New International Students Pre-Arrival Checklist

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 Update (September 14, 2021)

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.

Budgeting is important for students to do because it will allow them to keep track of their money. It is especially highly advised that students create a budgeting plan as soon as possible before going to study in the U.S. to prepare for any possible future expenses or obstacles they might come across. It is important for students to evaluate their finances based off of the location they plan to study at. 

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

To 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.

F-1 international students enrolled in Bachelor’s or Master's degree programs, as well as J-1 exchange students and research scholars, are subject to federal and state health insurance requirements.

All international students and scholars can satisfy the insurance requirement through purchase of the SF State sponsored insurance offered by Relation at this page  We strongly advise everyone to purchase the SF State sponsored insurance online prior arriving to the U.S.

No other insurance policies will be accepted as a substitute for the one sponsored by SF State. Insurance coverage must be purchased and renewed each semester/year.

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.

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 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 | Health Promotion & Wellness). 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 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.

San Francisco State University 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.

Register with the DPRC

Email:  Phone: (415) 338-2472

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

What New Students Need to Know

  • The latest tuition and fee information is posted at University Bursar's website.  Look for the semester for the semester they wish to register and scroll down to "Schedule of Tuition and Fees" section.
  • Spring 2022 tuition and fees are subject to change without advanced notice.  Please go by Bursar's website for the most updated tuition and fee amount.  
  • Spring 2022 Tuition Deadline for New F-1 International Students Only is Monday, January 24, 2022 by 4PM (San Francisco Time)

Calculate Tuition and Fees

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

 graphic explaining F1 student tuition payment process

Undergraduate students

  • The Undergraduate Tuition Fee for 6.1 or more units is $3,505. 
  • The tuition and fee for 12 units is $3,564 Undergraduate Tuition Fee + $396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit X 12 units = $8,316. 

Graduate students

  • The Graduate Tuition Fee for 6.1 or more unit is $4,281. 
  • The tuition and fee for 8 units is $4,281 Graduate Tuition Fee + $396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit X 8 units= $7,449

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.
  • The tuition and fee for 8 units is: $4,281 Graduate Tuition Fee + $1,200 Professional Program Fees + ($396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit + $ 270 Professional Program Fees per unit) X 8 units = $10,809

MPA students 

  • MPA students pay Professional Program Fees in addition to Graduate Tuition Fees. 
  • The tuition and fee for 8 units is: $4,281 Graduate Tuition Fee + $850 Professional Program Fees + $396 Non-Resident Tuition Fee per unit X 8 units = $8,229

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).  If students are an F-1 International undergraduate student, they should prepare to pay for at least 12 units  Graduate students should pay for at least 9 units
  • Make sure students have access to their money before the first day of the semester so they can pay tuition.   
  • See payment methods at Bursar's Office website.  If students wish to pay tuition by installment plan, please be aware that there is a non-refundable service charge of 15% on each installment

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.  Flywire processes payments securely, typically in their home local currency.  Students can make payments from any country, any bank, save on bank fees and exchange rates, and track their payments from start to when it reaches their school’s account. Visit Bursar's International payments information for more details.  

SEVP announced that it would continue its current special COVID-19 guidance for Spring 2022 

For Spring 2022, new international students should note the following: 

  • New international students who plan to pursue study in the U.S. must enroll in at least 12 units (undergraduate)/8 units(graduate).  The 12 units/8 units must include at least one-unit of hybrid/in-person courses.
    • If your major only offers online courses, you are advised to enroll in at least one unit of hybrid/in-person undergraduate general education courses.  
  • New international students who plan to pursue study outside the U.S. are not subject to the full-time requirement.  Students in this case can enroll in 100% online courses.

An "International Health Insurance hold" will be placed on a student's record in Student Center if new students do not complete one of the steps above before November 29, 2021.  The Spring 2022 international health insurance hold will prevent registration for Spring 2022 classes until cleared.

There are two ways for students to fulfill their mandatory insurance requirement at SF State:

  1. If students will be in the U.S. during Spring 2022 semester: Purchase Spring plan (Coverage period: 1/1/2022 - 5/31/2022) at  Choose “2021-2022” under “Currently displaying” before clicking the enroll button.
  1. If students will be outside the U.S. during Spring 2022 semester: Sign the online Spring 2022 International Students Insurance Waiver.  For international students who are enrolled online during the COVID-19 pandemic and are verifiably outside of the U.S., this waiver fulfills the requirement. 
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” exercise before attending the orientation.

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

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 Exercise?

  • 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 from the exercise.

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 this exercise 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. 


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 exercise 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 Exercise?

  • 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 Exercise?

  • Students who are placed in Category 1 under the "Math Pathway Alert". 

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 this exercise 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.

In order to help international students succeed at SF State, OIP’s F-1 student advising team launched the F-1 Mandatory Online Workshop. This mandatory workshop provides important information such as the F-1 student visa regulations that apply to them during their studies in the U.S., campuses resources, and advice about living in San Francisco. The workshop is available for international students who have accepted admissions offers (AAO).

Completion of the -1 Mandatory Online Workshop should take around one hour and should be completed by the deadline specified.   

To confirm that they have reviewed and understand the F-1 visa regulations, international students must complete the quizzes in the F-1 Visa Regulations in the U.S. section with 100% accuracy.  Students may take as many attempts as needed to do so.

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: December 2021

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