This is actually a fairly decent and succinct guide. Skip to the second half for the actual info. Note that some things have changed since I’ve gone on exchange, and you’ll need to confirm this with US State Department – Chris
American’s; god bless there hearts, have made it possible people to enter their country. But you will either have to sift through some digital forms or apply for a visa, considering there are other destinations that will let you in for free (I love the Commonwealth).
Today I was at the US Consulate here in Melbourne. Security as a duly process is blatant. Although, I was informed that the top level was practically US territory – completely secure and we weren’t able to use the toilets. This concept of foreign soil was exciting, I’m still in Australia in US Territory, and I was tempted to do a Homer (jump between the two…). [The same episode where Bart Simpson is about to get a booting].
There was also a special place for Americans, and everyone else had to sit elsewhere. (I also noticed, Americans got more of a lounge kinda feel going for it; the joys of being in a better country?)
The process is, for most part, straight-forward (but since when has such a bureaucratic process ever been?) – but in essence: know what you can and can’t do. It’s taken a couple of months, but you could realistically do it in two weeks (or fortnight as we call it here) assuming ’tis not too busy.
Although be warned, allow a few weeks before slots open for appointments at the US consulate here in Melbourne, get all the prep-work (which is pretty much everything) out of the way as best you can.
What did I do?
All up I ended up paying $620 for a J1/J2 Exchange visa AND a B1/B2 Tourist & Business 5 year visa.
You do not necessarily need a Tourist Visa! Why? The exchange visa enables you to stay in the US within the program dates mentioned on your DS-2019. Within those dates you are free to leave and re-enter the country as you please.
Outside those dates, both before and after is a 30-day grace period in which you can spend travelling and getting to/from your institution but only within the USA. But you only have one chance travelling in and one chance getting out.
Say you travel after your exchange program, and you go to Mexico – you cannot re-enter the States without the appropriate Visa. Someone asked can you come under a Visa Waiver Program to re-enter – it only applies for people coming direct from Oz.
I decided to do a bit of travelling after exchange, which would see myself travel into Canananada, plus it was only a marginal amount between going from a one year to a five year Tourist/Business visa.
But anyway – the costings and such:
- J1 Issuance: $140 (Paid at AusPost)
- B1/B2 Issuance: $140 (Paid at AusPost)
- J1 ReciprocityFee : $105 (Paid at Consulate) – opted to pay in USD
- B1/B2 Fee (5 years): $25 (Paid at Consulate) – opted to pay in USD
- SEVIS: $180 (Paid online) – paid in USD with Travelex Prepaid Card
- VisaPoint Appointment: $15 (Paid online) – paid online in AUD
- Express Post Satchel: $14 (Paid at AusPost)
- TOTAL: $619
I chose to pay in USD where I could, because at this point in time, it’s still a saving based on the good rates on offer. So really, I brought down the costs a little.
How I went about it:
- Wait for DS-2019 from host institution in the mail. (#irl*)
- Use online non-immigrant application for visa DS-190 (#online)
- Get SEVIS done ($180) (#online)
- Book appointment through VisaPoint website ($14 technically) (#online)
- Go to Post Office and pay for Issuance Fees ($140 + $140). While you are there, you’ll need an Express Post Satchel so they can post your passport with the visa back. ($14) (#irl)
- Prepare all documents, and supporting material (proof of finances, course et al) (#irl)
- At consulate, do the interview. Pay for Reciprocity/fees ($105 J1 reciprocity; B1/B2 $25)
- Wait until it returns in the mail. (#irl)
Disclaimer: You should always check! This is purely just an explanation of what I did. If in doubt don’t forget you can email US Visa Services.
*#irl = In Real Life.
When you first enter the US you’ll need to come in under the J1 only if you are going to travel domestically within the US and go straight into your exchange study program.
If not, you can come to the USA under Visa Waiver, go to to Canada or Mexico then return on your J1 and proceed from there. Similarly, leaving the USA you then forfeit your J1 and then you can return on a B1/B2.