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:
- New applicants for J-1 Exchange Visitor Status.
- An individual in the U.S. applying for a change of status to J-1.
- An Exchange Visitor who is in a U.S. government sponsored program and who is transferring to a non-U.S. government sponsored program.
- An Exchange Visitor applying for a change of category (e.g., J-1 student to J-1 researcher).
- A J-1 Exchange Visitor applying for reinstatement for a substantive violation.
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 United States. It cannot be paid at a U.S. embassy/consulate or at the port of entry.
To pay Online
- Find the Form I-901 at https://www.fmjfee.com/
- Complete the form online and supply the necessary Visa, MasterCard or American Express information. Be sure to write your name exactly as it appears on your Form DS-2019.
- Print a copy of the online receipt.
- Be sure to make copies of your receipt, and keep it with your other important immigration documents.
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
Coming from abroad
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 at https://oiss.rice.edu/visa-tips. In general, you will need to present:
- A valid passport from your own government.
- A DS-2019 “Certificate of Eligibility” for a temporary stay in the U.S.
- Proof of Financial Support showing the funds required for the duration of stay in the U.S. (as indicated on the DS-2019).
- Proof of payment of the SEVIS fee. All J-1 visa applicants need to pay the one-time SEVIS fee prior to applying for a visa. Keep your receipt as proof of payment to present to the U.S. Consulate, port of entry officials when entering the U.S., and for your records. For more information see above and visit www.FMJfee.com.
- Completed visa application forms (DS-160) – be sure to indicate your name as stated on your passport and your DS-2019 documents to better ensure that your name on your visa stamp will be displayed properly.
*Canadian exception: Canadian citizens are not required to obtain a visa stamp in their passports to enter the United States. Instead they are adjudicated at the Port of Entry when they cross the border into the United States. If you are coming on a J-1 visa, you must present the immigration officer at the port of entry the following documentation:
- Financial support, as shown on your DS-2019
- Offer letter of employment at Rice University
- SEVIS fee receipt. Payment must be made in advance, and cannot be made at the airport or border.
- Passport, valid for at least six months into the future
Upon clearing immigration, check your I-94 record to ensure that it grants J-1 status for “D/S” (duration of status). For dependents it should show J-2 status for “D/S”. If it is incorrect, contact OISS immediately. You will be able to download/print your I-94 admission status by visiting https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home.
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.
Coming from another U.S. institution
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 or STEM OPT (Optional Practical Training), your EAD permits you to work at Rice University during the validity dates (additional requirements apply if you are on STEM OPT). 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.
Changing visa status to J-1 from another visa category
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 United States. 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.
At the end of the visa appointment, only two outcomes are possible: the consular officer will either issue or refuse the visa. Sometimes the consular officer may determine that additional information is required before the visa can be issued and the application must go through further administrative processing. If administrative processing is required, the consular officer will inform you about it at the end of the interview. Although your visa application will be refused at that time, you may be determined to qualify for the visa once the case-specific administrative processing is completed. Therefore, in the case of administrative processing, a visa refusal may not be the final answer. The duration of the administrative processing will vary based on the individual circumstances of each case. For more information, please see the U.S. Department of State's webpage on administrative processing.
- Health Insurance
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.
How to choose a policy
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.
Considerations in choosing a plan include:
- The reliability of the company. Plans offered through Rice or approved by NAFSA should be from reliable companies. Plans advertised outside of our campus should be checked out with someone who is familiar with that company. The recommendation from the person selling the insurance is not always sufficient in order to make a good decision as to which policy to buy. Companies vary in their level of service to customers, how promptly they pay claims, and if they pay the full amount expected by their policy holders.
- Deductible amounts. Most insurance policies require their holders to pay part of their health expenses themselves (called the deductible) before the company pays anything. Under some policies the deductible is a yearly figure, and the holders must pay up to that amount only once each year. Under other plans, the deductible must be paid each time there is an illness or injury. The J regulations require that you select a policy where the deductible is no more than $500 per accident or illness, but many policies offer a lower, more advantageous one. In choosing insurance, think carefully about how much you can afford to pay out of your own pocket each time you are sick or injured, and weigh the deductible against the premium before you decide.
- Co-insurance. Usually an insurance policy only pays a percentage of the medical expenses, even after the deductible is paid. The policy might pay 80%, for example, and the remaining 20% (which holders still have to pay) is called the co-insurance. For example: $3,000 in medical expenses covered by a policy with a $400 deductible and a 20% co-insurance would cover $2,080 of your expenses and require you to pay $400 in deductible and $520 in co-insurance. The J regulations require that insurance policy you choose must pay at least 75% of covered medical expenses.
- Life/per-occurrence maximums. Many insurance policies limit the amount they will pay for any single individual’s medical bills or for any specific illness or injury. Exchange Visitors must have insurance with a maximum no lower than $100,000 for each specific illness or injury, which may be enough for most conditions. Major illnesses, however, can cost the patient several times that amount.
