What Is a Visa?

A visa is an official stamp in your passport authorizing you to travel, work, or study in that country for a specified length of time. Each country issues its own visas through its embassy and consulates located throughout the United States.

Do I Need a Visa?

If you will be traveling to another country, it’s best to assume that you’ll need a visa, although there are exceptions to this. For example, U.S. citizens are permitted to travel as tourists to most European countries (with some exceptions such as Russia) without a visa for less than 90 days, but they may need visas for studying or working (unpaid internships included). Most European countries will require a visa for stays lasting longer than 90 days.

Whether or not you need a visa will often depend on your answers to the following questions:

  • What is your country of citizenship?
  • What is your purpose of travel?
    • Study
    • Work (internship, research, academic visit, business)
    • Tourism or visiting family/friends
    • Transit (on your way to somewhere else)
  • What is your duration of travel?

With these questions in mind, visit the website of your destination country’s embassy or consulate to learn more about visa requirements for your specific situation.

If you are working with an organization (study abroad provider, conference organizer, host institution abroad, etc.) that is managing the experience, they may be able to provide visa and entry requirement guidance. We recommend that you contact the organization before getting started with the visa process.

For information about entry requirements for US citizens and links to embassies and consulates visit the U.S. Department of State’s Country Specific Travel Information.

If you are not a U.S. citizen, see the International Students section below.

How Do I Apply for a Visa?

Visas must be obtained before you arrive in the country. Some visas can take weeks to process (depending on the type of visa, your citizenship, which country you are traveling to, etc.). Others can be processed fairly quickly -- within a matter of days or even immediately at the consulate. There are also many different ways to apply for a visa through a consulate or embassy: online, sending in documents via regular mail, or visiting the consulate for an in-person appointment. The consulate or embassy will specify which of these methods they require.

Although most students apply for visas through consulates or embassies, you may choose to utilize a visa processing company if you need a visa quickly and are willing to pay extra fees. Here are some examples of visa processing companies that have not been vetted by the International Center, but have been used by members of the U-M community in the past.

  • CIBTvisas and Travisa: visa processing companies that expedite visas for an extra fee; also has a database that is helpful for citizens of any country determining visa needs.
    • CIBTvisas offers a discount for having a U-M affiliation at this link.
  • For visas to China:
  • For visas to Russia:

What are the Visa Application Requirements?

Unfortunately, there is no single answer about the process for applying for a visa. It may vary from country to country (and even between consulates!). This information is often found in the “Consular Services” section of embassy or consulate websites.

If you have specific questions about the visa application process for a certain country, the best resource will be the consular officials working at the embassy or consulate (or a visa processing agency, if you choose to use one). You may need to reach out to them directly if the website is unclear.

Students can apply for a visa in the jurisdiction where they go to school or through their permanent residence. For people in Michigan, the closest consulate is often (but not always) located in Chicago. Out-of-state students are also welcome to apply through the consulate or embassy for their home state, but should keep in mind whether travel will be required to apply for the visa in-person.

  • Common documents that might be required to obtain a visa:
    • Completed application form
    • Passport
    • Recent passport-sized photos (passport and visa photos available at Michigan Photography)
    • Proof of enrollment (also known as Enrollment Verification)
    • Letter of admission from university (if studying abroad)
    • Job offer letter (if interning, working, or volunteering abroad)
    • Proof of accommodation
    • A return or round trip plane ticket
    • Proof of sufficient funds (bank statement, financial aid/scholarship)
    • Proof of international health insurance (e.g. U-M Travel Abroad Health Insurance).
    • Medical certificate (obtained from a medical examination)
    • Certificate of criminal record (obtained from a criminal background check)

It is important to remember:

  • Visa processing can take as little as a few days for some countries to months for others. It is important to plan in advance for visa processing, so start the process as early as possible.
  • It is your responsibility to determine the visa requirements for all countries you plan to visit while abroad.
  • You may be denied entry into, or be deported from, a country for which you have not obtained a required visa.

Visas for International Students at U-M

It is best to assume that international students will need a visa to visit another country, even for tourism purposes. You can apply for foreign visas in the United States through the consulate or embassy of your destination country.

Be sure to speak with an international student and scholar advisor at the U-M International Center ([email protected]) regarding your travel plans and obtain the necessary signatures before departure, even for a trip to Canada.

Also, you will need to make sure you have the necessary documents with you to successfully re-enter the U.S. For more information on re-entry requirements, visit here.

