof of immunization against Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR).  SF State students who are 18 years old or younger need to show proof of Hepatitis B immunization.

Students are required to submit proof of MMR (or Hep B, if required) within the first four weeks of their first semester at SF State.  However, we encourage all international student to submit immunization as early as possible.

Expect to Complete Mandatory Trainings

During their studies at SF State, students are occasionally required to complete mandatory trainings regarding various topics related to academics and campus life. Notifications of mandatory trainings will generally be communicated via SF State student email.

For example, all incoming students must complete a mandatory sexual violence prevention education training online during their first semester at SF State (more details available at Sexual Violence Prevention Education Online Training). Academic departments and other offices may also require that students complete trainings before coming to campus, using the school laboratories and equipment, etc.

Please pay attention to these training requirements and complete them in a timely manner by the deadlines provided. 

SF State is dedicated to ensuring that all aspects of campus life, learning, working, and living - are universally accessible.

If students anticipate needing accommodations as an SF State student, we recommend them to contact the Disability Programs and Resource Center (DPRC).  They can register with the DPRC and document their disability to help them fully access student life at SF State.

Email:  Phone: (415) 338-2472

Review the link below to access resources to wellness and academic success at SF State.

Check out over 60 campus resources available to students at SF State!

Mandatory Requirement for J-1 Exchange Students

J-1 exchange students receive a Priority Registration Period that allows them to register for up to 16 units of coursework before most other students. Priority Registration takes place several months prior to students arrival at SF State and ends a few weeks before the beginning of the semester. Please visit Academic Calendar - SF State University ( for the exact Priority Registration dates.

Please note that while OIP tries to give J-1 exchange students the best access to classes possible, we cannot guarantee access to all SF State classes due to availability, academic restrictions, and other factors. For this reason, OIP requires all participants to have back-up classes in mind when building their schedule and recommends that students register for classes promptly when their registration period opens in order to ensure the best selection of classes possible.

Students register for courses through the SF State Student Center (also called the Student Gateway), which they may access after activating their SF State student account. After logging into their Student Center, students may view their priority registration dates under the “Enrollment Dates”. They will also be able to view their class schedule, contact information, and other important information.

When they are ready to register for classes, students can find detailed registration instructions here. They may also browse available courses by semester on the Class Schedule webpage.

In order to meet J-1 immigration requirements, J-1 exchange students must register for and maintain full-time enrollment status (see J-1 Exchange Students Only - Exceptions to the Full-Time Requirement for exceptions to this rule). At SF State, full-time enrollment is defined as a minimum of 12 coursework units.

In order to help students succeed during their exchange, OIP’s Exchange Team launched the J-1 Exchange Student Pre-Arrival Orientation. This mandatory online orientation provides important information about SF State, advice about living in San Francisco, and additional details about the exchange program.

Completion of the Pre-Arrival Orientation should take around one hour and should be completed by the deadline specified. Students may access the orientation materials on iLearn through the following instructions:

  1. Go to
  2. Enter SF State login information.
  3. Scroll down to “Collaborative Sites” on the left side of the screen.
  4. Select “J-1 Exchange Student Pre-Arrival Orientation.” 
  5. Review the orientation materials.
  6. Complete the quiz.*

*To confirm that they have reviewed the orientation materials, students must complete the quiz at the end of the online module. Students must complete the quiz with 100% accuracy and may take as many attempts as needed to do so.

Mandatory Requirement for F-1 International Students

Review New Student Next Steps

Class Registration

Undergraduate Students

Undergraduate students must attend New Student Orientation (in-person or virtual) to receive academic advising and register for Fall 2022 classes. Follow the instructions at Orientation Dates | New Student & Family Programs (

Graduate Students

New graduate students class registration starts on June 6, 2022.  Visit Graduate Students Next Steps to connect with Graduate Coordinator for academic advising.


Students who plan to enter the U.S. for Fall 2022 can not pursue 100% online study. Students who enter the U.S. for Fall 2022 must enroll in at least one unit of in-person or hybrid course in Fall 2022.

What New Students Need to Know



Calculate Tuition and Fees

International students pay Undergraduate/Graduate Tuition Fees and Non-Resident Tuition Fees per unit.  The Non-Resident Tuition Fee is currently $396 per semester unit:

 graphic explaining F1 student tuition payment process

Undergraduate students

  • As of Spring 2022, the Undergraduate Tuition Fee for 6.1 or more units is $3,654. 
  • The tuition and fee for 12 units is $3,654 Undergraduate Tuition Fee + $396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit X 12 units = $8,406. 

