Pre-arrival Information

Before an Exchange Visitor can begin their program at UW–Madison, they will need to obtain a visa*

*Citizens of Canada and Bermuda do not need to obtain a visa stamp in certain situations. For more information, please read here.

Advance travel planning and early visa application are important. Please review the current wait time for an interview on the Department of State website.

To start the process to get your visa stamp, complete the online visa application Form DS-160.

Read these Frequently Asked Questions firstthey will answer many of your questions.

Arrival Deadline

IFSS must report to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) when each J-1 scholar arrives in Madison. IFSS has 30 days from the start date of your program (your DS-2019 start date) to report your arrival in SEVIS.

Do not attempt to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before your DS-2019 start date. You would likely be denied entry to the U.S. in this case.

If you do not arrive in Madison and notify IFSS within 30 days of your DS-2019 start date, your J-1 record will be invalid. Once your J-1 record is invalid, you are not eligible to get a J-1 visa stamp or enter the U.S. as a J-1. Do not not attempt to enter the U.S. more than 30 days after the start date on the DS-2019. You would likely be denied entry to the U.S. in this case.

  • If you are unable to arrive in Madison to start your program within this 30 day window or if you have decided not to pursue your J-1 Exchange Visitor Program anymore, please notify IFSS immediately.
  • If you will be arriving later than you thought, IFSS can change the start date on your program to allow you to obtain the visa stamp and enter the U.S. at a later date.
  • If you will not be coming to the U.S. anymore, IFSS can cancel your J-1 program.

If you need to change your start date and be issued a new DS-2019, you will have the option to either have the new document sent to you or we can hold the DS-2019 at IFSS until you arrive. If you are not given the new DS-2019, you can still enter the U.S. with the original DS-2019. At the border, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will see the correct dates and you should be allowed entry.

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It is recommended that you allow a week or so to find housing before your program begins. Many apartments within walking distance of campus cater to students and adults without children, and are rented far in advance by students. Many more housing options are available further away from campus. Parking in the campus area is very limited, but the public transportation system in Madison is reliable. There are also many bicycle routes throughout the city.

Private Housing

If you plan to live in privately owned apartments you may want to visit the Visitor and Information Program’s (VIP) website for a listing of local apartments for rent as well as answers to frequently asked questions about the housing situation in Madison.

  • Some apartments are available with furniture; others are rented unfurnished. Be careful to check whether or not the rent includes heat and/or utilities. You will probably be required to pay one month’s rent in advance and another month’s rent as a security deposit. To finalize the renting process, you will be required to sign a lease. A lease is a contract which outlines all the terms and conditions for which you, as a renter, are responsible. Be sure you understand what your lease says; you are legally responsible to observe all the terms of the lease once you have signed your name to it. If you are unclear about any aspect of the terminology in the lease, ask someone else to read it before signing. Lastly, do not sign a lease until you have seen the apartment in person.

Temporary Housing

Temporary housing (1-3 days) for new international scholars is offered, when available, by “Madison Friends of International Students” (MFIS) and Madison area volunteers. If you contact MFIS please include your name, address, arrival date, and gender.

  • Their office is located in the International Student Services (ISS) Office on campus at 217 Red Gym.
  • Contact MFIS, Inc., preferably at least 6 weeks in advance, at 217 Red Gym, 716 Langdon Dr., Madison, WI 53706; phone: 608-263-4010; fax: 608-262- 2838; e-mail:; website:
    The office is staffed by volunteers between 10:00 a.m. – 12 noon, Monday through Friday. When the office is not staffed, volunteers continue to check e-mail and voice mail and they will get back to you as soon as possible.

Expenses and Banking

Initial Expenses
You should have some U. S. currency on hand when you arrive, since there is not a currency exchange office in Madison. If you have a debit card, you can use any ATM to get U.S. currency. Please note that there may be additional fees from your home country’s bank for changing currency.

You should plan to arrive with enough money to assist you during your first few weeks in the U.S. These expenses could include things such as hotels, food, registration fees, and other housing costs. Until you are living in a dormitory, house, or apartment, you should expect to spend from $20- $40 per day for meals at moderately priced restaurants and from $100-$400 per night for off-campus accommodations.

NOTE: If you will be paid a salary from UW–Madison, you will not receive your first paycheck until the beginning of the second month of employment. It is especially important that you bring enough money for all start up costs as well as your living expenses for the first month. Please consult with your department payroll person regarding your salary and benefits.

Bringing Money to the U.S. from Abroad
All U.S. paper money is the same size and color. Denominations are $1, $5, $10, $20, $50 or $100. U.S. currency is based on a decimal system, with 100 cents per dollar. Many small, local shops do not always accept $100 bills, and sometimes they do not accept $50 bills. It is best to have a mixture of $1, $5, $10, and $20 bills when paying for smaller expenses.
Do not bring large sums of cash! There are many safer options available, these include: traveler’s checks, electronic banking/ATMs/check cards, international credit cards, bank checks/crafts, debit cards and wire transfers. Please contact your bank for details.

