Pre-Arrival Information

This page contains helpful pre-arrival information, from applying for your student visa to making travel arrangements and arriving in Houston.

Information on SEVIS Fee Requirement for F-1 Students

All foreign nationals who come to the United States on F-1 visa status for the purpose of pursuing a full course of study in institutions such as colleges, universities, and language training programs are required to pay the SEVIS fee of $350 as per 8 CFR 103.7(b)(1). This fee is in addition to the visa application fee.

The SEVIS fee is payable one time for each single educational program in which an F-1 student participates, extending from the time the student is granted F-1 status to the time the student falls out of status, changes status, or departs the U.S. for an extended period of time. The money collected will be used by the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to fund the Student and Exchange Visitor Program. This program makes it possible for international students and exchange visitors to attend schools in the U.S. The fee also funds the Student Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS), a computer system for managing international students' and exchange visitors' information during their stay in the U.S.

Who must pay the SEVIS fee

You will need to pay the SEVIS fee if:

  • You are seeking an F-1 visa from a U.S. embassy or consulate for first-time attendance in a college or university. In this case, the SEVIS fee must be paid before visa issuance.
  • You hold a valid F-1, but have been absent from the U.S. for a period of more than 5 months (not working on your studies during this time with the prior approval of your school), and will re-enter the U.S. for a new program of study. In this case, the SEVIS fee must be paid before re-entry to the U.S.
  • As a resident of a contiguous territory or adjacent island, you are exempt from the visa requirement (for example, you are a citizen of Canada or Bermuda), and will apply for admission at port of entry to begin initial attendance at a U.S. school. In this case, the SEVIS fee must be paid before entry to the U.S. entry to the U.S.

F-2 visa holders, i.e. the spouse and children of the F-1 visa holder, are not required to pay the SEVIS fee.

Once paid, the SEVIS fee is non-refundable, unless paid by mistake, even if your visa is denied or, subsequent to issuance of the visa, you choose not to come to the U.S. If you applied for an F-1 visa and paid the SEVIS fee within the last year but were denied a visa, you do not have to pay the SEVIS fee again as long as you re-apply for the same kind of program within 12 months of the initial denial.

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

  1. Find the Form I-901 at https://www.fmjfee.com/
  2. 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 I-20.
  3. Print a copy of the online receipt.
  4. 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.

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 U.S. It cannot be paid at a U.S. embassy/consulate or at the port of entry.

To pay Online

  1. Find the Form I-901 at https://www.fmjfee.com/
  2. 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.
  3. Print a copy of the online receipt.
  4. 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

Upon receiving your I-20 or DS-2019, you will need to apply for your F-1/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:

  1. A valid passport from your own government.
  2. A “Certificate of Eligibility” for a temporary stay in the U.S. (Form I-20 or DS-2019 issued by Rice University or another sponsor institution).
  3. Financial documents to prove you have the funds required for at least a year’s stay in the U.S. as indicated on the I-20 or until the end of your program as indicated on the DS-2019.
  4. Proof of payment of the SEVIS fee. All F-1 and 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.
  5. Completed visa application forms (DS-160) – be sure to indicate your name as stated on your passport and your I-20/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 U.S. on F-1 or J-1 visa. Instead they are adjudicated at the Port of Entry when they cross the border into the U.S. If you are coming on an F-1 or J-1 visa status, you must present the immigration officer at the port of entry the following documentation:

  • I-20 (F visa) or DS-2019 (J visa)
  • Financial support, as shown on your I-20 or DS-2019
  • Offer letter of admission to 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 admission stamp in your passport to ensure that it grants F-1 or J-1 status for “D/S” (duration of status). For dependents it should show F-2 or J-2 status for “D/S”. If it is incorrect, return to the immigration officer and request a correction there. You will be able to download/print your I-94 admission record by visiting http://www.cbp.gov/i94.

Coming from another U.S. institution

If you are currently studying at another school in the U.S. but will be leaving the U.S. prior to coming to Rice, simply show the Immigration Officer your I-20 or DS-2019 from Rice upon re-entry to the U.S. You do not need to go to the U.S. consulate unless your student visa has expired. If you will not be leaving the U.S., please check in with OISS upon your arrival to campus.

