Immigration and travel

This page will inform you of how to obtain your visa and prepare for your travel to the United States and to UW-Madison as well as give you important information about orientation and short-term housing.

Obtaining a visa

In order to study in the United States, you must have a visa to enter the country. Apply for the visa at an U.S. embassy or consulate outside the U.S. using the form DS-2019, which will be sent to you by IESP six to eight weeks after the application deadline (if all of your documents have been received at that point) or later if your application is not complete by the deadline.

You will need various crucial documents to support your visa application. Prepare carefully for your visit to the U.S. embassy or consulate. Read all documents carefully, so that you know exactly what you are agreeing to when you enter the United States on a student visa. There are new guidelines for international students so be extra meticulous when preparing your documents.

Visa procedures may vary slightly from one consulate or embassy to another; however, the following standard items are typically required for the visa application.

  • A current, valid passport
  • The DS-2019 form for the J visa
  • Proof of payment of SEVIS fee
  • Letter of admission to the College of Engineering
  • Documentation of your financial support, including an original bank statement accompanied by a letter of financial support from parents, bank, or other sponsor.
  • Proof that you have permanent residence outside the United States
  • One or more passport-type photographs
  • A completed non-immigrant visa application form

The consular officer will place a visa stamp in your passport. If you receive a multiple-entry visa, you may use it to reenter the United States up to the date of its expiration as long as you have a valid DS-2019. You must always have valid papers or you will be asked to immediately leave the country. You will have a required orientation with International Student Services once you arrive in Madison. Be certain to contact ISS with questions at any other time before or after your arrival.


The United States government requires incoming international students to pay a fee, currently US$180, toward maintenance of the Student and Exchange Information System (SEVIS).

You can pay your SEVIS fee online as soon as you receive your DS-2019. You must provide the receipt as proof of your payment to the consulate when you apply for your visa.

Arrival advice

Keep your passport, DS-2019 form, travel documents, and money with you at all times. Keep important papers in your carry-on luggage, with photocopies in your other baggage. Leave copies of all of your documents in your home country.

Label your baggage inside and out with your name and both your home and U.S. addresses and telephone numbers. To prevent inconvenience in the case of lost luggage, put all items that you will need for at least your first night in Madison in your carry-on luggage.

Toward the end of your flight to the United States, the airline personnel will give you several forms to complete for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service and U.S. Customs. It is forbidden to bring certain items into the United States (for example, fruits, vegetables, drugs, firearms, and excessive amounts of cash). You will be asked to report the value of the things you are bringing into the United States. Simply follow the direction on the forms. If necessary, ask the flight attendant for clarification.

Among the forms that you will receive on the flight is a small white card called the "I-94 card." This document is an official immigration document, which should remain in your passport for the duration of your stay in the United States. The I-94 card, in combination with the United States visa stamp and a valid passport, secure your entry into the United States. You must have all of these documents to enter the United States at the ort of entry in the airport.

J-1 Student visa status

You will receive a complete visa briefing after you arrive on campus. Be aware of the following:

Immigration regulations require you to be enrolled in a full-time program of study while participating in the UW-Madison exchange program. Depending on the number of credits assigned to the classes you choose, that means that you must register for at least three or four classes totaling a minimum of 12 credits if you are an undergraduate at your home institution, or a minimum of 8 credits if you are a graduate student at your home institution.

Arrival and orientation

Arrive in time to participate in Welcome Week and International Student Orientation activities, dates for which are available in UW-Madison's Academic Calendar.

A special orientation session for exchange students will take place during the orientation week. You will be notified of this date beforehand, and a complete schedule of the week's events will be available when you arrive on campus.

If you arrive for the Fall semester, arrive during the first or second week of August if you plan to live off-campus in an apartment. Most leases begin on August 15.

  1. Don't miss orientation and ensure your housing by arriving two weeks before the start of the semester (check the Academic Calendar for the start of your semester). International students cannot enter the United States more than 30 days before the start of the semester (as noted on the DS-2019).
  2. If you plan to look for housing immediately upon arrival in Madison, we recommend that you do not arrive on a Friday or Saturday because most apartment rental offices are closed Saturday and Sunday.
  3. Arriving early allows you to explore Madison and the surrounding areas, to search for housing, and to take care of logistical issues.
  4. Keep in mind that the temperatures in Madison in January are quite cold and that most students are on winter vacation until just prior to the start of classes, which discourages many spring students from arriving much before orientation.

Short-term housing

It is your responsibility to arrange your own temporary and permanent housing. Below are listed some options for you to obtain short-term housing.

Madison Friends of International Students

  1. Madison Friends of International Students (MFIS) is an organization whose temporary housing volunteers will provide free accommodation and breakfast for the first three nights of your stay. This arrangement has been very popular with international students. Many families are able to meet you upon arrival at the airport or bus stop.
  2. Through MFIS, you may not know where you will be staying until a week or less before your arrival. Therefore, it is very important that you keep the following groups informed of how to contact you at all times: MFIS, International Engineering Studies & Programs, and whoever will meet you upon your arrival to transport you to your temporary housing.
  3. Because MFIS housing is limited, International Engineering Studies & Programs asks that you do not use this service for temporary housing if you already have a place to stay when you arrive.
  4. The contact information for the administrative office of Madison Friends of International Students is below. Please be mindful that the MFIS is run by volunteers and therefore has limited hours of operation. Please make sure to write or fax at least 6 weeks in advance. Also, include your exact date of arrival and flight or bus arrival time.

Madison Friends of International Students
Room 149, The Red Gym
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: 608/263-4010
Fax: 608/262-2838

Other options for short-term housing

If MFIS is unable to arrange temporary housing for you, or if you choose to make other arrangements for temporary housing, here are some options.

Campus options

Lowell Inn and Conference Center
610 Langdon St.
Madison, 53703
Phone: 608/256-2621
Fax: 608/252-5445
You must indicate that you are affiliated with International Studies and Programs to reserve a room.

Short Course Dorms
1450 Linden Drive
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608/262-2270
Fax: 608/265-5905
Limited availability.

The Visitor and Information Programs web site lists more campus-area short-term housing options.

Madison campus-area lodging

Hostelling International Madison
141 S. Butler St.
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: (608) 441-0144
Affordable downtown accommodation; private and shared rooms.

DoubleTree Hotel
525 W. Johnson St.
Madison, WI 53706
Phone: 608/251-5511
Fax: 608/251-4824
Parking free. Swimming pool and hot tub! Rates are higher on football weekends.

Campus Inn
601 Langdon St.
Madison, 53703.
Phone: 608/257-4391
Fax: 608/257-2832
Rates higher on football weekends.

The Madison Concourse Hotel
1 West Dayton Street
Madison, Wisconsin 53703
Phone: 800/356 8293

Hilton Madison Monona Terrace
9 East Wilson Street
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608/255-5100

Edgewater Hotel
666 Wisconsin Ave.,
Madison, WI 53703
Phone: 608/256-9071

A longer list of Madison hotels is available online.