Banking in the U.S.
Many of you will wish to establish a U.S. bank account. Before you open an account, be sure to do some preliminary research to compare services and fees. There are many different local banks and credit unions conveniently located near the Madison campus. We suggest searching the internet to find the locations of local banks and credit unions.

There are two basic kinds of accounts which you should discuss with the banking institution:

  • Checking accounts.
  • Savings accounts

To avoid delays and cash-flow problems, you may want to open an account in a bank with a branch in the U.S. This would avoid long delays (4-8 weeks) required to process a check issued in a foreign currency from a foreign bank. It is very important for you to be familiar with your government’s regulations for transferring funds to the U.S. You should also check with your bank in your home country regarding fees charged for transferring funds to the U.S.


Please be aware of email and phone scams. Refer to the links below for helpful resources to protect your identity and information:

If you are ever a victim of a scam, please contact IFSS for assistance.

Cultural Adjust 101

You may experience a mix of emotions as you prepare for this new chapter of your life. Many international scholars report being excited, anxious, happy and sad all at the same time. This mixture of emotions is normal, especially if you are coming to the United States for the first time. Remember to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust to the United States.

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4 Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Coming to a new country, you may experience the Four Stages of Cultural Adjustment referred to as the 4- H’s (Honeymoon, Hostility, Humor and Home). Most people experience these stages to some degree.

  1. When you first arrive in the U.S., you may experience the honeymoon stage, the initial stage of cultural adjustment. During the Honeymoon stage, everything you experience and discover may feel new and exciting. You may be very enthusiastic about everything you encounter and everyone you meet.
  2. Next, you may experience the hostility stage. This is the period when you realize that there are many new challenges and barriers to overcome. For example, you may not always understand things such as local culture and jokes, and you may experience language barriers that feel frustrating and draining.
  3. Next comes the humor stage. This is the stage when you begin to learn to overcome the challenges and barriers you have encountered. During the Humor stage, mistakes do not bother you as much. In fact, you may find that you can actually laugh at them!
  4. The final stage is the home stage. This is the point when you feel at home in your new environment.

Remember that not all people experience all of the Four Stages of Cultural Adjustment and that they might not follow in the order discussed. Stay busy and surround yourself with positive people. Remember to talk often with friends, family and UW staff to work through challenges. Let the journey begin!

Packing and Madison's Seasons

  • Spring: March 1–May 31

Cold to mild weather. Lots of rain and occasional snow. Rain gear and layers recommended.

  • Summer: June 1–August 31

Mild to very warm and humid weather. Rain and thunderstorms possible. Abundant sunshine. Light layers and sun protection recommended. Also bring gear for outdoor activities like swimming and hiking.

  • Fall: September 1–November 30

Warm/Mild to cold weather. Sun and rain possible with occasional snow. Very windy at times. Light to heavy layers with warm jackets and rain gear. Prepare for possible very cold temperatures or snow.

  • Winter: December 1–February 28

Cold to freezing weather. Lots of snow and blizzards possible. Ice storms and rain as well. Heavy layers, coats, water proof snow boots, gloves/mittens, and hats.

Don’t forget to pack your cultural attire and items from home too! There are several events on campus that celebrate cultural diversity in which you may want to participate.

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Check with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate where you will apply for a nonimmigrant visa, since additional or different documents might be required and application submission method might differ depending upon which U.S. Embassy/Consulate you will go to. Prepare the documentation that you must show when applying for a nonimmigrant visa, such as:

  • Passport valid for at least six months after your proposed start date in the U.S.
  • One photograph of 2″x2″ (50 mm square) taken within the last six months, showing full face, without head covering or eyeglasses, against a light background
  • Receipt for visa processing fee
  • All (2) pages of the DS-2019 Form signed by the applicant and by a school official in the appropriate places
  • Receipt for the SEVIS I-901 fee
  • Proof of your binding ties to a residence in your home country which you have no intention of abandoning

Depending on your field of study and/or your country of origin, you may be subject to a background check. A background check may result in a delay in obtaining your visa. If you are delayed beyond the start date of your employment and still intend to work for the UW, please email your hiring unit and IFSS.

Applicants with dependents:

  • You will be required to provide proof of your relationship to your spouse and/or children (for example, marriage certificates for the spouse and birth certificates for children)
    • English translations are required, if those documents are not already in English
  • It is preferred that families apply for the J-1 and the corresponding J-2 visas at the same time. If the spouse and children must apply at a later time, they should bring a copy of the J-1 visa holder’s passport and J-1 visa stamp, along with all other required documents.