Changing visa status to F-1/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 an F-1 or 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.

Administrative Processing

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.

Traveling to the U.S.

Please see the Travel section at https://oiss.rice.edu/covid19 for additional, COVID-19 related travel considerations.

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 I-20 or DS-2019 (F-1 students may refer to the Earliest Admission Date as listed on their I-20)
2. Your arrival date must be in time to attend the mandatory international orientation (see our Orientation website for dates/times) and/or any other Rice orientations that you are required to attend
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. I-20/DS-2019), admission 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, 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 www.cbp.gov/i94/. 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 $40 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.
    LYFT: http://www.lyft.com
    UBER: http://www.uber.com
  • 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.
  • International Student Clubs Airport Pick-Up Program – Many International Student Clubs at Rice, such as the Indian Students Association at Rice (ISAR) or the Rice Chinese Students and Scholars Association (RCSSA), offer transportation from the airports for the new incoming students.
  • 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.

Housing

Temporary Housing – Hotels

It is recommended to make hotel reservations in advance. Prices are subject to change and 17% tax is added to all hotel rates. Ask if there is a discount for Rice students and staff. Most hotels require paid reservations in advance or a credit card number. Unpaid reservations are usually cancelled after 6:00 p.m., unless the hotel is notified in advance of your late arrival plans.

Many hotels have a swimming pool and coffee shop or restaurant. Some have free shuttle bus services. Some allow children to stay at no extra charge. Hotel rates typically include your room only with no meals. You will be charged an additional day’s rate if you do not vacate your room by the designated time. 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

Permanent Housing

For Rice on-campus housing, please see https://housing.rice.edu/.

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 U.S. 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

Clothing

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.

Completed Health Data Form

Obtain all the required immunizations and get a recent physical examination by a qualified health professional before coming to Rice. The Rice University Health Data Form must be completed and submitted to the Rice University Student Health Services before you can register for classes. Please contact the Student Health Services directly with any questions related to your Health Data Form.

Health Insurance

Standard Rice health insurance plans (Aetna and Wellfleet) have an effective start date of August 1 or January 1. If you will be arriving earlier or start your program in the summer, you will need to secure an alternate insurance plan that will cover you until your school plan becomes effective. You may select a plan from any insurance company of your choice for this interim period. However, we recommend Atlas Insurance as a good option, as it has the flexibility of enrolling for the number of days that you need, and some plans may also meet the minimum requirements for specific visa categories, such as the J-1. For more information, please visit: http://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/travel-medical-insurance/.

Money

Make sure to bring sufficient funds in U.S. currency to cover larger initial expenses, including items like the annual health insurance fees, hotel or other temporary accommodations, housing deposits, utility deposits, food, books and supplies, transportation, etc. In addition, in order to open a bank account and have your money available right away, you will need to deposit cash or initiate a wire transfer from an account overseas. For information on opening a bank account in the U.S., please see the Banking website. Regarding paying your student bill – Rice's Cashier's Office has a multitude of options for payment, please visit their website for detailed options, including an option specifically for international payments using a service called Flywire.

Credit Card

We recommend you apply for a credit card in your home country before coming to Houston, which will allow you to charge many initial expenses. In the U.S., you may not be able to get a credit card before you have established your credit history, and many international students' 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/.

Miscellaneous Information

Prices

In the United States the price of an item in a store is typically the cost before sales taxes. In Houston, the sales tax rate is 8.25%. This amount will be added at the register when you pay.

Tipping

Gratuity (tip) is usually not included in restaurants in the U.S. It is standard for the customer to add an additional amount (usually about 15-20%) for the waiter/waitress. Tipping is also customary for other service providers, such as hairdressers, taxi drivers, bartenders, and food deliveries.

Measurements

The U.S. does not use the metric system, which is common in most other countries around the world. To learn more about the United States customary units, please see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_customary_units.