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.

F-2 visa holders, the spouse and dependents 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
  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

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
  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

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, please see 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 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 visit:
  5. Completed visa application forms – 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, 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 print your I-94 admission status by visiting

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.

Booking your Flight

  • Houston has two airports – 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
    2. Your arrival date must be in time to attend the mandatory international orientation (see our Orientation website for dates / times)
    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. It can take a long time to go through immigration and customs.

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), 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 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

Transportation from the Airport

  • Taxi – costs an estimated $70 from Intercontinental Airport, or $45 from Hobby Airport. An additional charge may apply for heavy luggage such as trunks. There is no charge for a regular suitcase. Taxi drivers are customarily tipped about 15% of the fare. You do not need to make a reservation ahead of time, simply go to the taxi pick-up area near baggage claim. Expect about a 45-minute drive from Intercontinental to Rice area, or 25 minutes from Hobby Airport.
  • Lyft/Uber – costs an estimated $35 from Intercontinental Airport, or $25 from Hobby Airport. 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. Hotel shuttles will pick up in the same area as Taxis.
  • Car rental – Prices vary, but may be researched online on various travel websites. You will probably want to make a reservation ahead of time. Be sure to ask for a Houston map, and have them indicate where Rice University / Houston Medical Center is located.
  • 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. Details of such programs are included in the Club welcome letter sent with the OISS admissions packets.
  • 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. Take Highway 59, exit S Shepherd Dr & Greenbriar St, take Greenbriar St going south, and take a left on Rice Boulevard.


Temporary Housing – Hotels, Hostels & Dormitories

Information on area hotels is available at

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:

  • Holiday Inn - Airport – 1522 JFK Boulevard, Houston, TX 77032. Tel.: 281-449-2311 or toll free 800-465-4329. Complimentary shuttle to airport (4:30AM-Midnight) and Deer Park Mall.
  • Doubletree Hotel Intercontinental – 15747 JFK Blvd., Houston, TX 77032. Tel: 281-848-4000.

Near Hobby Airport:

  • Econo Lodge Hobby Airport – 9000 Broadway Street, Houston, TX 77061. Tel: 713-645-1333. Free continental breakfast.
  • Days Inn Hobby Airport – 9114 Airport Blvd., Houston, TX 77061. Tel: 713-944-3004.
  • Hilton Hobby Airport – 8181 Airport Blvd., Houston, TX 77061. Tel: 713-645-3000.

Youth Hostel / Dormitory available at these locations: (**Note: Hostels in the U.S. may not be comparable to those in Europe)

  • Houston International Hostel – 5302 Crawford at Oakdale, Houston, TX. Tel.: 713-523-1009. Email: Registration is between 8:00 – 9:00 a.m. or 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., or by arrangement. Call only during office hours. Reservations are available, but not required. It is located at a reasonable walking distance to Rice.
  • International House Dormitory – 2719 Capitol Ave, Houston, TX 77003. Tel.: 713-237-8443. Space is limited. Call in advance. However, safety is a concern in downtown Houston, especially in the evening.

Permanent Housing

For Rice on-campus housing, please see

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.

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 SAS) have an effective start date of August 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:


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. Some students may have been billed for insurance and student fees before leaving for the U.S. If you have not already paid for health insurance before leaving your country, you will be billed for student health insurance in the amount of approximately $1,000 - $2,500 at registration. (Payment on part of the bill for insurance and fees may be deferred, but you will still need to pay at least 25% of the fees and health insurance bill at registration.) If you have been awarded a research assistantship or fellowship paying a stipend, then your first paycheck of a half-month’s salary should be ready shortly after you arrive. 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. 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.