Pre-Arrival Information

Once you have been invited by a UW–Madison department and IFSS has issued the Form DS-2019 for your J-1 program, you will need to complete the following steps:

If you are currently inside the U.S. and are changing from another status:

File the Form I-539 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) with the electronically signed DS-2019 from our office and the other required supporting documents. This is a personal petition and the UW can only answer general questions.  You will not be able to work until the case is approved. Current processing times can be checked here. You may choose to pay for  premium processing.

If you are currently outside the U.S.:

  1. Review your Form DS-2019 for accuracy. If you find any errors, please email your J-1 Specialist immediately.
  2. Pay the SEVIS I-901 Fee to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security at least 3 days before your visa appointment. 
  3. Apply for your J-1 Visa.*
  4. Prepare for your visa interview.

To obtain the visa stamp, please complete the DS-160 and schedule an appointment at a U.S. Consulate. Advance travel planning and early visa application are important as not all visa applications can be completed on the day of the interview.

Please review the current wait time for an interview on the Department of State website.

  • Scholars cannot enter the U.S until 30 days before their program start date and have until 30 days after their program start date to arrive.

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

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Review the U.S. Embassy/Consulate’s website where you will apply for a nonimmigrant visa stamp.  Each embassy/consulate has different documents that may be required and its own application submission process. Prepare the documentation that you must show when applying for a nonimmigrant visa, such as:

  • Passport that is 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.
  • Both pages of the DS-2019 Form signed by you and by an IFSS J-1 specialist 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 by the U.S. government. 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 your spouse and children must apply at a later time, they should bring a copy of  your passport and J-1 visa stamp, along with all other required documents.

Visa Wait Times

Visa appointments are limited and visa processing times can be vary, so it is recommended you make your appointment as early as possible. Consulates will generally take appointments up to 120 days before to the start of your program.

Expedited appointments are available at the discretion of the consulate. You may be able to apply for an expedited appointment after you have scheduled your initial appointment. Please contact the consulate for more information.

Tips to Remember when Applying for a Visa Stamp

  1. Ties to your home country: Under U.S. law, all applicants for nonimmigrant visas are viewed as potential immigrants until they can prove otherwise. This means that you must be able to show strong home country ties. “Ties” to your home country are things that connect you to your home town, homeland, or current place of residence. Each person’s situation is unique, and there is no standard explanation, document, certificate, or letter which can guarantee a visa stamp. If you overstayed any authorized stay in the U.S. previously, be prepared to explain what happened clearly and concisely, with documentation if available.
  2. English: Remember that the interview will be done in English. One suggestion is to practice English conversation with a native speaker before the interview, but do not prepare speeches!
  3. Speak for yourself: Do not bring parents or family members with you to the interview. The consular officer wants to interview you, not your family. If you are not prepared to speak for yourself, this leaves a negative impression.
  4. Know the program and how it fits your career plans: If you cannot explain why you will participate in a particular program in the U.S., you may not convince the consular officer that you are planning to return to your home country once you complete your program. You should be able to explain how this J-1 exchange program relates to your future when you return home.
  5. Be brief: All consular officers are under time pressure to conduct a quick and efficient interview. They must make a decision on the impressions they form during the first minute of the interview. This means that what you say first and the initial impression you create are important to your success. Keep your answers to the officer’s questions short and to the point.
  6. Additional documentation: It should be immediately clear to the consular officer which documents you are presenting and what they mean. Long written explanations cannot be read or evaluated quickly. You only have 2-3 minutes of interview time.
  7. Dependents remaining at home: If your spouse and children are staying in your country, be prepared to address how they will support themselves when you are away. This can be tricky if you are the main financial support for your family. If your family chooses to join you in the U.S. later, it could be helpful to have them apply at the same consulate where you applied for your visa.
  8. Stay positive: Do not argue with the consular officer. If you are denied a U.S. visa, ask the officer for a list of documents they would suggest you bring in order to overcome the denial. You should receive a written document that has the denial reason.

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 will likely be denied entry to the U.S.

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 will likely be denied entry to the U.S.

  • If you are unable to arrive in Madison to start your program within this 30 day window or you decided not to pursue your J-1 Exchange Visitor Program anymore, please notify IFSS immediately.
  • If you will be arriving after your anticipated start date, notify IFSS. Your J-1 specialist will work with you and your host department to change the start date on your DS-2019 if necessary. IFSS cannot change the start date after you arrive in the U.S.
  • If you will no longer be coming to the U.S., notify IFSS and your department.  IFSS will cancel your J-1 program.


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Cultural Adjustment 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.

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!

You can contact the Employee Assistance Office for additional support throughout your adjustment to Wisconsin and the United States.

  • 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.


It is recommended that you try to find housing as soon as you are offered an appointment at the UW-Madison. Many apartments within walking distance of campus cater to students and adults without children, and are rented far in advance by students. 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 University Housing’s 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 legally binding 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 follow all the terms of the lease once you sign it.
    • If you are unclear about any aspect or the terminology in the lease, ask someone else to read it before signing.

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.


Rochdale International Co-op

An independent 13-bedroom housing cooperative located in a beautiful old house in downtown Madison, where the residents collaborate in maintaining the house by making decisions together and contributing to cooking, cleaning, and administrative tasks. The space comes fully furnished and kitchen fully equipped, the downtown location is close to many amenities and transportation options, the lease duration is quite flexible, and the internationally diverse members make for a vibrant community. Detailed information about costs, house culture, and how to join can be found on their website.


Please note that IFSS does not endorse specific housing organizations and that all resources are purely informational.

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, 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 such as 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 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 UW Police Department and IFSS for assistance.

Have you already arrived and completed the necessary steps? Head to our Arrival page to learn what’s next.