- Benefit periods. Some insurance policies limit the amount of time they will go on paying for each illness or injury. In that case, after the benefit period for a condition has expired, the policy holders must pay the full cost of continuing treatment of the illness, even if they are still insured by the company. A policy with a long benefit period provides the best coverage.
- Exclusions. Most insurance policies exclude coverage for certain conditions. The J regulations require that if a particular activity is part of your Exchange Visitor program, your insurance must cover injuries resulting from your participation in that activity. For example, if a person comes to the U.S. to conduct chemical experiments, they would have to be covered for laboratory accidents. Finally most insurance companies do not pay for treatment of what they consider to be pre-existing conditions. That is, if the policy holder was previously diagnosed and/or treated for a problem before purchasing the insurance, the new insurance policy will not pay for continued treatment of that problem.
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.
Booking your Flight
Houston has two airports – George Bush Intercontinental Airport (IAH) and Hobby Airport (HOU)
Arrival Date – Please consider the following requirements when making your travel plans:
1. Your arrival date may not be more than 30 days prior to the start date indicated on your DS-2019
2. If you will be arriving more than 21 days after your indicated start date, you must contact OISS as we may need to amend your DS-2019
3. Your arrival date must fall within the validity dates on your visa stamp
Connecting flights – Plan for longer time in between flights due to U.S. entry procedures if you don't fly directly to Houston. It can take a long time to go through immigration and customs, which happens at your initial U.S. port of entry.
Arriving at the Airport
At the airport where you enter the U.S., an immigration officer will inspect your passport, visa, immigration documents (e.g., DS-2019), documents from Rice, and letters indicating how you will be financially supported when living in the United States. Keep these items easily available. Do not pack them away in your luggage. The officer should stamp your passport with an entry stamp, but some airports are moving away from this process. After arriving to the U.S. you will be able to access your I-94 admission record at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home. The I-94 record is very important because it shows your admission status.
The customs officials may inspect your baggage for illegal materials or have CBP canines sniff for drugs. Additionally, electronic devices, such as smartphones, tablets and laptops, may be opened/unlocked and searched by the officials. If you are uncomfortable with having your electronic property assessed, it may be advisable to leave these items in your checked luggage.
Check with your airline or travel agency about restrictions on your airplane carry-on luggage. You will need to put objects such as knives, sharp scissors, razors, and some liquids in your checked baggage. A list of Prohibited and Restricted Items is available at https://www.cbp.gov/travel/us-citizens/know-before-you-go/prohibited-and-restricted-items.
Transportation from the Airport
Ground transportation for George Bush Intercontinental Airport: https://fly2houston.com/iah/ground-transportation.
Ground transportation for Hobby Airport: https://fly2houston.com/hou/ground-transportation.
Taxis and other forms of transportation are known to be very safe and reliable in Houston, as opposed to many other major cities in America. Still, avoid bus, metro and railway stations at night if you're unaccompanied.
- Taxi – costs an estimated $70 from Intercontinental Airport, or $45 from Hobby Airport (cost estimates subject to change). Taxi drivers are customarily tipped about 15% of the fare.
- Lyft/Uber – costs an estimated $35 from Intercontinental Airport, or $25 from Hobby Airport (cost estimates subject to change). Download the app on your mobile device and create an account. You will need a phone number and email address.
- Hotel Shuttles – If you are going to stay in a hotel before arriving at Rice University, several hotels have shuttles from the airport. Confirm with your hotel whether they have shuttles available, and confirm the date and time of your arrival.
- Car rental – Prices vary, but may be researched online on various travel websites. You will probably want to make a reservation ahead of time.
- Driving Directions to Rice – Rice University is located at 6100 Main Street, Houston, TX 77005. It is across from Hermann Park and the Texas Medical Center. For directions to campus, please consult http://www.rice.edu/get-to-rice.
Temporary Housing – Hotels
It is recommended to make reservations in advance. Prices are subject to change and 17% tax is 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.
Many hotels have swimming pools and 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.”
• Hotels near Campus: https://campustravel.com/university/rice-university/
• Hotels near George Bush Intercontinental Airport: https://www.fly2houston.com/iah/other-hotels
• Hotels near Hobby Airport: https://www.fly2houston.com/hou/hotels
For off-campus housing resources, including information about utilities, please see our Housing website.
Please note that apartment scams are unfortunately very common in the United States. Please always make sure any apartment posting is legitimate before paying any fees or deposits! For more information, please see the USA.gov website on rental scams.
- 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). During August and September, the average high temperature will be 89-96° F (31-36° C) and very humid. Temperatures are above 90° F (32° C) for much of the summer, but buildings are usually air-conditioned and it can get quite cold indoors. 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 Banking website.
Electric Outlet Converter
The U.S. uses Types A and B electrical outlets. Make sure that you have converters/adapters for any electronic devices you bring and will need to use or charge immediately. For more information, please consult https://www.worldstandards.eu/electricity/plugs-and-sockets/.