Schengen Visa:

For European travel, the Schengen Visa covers a number of countries. See the Schengen Visa Information website for more information about which countries are currently part of the Schengen visa agreement. The website will also list which countries’ citizens will need Schengen Visas.

Where you apply for the Schengen Visa will depend on where you plan to travel:

  • If you’ll be traveling to only one Schengen country, you would apply at that country’s embassy or consulate in the US.
  • If you wish to travel to several Schengen countries, you’ll apply at the embassy or consulate of the country where you are going to spend the majority of your trip.
  • If you wish to travel to several Schengen countries, with no main destination (the duration of your stay is strictly equal in each country), you’ll apply at the embassy or consulate of the country that’s your first point of entry.

One Schengen Visa application requirement is a “no objection letter.” This is a letter from your university that states you are a student at “x university” and does not object to you getting a Schengen Visa to travel. A no objection letter can be written by your academic advisor, a head of your department, or the dean of your school. A sample letter is available in the link provided.

Lastly, the 90/180-day rule allows Schengen Visa holders to travel in the Schengen Area for 90 days over a 180-day period. This calculator will help you plan your travel and abide by this rule.

Other Entry Considerations

A visa is just one component of entering a country. There are other considerations, such as:

  • Passport Validity: Your passport may need to be valid for a certain amount of time beyond your period of stay. For example, American citizens must have a valid passport for at least three months beyond their period of stay when traveling to many countries. Citizens of other countries may have different requirements.
  • Vaccinations: The "Entry, Exit, and Visa Requirements" section of your destination's Country Information page provides an overview of vaccination requirements, if any.
  • COVID-19 related requirements: The "Exit and Entry Requirements" section of your destination's COVID-19 Information page provides an overview of COVID-19 vaccine or other COVID-19 related requirements, if any.

Additional Resources


Can the International Center process visas?

The International Center does not have the ability to process visas, but we can help you navigate the embassy and/or consulate’s website to help determine which visa you might need and which documents you might need to prepare for your visa application. However, please note that contacting the necessary embassy or consulate will provide you with the most accurate and up-to-date information. We recommend that you confirm with the embassy/consulate which type of visa you should apply for.

I am interning/working abroad in “x country.” Will I need a visa?

In many cases, you will need to obtain a special type of visa in order to legally work in another country. The type of visa you will need (if you need one) could depend on whether or not the internship is paid, the duration of the internship, your country of citizenship, and other considerations. We recommend contacting your destination country’s embassy/consulate for the most accurate and up-to-date information. You can also visit our Work Permit Programs page for more information and/or schedule an advising appointment with the International Center.

The United Kingdom is an example of a country that requires students doing internships (paid or unpaid) to obtain a special internship visa prior to arrival. Unless your host organization or company is able to provide you with a Certificate of Sponsorship (most cannot), your only option is to obtain the visa through the sole organization authorized to provide this visa, BUNAC.

I want to work abroad after graduation? How can I obtain a visa to do that?

First of all, it can be very challenging to obtain a visa to work abroad. American citizens will likely need to have a company abroad be willing to sponsor their visa, which, in our experience, is rare. In addition, many countries have immigration policies in place that state that a foreign worker must be so specialized in their field that no one locally can do that job.

That said, here are some ways you can obtain a visa to work abroad after graduation:

  • The most common way that graduating students get paid jobs abroad is by teaching English. Here is a resource that contains a list of countries that offer teaching jobs for U.S. citizens. For many of these programs, participants are eligible for a student visa, which allows them to legally work in their country of interest.
  • Some (primarily English-speaking) countries offer "working holiday" visas that permit Americans to work in that country for up to 12 months. Many people who pursue these opportunities work in the hospitality or restaurant industries, but some, if not all, of these working holiday visa programs are open to any career field. Recent grads from U-M are also now eligible for a High Potential Individual (HPI) UK work visa for up to two years.
  • Some recent graduates will get a job at a U.S.-based company that has satellite offices abroad. It's most common for these people to work in the U.S. for a little and then transfer abroad after they get some work experience, but this would be a common way to get visa-sponsorship from a company.
  • GoinGlobal is a website that contains international job postings. The U-M Library has a paid account. To access it, you can click on that link, scroll to the bottom, and click on the first "available online" link to access the job portal. Keep in mind that some of the postings will require that you are already authorized to work in the country of the job you are applying to.