Make the U.S. Student Visa Process Painless

Get to your embassy appointment on time and have all of your international student paperwork ready.

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Arriving early with all of the required documents will ensure a smooth visa appointment.
Arriving early with all of the required documents will ensure a smooth visa appointment.

Paperwork: It's the part of a life-changing experience that no one likes. However, if you're planning on studying abroad, it's something you're going to have to wade through before you can jump on that plane.

For international students, getting your student visa in order is one of the most important tasks when preparing to travel to the U.S. The paperwork can take quite a while to process. Once you've applied to your American colleges, make sure to get your initial visa forms in early.

If you're studying abroad, use your study abroad office; if attending full-time, contact the international student office at your American college. At least to begin with, that office will be your first point of contact and will have the best information on where to begin.

[Learn how to prepare for your American college roommate.]

It's likely that your school will give you an information pack with the paperwork you need to get started. There are several stages to visa applications, and the sooner you get your forms filled out, the sooner you're likely to get your appointment at the American embassy and ultimately obtain your visa. After working through the initial paperwork you must then make an appointment at the U.S. embassy for your visa.

When it comes time for your appointment, make sure you are fully equipped. It is crucial that you have all of your paperwork with you.

Double check this before you head out, as there will be some documents you need to bring in order to complete the appointment, like your passport. Remember that electronics, like your mobile phone, are not allowed inside the embassy, so if anything gets left behind it will be hard to phone home to see if someone can drop it off for you.

[Find ways to stay connected with home as an international student.]

Bring books, pens and paper, or any other forms of entertainment for your appointment, because it can be a very long wait. While some people only have to stay in the embassy building for an hour or so to get their paperwork sorted, some have to stay much longer as, unsurprisingly, there are a lot of people who want to visit America.

When I went to pick up my visa I had a six-hour wait before my appointment eventually arrived, and I hadn't brought nearly enough reading material to entertain me in the interim. My nerves were so frayed by the time I was eventually called for my appointment that I half thought they wouldn't approve my application.

Despite the potentially long wait, make sure you arrive at least half an hour before your appointment is due to start. You never know: You could be one of the lucky ones and have everything working on time.

In addition to your entertainment, make sure you bring a bottle of water – and if that isn't allowed in the building, bring some small change to grab a drink from a vending machine.

[Learn what to take with you to a U.S. college.]

Once your visa appointment is over, make sure you photocopy every important piece of paper, or scan and save all of your forms to a hard drive.

Losing any piece of visa paperwork can land you in a mess, but the process of fixing that problem will be made marginally easier if you have at least one backup copy of all of your required forms. Keep everything together in a big folder, save copies on a hard drive and, of course, try not to lose any of the originals.

Completing all of your visa requirements is an essential part of preparing to study in the U.S. If you find yourself stressed by all of these forms, just remind yourself that once you get the paperwork filed you can start planning the exciting parts of your new college experience.

Emily Burt, from the United Kingdom, is currently studying at the University of California—Berkeley on an exchange program. She will graduate from the University of East Anglia in 2014 with a bachelor's in American literature and creative writing.