This page contains helpful pre-arrival information, from applying for your visa to making travel arrangements and arriving in Houston.
Information on SEVIS Fee Requirement for J-1 Exchange Visitors
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) requires the collection of a one-time SEVIS fee of $220 from certain J-1 Exchange Visitor students and scholars as per 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1). This fee is being collected to fund the operation of the Student and Exchange Visitor Program Office, which has oversight over SEVIS - the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System. This fee is in addition to the visa application fee and will not be refunded if J-1 students and scholars are not granted a visa or choose not to come to the U.S. after their visas are granted.
Who must pay the SEVIS fee:
Exchange visitors are required to pay the SEVIS fee if they are:
Procedures for payment of the SEVIS fee:
The fee can be paid to the DHS online or by mail, and must be accompanied by a Form I-901. It can be paid by you or by a third party (such as a friend, family member, or other interested party) inside or outside the U.S. It cannot be paid at a U.S. embassy / consulate or at the port of entry.
To pay Online:
Instructions for payment by mail, and other frequently asked questions regarding the SEVIS fee, please see https://www.ice.gov/sevis/i901/faq.
Applying for your Visa
If you are coming to Rice on a J-1 visa, upon receiving your DS-2019, you will need to apply for your J-1 visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy (*See exception for Canadians below) (**If you're coming to Rice on a visa other than F-1 or J-1, please contact OISS if you have any questions regarding securing a visa). We recommend you visit the website of the U.S. Embassy / Consulate where you wish to apply for your visa, and follow the procedures for documentation, interview request, etc. We have also put together some tips for the visa application process and compiled a list of helpful videos, please see https://oiss.rice.edu/visa-tips. In general, you will need to present:
*Canadian exception: Canadian citizens are not required to obtain a visa stamp in their passports to enter the U.S. Instead they are adjudicated at the Port of Entry when they cross the border into the U.S. If you are coming on a J-1 visa, you must present the immigration officer at the port of entry the following documentation:
If you are coming to Rice from abroad on a visa other than J-1, please contact OISS for more information on documents required for your visa application.
If you are currently working at another institution in the U.S. on a J-1 visa and will be transferring your J-1 SEVIS record to Rice, be sure to contact an OISS advisor to assist you in coordinating your transfer. Please be aware that timing is very important when transferring a J-1 SEVIS record from one institution to another, as you may not have a gap of time between jobs. If you are working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa, please contact an OISS advisor to discuss transporting your H-1B to Rice University. If you are on F-1 status and have been approved for OPT (Optional Practical Training), your EAD permits you to work at Rice University during the validity dates. Please be sure to check in with OISS upon your arrival to campus. If you are on any other visa status, please feel free to contact OISS for guidance.
If you are already in the United States on a different visa category and wish to change your status to a J-1 visa, you have two options: 1) travel and apply for a new visa abroad, or 2) request a change of status from USCIS without departing the U.S. Please note that each process poses potential risks and processing times, so please speak with an OISS advisor about which process is most appropriate for you.
As of September 1, 1994, every person in J-1 or J-2 status is required to maintain a government-mandated minimum level of health insurance for the full duration of their stay in J status. Government regulations stipulate that if J-1 students or scholars willfully fail to maintain the required level of health insurance, their participation in the J-1 program will be subject to termination.
At the time of your mandatory immigration check in at OISS, you will be required to show proof of health insurance for you and your family. Failure to maintain adequate health insurance can, by law, result in the termination of your J-1 status. Please visit our Scholar Health Insurance webpage for more information on the J-1 health insurance requirements and some recommended options to meet them.
In the United States it is unwise not to have adequate health insurance. Not only does having health insurance permit access to better and more timely health care, but it also provides the only protection against the potentially enormous cost of medical services. Since a single day of hospitalization and medical treatment can cost thousands of dollars, many hospitals and doctors refuse to treat uninsured patients except in life-threatening emergencies. As a result, most Americans rely on health insurance to make sure that they will receive the care they need, when they need it. Unfortunately, although in many countries the government bears the expense of health care for its residents, individuals and families in the United States are responsible for the costs themselves.