Graduate students

  • As of Spring 2022, the Graduate Tuition Fee for 6.1 or more units is $4,371. 
  • The tuition and fee for 8 units is $4,371 Graduate Tuition Fee + $396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit X 8 units= $7,539

MBA/MSBA/MSA students

  • MBA/MSBA/MSA students pay Professional Program Fees in addition to Graduate Tuition Fee and Non-Resident Tuition fee per unit.
  • As of Spring 2022, the tuition and fee for 8 units is: $4,371 Graduate Tuition Fee + $1,200 Professional Program Fees + ($396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit + $ 270 Professional Program Fees per unit) X 8 units = $10,899

MPA students 

  • MPA students pay Professional Program Fees in addition to Graduate Tuition Fees. 
  • As of Spring 2022, the tuition and fee for 8 units is: $4,371 Graduate Tuition Fee + $850 Professional Program Fees + $396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit X 8 units = $8,319

How to Pay Tuition and Fees

  • Tuition is paid one semester at a time to the Bursar's Office.
  • The amount of the tuition should cover full-time enrollment (12 units for undergraduate students, and 9 units for graduate students). International undergraduate students who will enter the U.S with an F-1 Student visa should prepare to pay for at least 12 units, and graduate students should pay for at least 8 units.
  • See payment methods at Bursar's Office website.
  • International students may enroll in the Self- Service Installment Payment for Non-Resident/International students.
    The installment payment plan is an opportunity for students to pay each semester's tuition or non-resident tuition in 3 monthly installments, rather than in one lump sum.


ATTENTION! An additional 15% service fee will be charged on each monthly payment.


SF State has partnered with Flywire to streamline the tuition payment process for our international students.  SF State collects international payments via Flywire with local accounts around the world.

An "International Health Insurance hold" will be placed on a student's Student Center if they do not purchase insurance plan before class registration.  

A screenshot example of the international insurance hold


All SF State undergraduate students must complete the First-Year English Composition courses. To determine the type of writing that best fits students’ needs, international students are required to complete the fifteen-minute “First-Year Writing Advising” before attending the orientation.

Who Are Required to Complete The First-Year Writing Advising?

Students who are placed in Category 2, 3, 4 under the "English Pathway Alert".

Who Are Not Required to Complete The First-Year Writing Advising?

  • Students who are placed in Category 1 under the "English Pathway Alert". 
  • Students who meet the exceptions posted at Gator Smart Start's website may be waived.

English Pathway Alert

"English Pathway Alert" can be found in the "Hold & Alerts Box" in the Student Center. Click "details" to see which category students are in.

English pathway alert screen shot


Students should complete First-Year English Advising S SOON AS POSSIBLE. The final deadline to complete this activity is TWO business days before attending New Student Orientation.


Please include full name and SF State student ID number in the email. 


At San Francisco State, degree-seeking undergraduate students choose their first-Year Math course based on their major. For example, STEM and business students take Calculus-based courses, Humanities and Social Science students take statistics or other courses.  No matter which Math class is chosen, there will be two options: a single course by itself or a course with extra units in the form of a lab or an additional semester.  These extra hours/units will provide academic support.

To determine whether math alone or math with support is best, students should complete the fifteen-minute First-Year Math Advising before attending the orientation. 

Students will learn about math options, be given a recommendation on which math to take, and then be able to make an informed decision. The results will be used to place students in their first-year math course.

Who Are Required to Complete The First-Year Math Advising?

  • International transfer students who have not completed a transferable, college level first-year math/quantitative reasoning course.
  • Students who are placed in Category 2, 3, 4 under the "Math Pathway Alert". "Math Pathway Alert" can be found in the "Hold & Alerts Box" in the Student Center. Click "details" to see which category students are in.

Who Are Not Required to Complete The First-Year Math Advising?

  • Students who are placed in Category 1 under the "Math Pathway Alert". 
  • Students who meet the exceptions posted at Gator Smart Start's website may be waived.

Math Pathway Alert

"Math Pathway Alert" can be found in the "Hold & Alerts Box" in the Student Center. Click "details" to see which category students are in.

Math pathway alert screen shot


Students should complete First-Year Math Advising AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. The final deadline to complete this activity is TWO business days before attending New Student Orientation.


Please include full name and SF State student ID number in the email. 


International students who are transferring to SF State from another school in the U.S. should review the I-20 Transfer Procedures for step-by-step instructions.

F-1 Mandatory Online Workshop provides information to help new international students better prepare for their experience at SF State before their arrival in the U.S.

The workshop is available for new international students who have accepted admissions offers (AAO) and have an SF State student email account. Students will receive an email notification when the workshop is open. New students who did not receive the email may self-enroll in the workshop.

The topics include:

  • F-1 Visa Regulations
  • U.S. Classroom Culture & Culture Shock
  • Academic Integrity
  • Health Insurance Requirement & U.S. Health Care
  • Sexual Assault Awareness & Safety Explained For International Students
  • Earthquake Preparedness

Completion of the workshop should take around one hour and should be completed by the deadline specified.  


Per U.S. Federal regulations, B-1 and B-2 visitors who are in the United States for business and pleasure purposes are prohibited from enrolling in a course of study at a Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP)-certified school.  

If students are a B-1 or B-2 visitor and wish to study at a U.S. school, they must change their B-1 or B-2 status to F-1 Student status if they wish to pursue study in the U.S. 

Last updated: May 2022

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