US and non-US citizens need a valid passport both to enter other countries and to return to the United States.Certain countries may also require a visa that allows you to enter and remain in that country for a specific reason.
A passport provides official identification while traveling and proof of US citizenship. It will be checked upon leaving and entering almost every country you visit.
If you don’t already have one, you should apply for a passport immediately. New US passports take six to eight weeks for processing, depending on the time of the year. Passports are valid for 10 years. Apply early to avoid complications caused by misplaced original birth certificates and similar problems.
Passport forms are available at many federal and state courts, probate courts, some county/municipal offices and some post offices. They can also be downloaded at the US Department of State website. This site will also link you to the procedures and the form for renewing your passport. This can take just as long as applying for a new passport. For complete information about passport services, visit the US Department of State.
Once you have your passport, make copies or scan the page with your picture and passport number on it. Leave one at home with your designated representative, bring one to the Programs Abroad Office and carry the other copy with you separate from your passport. It’s also a good idea to scan and send a copy to yourself by email. If you lose your passport, having a copy will make it easier to get a replacement from the nearest US Embassy or Consulate.
A visa is an entry/residency permit and official permission to visit a country for a specific purpose and time. Some countries charge or require an in-person interview for a student or long-term stay visa; some countries do not or you may be able to apply online. To learn about the requirements for your host country and any countries you might visit while abroad, visit the US Department of State.
Applying for a Visa
The exact process for applying for a visa will vary depending upon the type of visa and the country. In general, to apply for a visa you will send your actual passport (not a copy), student visa application, and any other required documentation via certified mail, UPS, or FedEx (the consulate will usually indicate a preference) along with a return, self-addressed, prepaid trackable envelope to the consular office of the country you plan to visit. The consulate will stamp your passport with the visa and return it to you. You generally apply to the consulate that serves the state of your permanent residence.
Obtaining a visa could take as long as one to three months so begin early. You will not be able to apply for the visa until you are fully accepted by your host institution or program, but it is a good idea to begin gathering the needed information for your visa as soon as you apply for your program. The embassy/consulate website or documentation that accompanies your visa application will usually indicate how long it will take to process the visa.