1. What is a visa?

A visa is authorization that is obtained by a host country for an individual to enter and stay legally in that country for a specific purpose and period of time.  In most cases, applicants are required to apply for a visa in advance from the host country's nearest Consulate (usually in Chicago or Detroit). 


2. Do I need a visa to study abroad?

Depending on the country, you may or may not need a visa to enter your host country.  In some cases, a travel agent or other service agencies will be able to assist you with this process for a fee. Many countries have the visa application on the Internet, others require you to make the request and have the application sent directly to you. In most cases, you will be assessed a fee for obtaining a visa. 


3. What documents will I need to apply for a visa?

A number of documents may be required in order to apply for a visa, such as: acceptance letter from the host institution, proof of financial resources, proof of return airfare, photos, and/or other documentation. The requirements and fees will vary from country to country and are often dependent on how long you plan to stay in the country and the purpose of your stay. Be sure to plan ahead


4. How long does it take to get a visa?

The process for obtaining a visa can take anytime from several weeks to several months.  

For additional information on visa requirements, contact the nearest consulate of the country you plan to visit, or go to and review the travel advisory section for details on entry requirements.

PLEASE NOTE: Some locations (including Spain and Chile) will require students to have an FBI background check in order to obtain a visa. If fingerprints are needed for an FBI background check, these can be taken at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, located at 12220 Fillmore Street, West Olive, MI 49460. They can be contacted by phone at (616) 738-4025. Fingerprints are done from 8:00am-4:00pm, but they ask that you arrive by 3:30pm to fill out the appropriate paperwork. No appointment is necessary. You need to bring your driver’s license and they do charge $10 for a fingerprint card.



Students studying in France for more than 90 days must apply to Campus France 60-90 days prior to departure.  If you do not apply for Campus France 60-90 days prior to your departure, you may have difficulties securing a visa by the time you depart.



Students studying in Spain for more than 90 days must apply for a visa to enter Spain. Students should apply for a visa for Spain a minimum of 8 weeks prior to departure.  The Spanish Consulate will accept applications up to 120 days prior to departure.  Students should aim to apply for their visa for Spain between 90-120 days prior to departure.  

The Spanish Consulate requires students who are studying in Spain for more than 6 months to obtain an FBI background check.  FBI background checks can take up 8-12 weeks for processing, even though the FBI has indicated that the process generally takes 2 weeks.  Students who are applying to study in Spain for the academic year (or for more than 6 months) should begin the FBI background check 5-6 months prior to departure. If fingerprints are needed for an FBI background check, these can be taken at the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Office, located at 12220 Fillmore Street, West Olive, MI 49460.



Students intending to study in the UK for a maximum of 6 months, who do not wish to work during their stay, can seek entry to the UK on arrival, as a student visitor, without prior entry clearance (visa). Students who plan to study in the UK for more than 6 months must apply for a Tier 4 Student Visa. Students who intend to partake in paid or unpaid employment or internships should carefully read the UK visa requirements for additional information.

The visa processing usually takes 6-12 weeks.  No applications are taken more than 90 days prior to start date. 


NonEU Citizens traveling to Europe

The link below will be of use to non EU citizens traveling to Europe from countries that offer reciprocal visa arrangements (visa waiver or visa exemption programs).


Destination Consular Offices:

Click on the following links to find the most accurate and up-to-date information about visa requirements for your study abroad destination.













PIC cannot assist you with:

  • Applying for your visa on your behalf (unless this is included in the program).
  • Making a visa appointment for you.
    Researching requirements and coordinating the application process if you are applying to study in more than one country.


Other Considerations

  • Most countries have a time limit on how early you can apply for a visa.  In many cases, visa applications will not be considered more than 90 days prior to entry into the host country. 
  • In most cases, students MUST apply for their visa in their home country. This means, if you plan to travel or are planning back-to-back study abroad programs AND you will not be in the United States during the 3 months prior to your arrival in your host country, you may run into problems with securing a visa.  
  • Visa applications are generally not accepted through a 3rd-party country. This means, if you plan to study abroad in the U.K. for the Fall semester and then plan to study in Italy for the following Winter semester, you may not be able to apply for your Italian visa at the Italian Consulate in the U.K. You will have to apply for your Italian visa in the United States. If you are in the U.K. during the 90 days prior to your arrival in Italy, you can understand the dilemma. It may be possible for you to return to the United States between your semesters, but this does not guarantee that a visa can be processed during your brief return between semesters.      


  • It is not uncommon for a student to be required to apply for their visa in person. In some cases, students may also be required to pick-up their passport and visa in person.  This may mean that you may have to make two trips to the Consulate which has jurisdiction over your state of residence.  


  • Students often complain that they do not receive timely responses to their questions when they follow procedures for submitting an inquiry. Please allow plenty of time for your questions to be answered. If you are unable to secure an answer by phone, try email or fax a letter to the consulate requesting assistance.

While many of these requirements may seem burdensome, they are governmental regulations that must be followed. Due to constant changes in requirements and regulations, the Padnos International Center can offer very limited information regarding the procedures for applying for your visa. Our staff have been instructed to refer you to the appropriate Consulate for questions and advice.


Page last modified February 28, 2014