All Rice international J-1 scholars and their dependents are required to maintain health insurance coverage for the full duration of their J visa status. In some cases, you may be able to purchase health insurance from your home country that meets the requirements.
Note to unpaid J-1 Academic Visitors: Unlike J-1 employees of Rice University, unpaid J-1 Academic Visitors scholars do not qualify for participation in Rice’s Aetna insurance plan. Therefore, the J-1 Academic Visitor and their family members will need to select health insurance policies on their own.
With the broad range of choices, the actual cost for health care in the United States cannot be measured. Much depends on the level of insurance coverage, the number of times the policy holder visits the doctor and/or hospital during their stay here. For the basic policies displayed in OISS, there is an average monthly cost of $100 for the individual, with an additional $320-$500 per month to include coverage for the spouse and/or children. Be sure to include cost estimates for health insurance in planning your budget for your expenses during your stay in the U.S. Read the policy information carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask questions before purchasing a policy. Insurance agents make their living from selling insurance policies to individuals and groups. If purchasing a policy through an insurance agent, feel free to ask questions and take the time to learn about and understand several choices before making a decision. Don’t sign anything if you are uncertain or confused. Consult a knowledgeable friend, your academic department, or OISS for help.
For more information, please see our Scholar Health Insurance webpage.
Traveling to the U.S.
At the airport where you enter the U.S., an immigration officer will inspect your passport, visa, immigration documents (e.g. I-20 / DS-2019), documents from Rice, and letters indicating how you will be financially supported when living in the U.S. Keep these items easily available. Do not pack them away in your luggage. The officer should stamp your passport with an entry stamp. The entry stamp is very important because it shows your admission status. You will also be able to print out your I-94 information after arriving to the U.S. at www.cbp.gov/i94/. Finally, the customs official will inspect your baggage for illegal items. There may be dogs sniffing for drugs, food, etc. as well.
For more information on traveling to the USA and applying for a visa, please visit http://travel.state.gov/.
Information on area hotels is available at http://explore.rice.edu/explore/Hotel.asp.
It is recommended to make reservations in advance. All prices are subject to change. 17% taxes are added to all hotel rates. If you would like the hotel discount for Rice University students and personnel, please be sure to state this when making a reservation. Most hotels require paid reservations in advance or a major credit card account number. Unpaid reservations are usually lost after 6:00 p.m., unless the hotel is notified in advance of your late arrival plans.
Most hotels have free swimming pools and 24-hour coffee shop or restaurant. Some have free shuttle bus services. Some allow children to stay at no extra charge. The term “double” usually means two double beds. A “single” usually costs less for a couple. The cost of a “single” and a charge for an extra person may be less than that for the “double.”
Near Houston Bush Intercontinental Airport:
Near Hobby Airport:
Youth Hostel / Dormitory available at these locations: (**Note: Hostels in the U.S. may not be comparable to those in Europe)
For off-campus housing resources, including information about utilities, please see our Housing website.
What to Bring
Houston weather is hot and humid in the summer and generally mild in the winter, though we do occasionally have freezing temperatures. The average winter day will be from 45° F to 65° F (7° C to 18° C). Clothing needs range from light summer cottons to medium weight winter coats, jackets, and sweaters. Rain can be expected any time of the year. A light raincoat and umbrella are useful. An all-weather coat or jacket is ideal for the winter.
We suggest you bring at least $2,500 in U.S. currency for convenience, because you will need money for initial expenses upon arrival – for hotels, apartment leasing, utility deposits, food, books and supplies, transportation, etc. Scholars paid by Rice may not receive their first paycheck until 2 - 4 weeks after starting work, due to payroll cycles.
We recommend you apply for a credit card in your home country before coming to Houston. In the U.S., you may not get a credit card before you have established your credit history, and many internationals' credit card requests get turned down because of this. Also, many people use a credit card / debit card instead of cash. For information on opening a bank account in the U.S., please see the Practical Resources website.