Planning Ahead: Money and Documents

Planning Ahead: Money and Documents

Obtaining Your Student Visa

When entering the US as a foreign citizen, you are required to present your valid visa issued by a U.S. Consular Official. The only exception for this is if you are a citizen of a foreign country that is eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. However, as an exchange student, you are required to have a Student Visa in order to study at an American institution and must obtain it before you leave your home country.

As a foreign exchange student studying at Colorado State University you will be issued one of the following visas:

Types of Student Visas

F1: This is the most common type of academic visa for international students. You are required to maintain full-time enrollment at your institution, and this visa allows for the student to work fewer than 20 hours per week.

J1: This is another type of student visa which is for a citizen of a foreign country who wishes to participate in an approved exchange program at an approved institution. As a student on this visa, you are also allowed to work on campus for fewer than 20 hours per week.

How to Apply for a U.S. Student Visa

Filling out a Visa application to study abroad in colorado
Photo by Helloquence

In order to successfully obtain your visa, there are a few steps that you need to ensure you do correctly. Because obtaining your visa can be a stressful/lengthy process you should start your application as soon as possible to avoid disappointment from unexpected delays.

The following steps may not be applicable to some students, and the application process may vary so make sure you check with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate before you begin your application regarding your requirements and where you will have to apply.

Complete Your DS-160

The first thing you will need to do is complete an online nonimmigrant Visa Application, otherwise known as the DS-160 Form. You will need to complete the questions online for the application and then print the application form once completed. This is a critical step, as you will need this confirmation form when you attend your interview at the consulate.

At this point, you are also given the opportunity to upload a “passport” which is like a photo of yourself, and this is the photo that will be used when your American Visa is issued. This photo has to be in a very specific format, as it is used for your documentation. You can read more about the requirements on the U.S Department of State’s website.


Schedule Your Interview

The next step you need to take is scheduling your visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This should be organized at the Consulate or Embassy that is in your home country. However, you may be required to travel to another city as there are only a select few cities in other countries that have these facilities.

As a foreign citizen, you can schedule your interview at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate, but this may make it more challenging to obtain.

It is essential you organize your interview weeks before you intend to travel as waiting times can vary significantly depending on the season, location and time of year you are applying. Once you have gone to your interview and being granted a visa, it can also take between 5-7 working days to issue the visa and for it to be couriered to you.

Therefore, you should take care when organizing when you are booking your flights/booking accommodation. You can check the wait times for Visa interviews for different regions online so that you can plan accordingly.

What You Need for Your Visa Interview

  • You will need to pay for the non-refundable visa application fee ($160USD) when you book your appointment via the U.S. Consulate Website
  • Passport – that is valid for at least six months beyond your stay in the U.S.
  • DS-160 Form confirmation page
  • Receipt of application fee
  • A copy of your photo that you uploaded for you DS-160 Form
  • DS-2019 – this is your certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status. You will receive this in your acceptance package sent from CSU.
  • Your acceptance letter from CSU
  • Financial documents demonstrating your ability to pay for study/travel costs
  • Your intent to depart from the United States
  • Money to pay for visa issuance fees

Attending Your Interview



Waiting for a visa interview to study abroad at CSU
Photo by Ben White

The last thing you need to do is attend your interview. Make sure you arrive with plenty of time before your interview in case you get lost or cannot locate your interview location. The Consulate will only allow you to enter approximately 10 minutes before your scheduled interview time, and you will be subject to strict security checks.

Make sure not to bring any laptops, i-pads or Smart Devices in with you as these are strictly prohibited and will only extend your wait time. Most importantly, make sure that you bring all the required documents and that you are prepared to answer any questions the immigration officer may ask you.


Additional Supporting Documents

You’re not quite done with documents yet – you still need to make sure you have a valid passport and obtain an I-94. These are both necessary for your entry in the U.S. Below is a summary of their purpose and essential information.


Passport with tickets and headphones for traveling abroad
Photo by Alex Robert

A passport is an official, legal document that permits individuals to travel to and from foreign countries. Allow yourself several months before your travel date to apply for your passport – time to receive it can take
up to 10 weeks. 

