Visa FAQs

What is a visa?

A visa is an official endorsement to enter a country of which you are not a legal resident. The visa will stipulate the amount of time you are permitted to remain, the status under which your stay is designated, and the activities in which you are allowed to engage while you are in the country on that status. It is usually in the form of a stamp or sticker affixed to one of the pages of the passport.

*Some of our programs require you to apply for a visa before you depart.

Is my passport valid for travel?

You must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended program's return date. Use the Department of State Passport Wizard to learn how to apply for a new passport. If you are uncertain if your passport if valid for travel, please contact AFS.

Where can I get a passport photo taken?

Passport photos can be used for both a passport and visa in many cases, and must meet U.S. State Department requirements. Photographs can be taken at many post offices or at stores like Walgreens, Fed Ex/Kinkos, Sears, etc, and must be included in the passport or visa application per the application requirements.

How do I get something notarized?

A notarization is the act of a licensed notary public witnessing someone signing a document. The notary adds a signature, stamp or seal, and statement as part of the evidence that they have verified the identity of the person signing a document. A notarization must be done in-person before the licensed notary public. If a document needs further certifications (like the stamp of a county clerk, an Apostille, or State Authentication), usually a notary stamp will be required first. Common places notaries may be found are in banks, attorney's offices, and more.

What is an Apostille and who grants it?

The highest level of certification the Federal Dept of State or a State Dept of State grant for a document. Apostilles are issued by the Federal Government or the Secretary of State’s office in the state where the document was certified or notarized. Your document must be apostilled by the state that it was issued in or by the Federal Government if it was Federally issued (i.e. a FBI Background Check). The process for obtaining an Apostille varies by state. An Apostille (or, in some cases, a State Authentication) may or may not be needed for your visa process. For more information on the Apostille process in your state click here.

What is a Consulate General?

The Consular Section of a country’s Embassy works specifically with issues related to travel into and out of that country. Most Embassies have a “Consular Services” office in Washington DC, along with several Consulate General or Vice Honorary Consulate offices around the U.S. covering different regions. Some visa applications may require an in-person visit to the regional office that has jurisdiction in your area.

How do I get a document translated?

Your visa process may require the official translation of a document into your destination country’s official language. The translator must be capable of translating the document in its entirety and must include a signed, notarized “Certificate of Accuracy” proving that their translation is accurate and complete.

We recommend working with a certified translator to ensure the process goes more smoothly – see below for companies with which past AFSers have worked. If you do not use one of these companies or something similar, your translator must be completely fluent (foreign governments will reject translations with lots of errors!) and can obtain a Certificate of Accuracy simply by search for the term online and finding examples.

Keep in mind that, if you need an Apostille for your translation of the document, it must be issued by the state in which the translation was notarized, regardless of where the original document was issued or apostilled.

Common translation services AFSers have used in the past are below.  Note that AFS does not endorse or recommend any particular service.

Translators can also be found at universities, courts or police departments. School transcripts may be translated by your school or school board.

Who needs to sign my Parental Consent Form?

Many consulates/ foreign governments require proof that the legal parents have granted permission for their minor child to travel abroad without them. This is a seperate requirement from AFS's application process. Generally, anyone with custody must sign the Parental Consent Form (PCF) and have it notarized.  There are a few special cases:

  • If you are over 18: If you turn 18 prior to one month before departure, you will likely only need to submit a PCF if you’re going to Argentina, Japan and Chile (these countries’ legal age is 21). If you are going to Thailand minors are considered individuals under the age of 20.
  • If your parents are divorced: If both parents have visitation rights, they both need to sign. Two separate PCFs can be notarized and submitted. If one parent does not have visitation rights, a copy of the divorce papers can be submitted and only the custodial parent needs to sign. If you are not sure how your situation should be handled, contact AFS-USA as soon as possible.
  • If one parent has a different last name than you: Consulates may require documentation explaining why one parent has a different last name. These could include a copy of a divorce decree, this student’s birth certificate, a copy of a marriage license, or adoption papers. Regardless of the documentation selected, it must establish that the signer is the natural parent of the child.
  • If you live in a different city than a parent: You may have difficulty having all of the documents signed, notarized, or apostilled as necessary. If a parent lives in a different state than you, that parent may need to follow their state’s rules for obtaining vital records or notarizing and apostilling documents.
  • If you live with a stepparent: Unless they are legal guardians through adoption or custody agreement, stepparents must not sign the PCF. If they are legal guardians, documentation must be included.
  • If one parent is estranged: A recent notarized affidavit from a lawyer should be submitted to the effect that the absent parent has been out of touch for a significant period of time. If this situation applied to you, please contact AFS-USA as soon as possible as the visa process may be more complicated.
  • If one parent is deceased: The surviving parent must sign the PCF and attach a photocopy of the death certificate.
  • If both of your parents are deceased: Legal guardian(s) must sign the PCF and attach proof of Legal Guardianship. A copy of the death certificate may also be required.

I have a non-US passport. What do I do?

If you hold a foreign passport and a visa or residence permit/green card to reside in the US, the process for going abroad may be different for you. AFS is committed to doing what we can to provide opportunities to citizens of all nations and are often able to accommodate non-US citizens. Please contact AFS as soon as possible to find out if an AFS program is possible.

What happens if I don’t get my visa in time?

Unfortunately, these scenarios do happen. Since Consular Officials issue visas, AFS has no control over the process itself. When these situations occur and aren’t the fault of the student, (i.e. applying for a visa late or taking trips out of the country prior to the start of a program) we will reschedule the international flight once the visa has been granted.

If you are denied a visa, we will do everything possible to come up with a solution. Since you will not be able to travel before you have secured your visa, it is very important that you do purchase a refundable and changeable domestic ticket to your gateway departure city.

***PLEASE NOTE: If your departure has to be delayed due to your visa, you will be responsible for changing your domestic ticket and for any penalties the airline charges. If you do not have your visa 5 business days ahead of your scheduled departure, you will need to reschedule your domestic and international flights.

Just remember: AFS is here to help! Always feel free to contact us with any questions.