Your passport must be valid for at least six months after your travel/study period ceases in the U.S. This is best practice as some airlines will not allow you to board if this requirement is not met. A blank page is also required for entry.

To fill out your application online or learn more about the application process, visit the U.S Department of State’s website. You should also obtain a United States tourist visa –   this will allow you to travel by port of entry, air, or land border crossing.


This is a critical document for your entrance into the U.S. It shows that you have been admitted to enter the US, how long your stay in the US will be, and the class of your admission. It is essentially an arrival/departure record. This will be provided at your time of legal entry. To learn more about this documentation, please visit the U.S Department of Homeland Security’s website.


Getting to Know U.S Currency

U.S currency to use in Fort Collins CO

It is incredibly important to have some form of money on hand when entering the United States. At the very least you should have a plan for how you are going to obtain money once you arrive.

The most common and easily used forms of payment in the U.S are credit/debit cards and paper currency. It is also important to be aware that while most places in the U.S take cards; occasionally smaller retailers will only accept cash.  It is a good idea to carry a little bit with you just in case this scenario comes up.

Paper Currency

The U.S paper currency is called the dollar. It comes in $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100 increments which are all green. The fastest way to tell the different types apart is to look for the number in the corner.

Don’t worry if you are at the register and have to dig around in your wallet/purse for the right bill. Most Americans do this too, and cashiers are used to waiting for people to check and see what bills they are paying with.

Many smaller retailers do not take $50 or $100 bills so if you plan to carry cash you should have smaller bills on hand. Most people find it useful to carry bills in $10 and $20 denominations.

Note: “Bucks” is the most commonly used U.S slang for dollars so if someone asks you for ten bucks it means they want 10 dollars.


Coins are also commonly used and come in denominations of one cent- pennies, five cents- nickels, ten cents-dimes, and 25 cents-quarters. You can tell pennies apart quickly because they are the only copper colored coin while all the rest are silver.

You can tell the other three types of silver coins apart because nickels have smooth edges, dimes are much smaller than the other coins and quarters have ridged edges. Quarters are the most commonly used coin. You will likely use them to pay for parking, the bus or purchases from vending machines.

Exchange Rates

It is strongly suggested that you check the exchange rate of the dollar bill versus your home currency before traveling abroad. This way you know approximately how much you will be spending and can budget accordingly.

Exchange rates are regularly updated, so it is a good idea to check them often before you leave for your trip. The fastest way to do this is to search currency exchange in Google. A currency converter will come up in the search results, and all you have to do is select your country’s currency then the U.S dollar and put in an amount you want to compare.

Another good website for currency conversions is which has a ton of extra currency information plus a downloadable app. There are also a multitude of other apps you can download in the Apple Store and on Google Play if you don’t like the above options.

Credit and Debit Cards

Two visa cards 3 master cards and a dollar bill

Credit and debit cards are very convenient to bring to the U.S. They are smaller and lighter than carrying around a lot of cash and are accepted at the majority of places. They also have the advantage of allowing you to withdraw money from ATMs (for a small fee). Visa and Master Card are the most accepted card types in the U.S and are easy to use in Fort Collins. 

Getting Cash

While it is best to exchange some of your money before you leave home if you forget there are opportunities to get cash after your plane touches down. Denver International Airport (DIA) has multiple ATM’s you can use as well as a branch of the Public Service Credit Union. It also contains the  World Wide Money Exchange booth; where you can exchange currencies (for a fee of $5 for any transaction under $500).

If you are planning on using World Wide Money, please beware that they are not a 24-hour service, so there is a chance they could be closed when you arrive. For more information on World Wide, Money Exchange see their hours, excepted currencies, and policies on fees and charges see their webpage

DIA is a pretty big airport and landing in a new country can be pretty disorienting. If you need help locating any of DIA’s different financial options go to which includes maps to all the above locations and is also an excellent resource for any other information, you might need concerning the airport. 


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