Which Documents Are Most Important for a J Exchange Visitor?

  1. All Forms DS-2019 issued (keep a copy of form DS-2019 beyond the end of the program in case it is needed at some future point.)
  2. Passport (J1 must keep passport valid throughout the period of their stay) Passports can be renewed by foreign embassies in Washington D.C. and foreign consulates in other cities. For information about embassies, see
  3. Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record (small white card stamped by the Immigration Officer at the port of entry)

What are the Required Visa Fees?
Each applicant for a visa must pay a nonrefundable nonimmigrant visa application-processing fee. If the visa is issued, there may be an additional visa issuance reciprocity fee for citizens of certain countries. Check the US Department of State reciprocity table for country specific details.

Do All Exchange Visitors have to pay the I-901 SEVIS Fee?
Most J1 exchange visitors are required to pay a one-time SEVIS fee (U.S. currency). All those applying for a J1 visa for initial participation in a program must pay this fee. In addition, those already in the United States applying for a change of status to J1 must pay the fee, as does an exchange visitor applying for a change of category.         

Continuing exchange visitors do not pay the SEVIS I-901 fee when they:

    • Reenter the United States to continue participation in an exchange visitor program or program of study as long as nonimmigrant status was maintained
    • Have already paid the SEVIS fee but the visa was denied within the last 12 months, and they are applying again for a visa in the same exchange visitor category
    • Transfer between programs in the same exchange visitor category, unless the new program requires a higher fee
    • Apply to extend their stay in order to complete the current program within the maximum duration of participation of the category in which they are participating

There are no fee waivers available for the SEVIS I-901 fee. For more information see:

What Is the Visa Interview Like?
The exchange visitor receives the Form DS-2019 from the sponsor, must pay the SEVIS I-901 fee and make a visa appointment at the U.S. embassy or consulate nearest their home. At the visa appointment, the consular officer will determine whether the exchange visitor qualifies for the J visa. Applicants must demonstrate that they properly meet the requirements to be issued a J1 exchange visitor visa, including the following:

  • Intent to remain in the United States for a temporary, specific, limited period
  • Evidence of funds to cover expenses in the United States
  • Evidence of compelling social and economic ties to their home country

After a successful interview, a J-1 visa will be stamped in your passport. You are now eligible to request admission at a U.S. Port of Entry to enter the United States. Be sure that you have in your possession your DS-2019 (which the visa issuance officer will return to you) and your passport when you travel. When you arrive in the United States, your documents will be examined and processed by a staff member of the Department of Homeland Security at the port of entry, your passport will be returned to you along with an I-94 card (Arrival/Departure Record) designated D/S which means duration of status. D/S refers to the time that you are engaged in research at UAHuntsville as indicated on your DS-2019. Your copy of the DS-2019 will be returned to you. These documents are extremely important since they legitimize your presence in the United States, and you should keep them in a safe place.

Canadian citizens do not need visas to enter the United States. They enter by presenting the DS-2019 at the port of entry to the U.S., along with detailed evidence of financial support and a valid passport.

You will find that arriving by air is the easiest way to get to Huntsville. Although international airlines do not fly directly to Huntsville, the city (airport code HSV) has frequent domestic service from larger international airports nearby. Airlines that fly into Huntsville are American, Delta, Continental, Northwest, U.S. Airways, and United. The first thing you should do the next business day after your arrival is to contact your hosting department.

Registration in the International Student and Scholar Office
Shortly after your arrival, you must bring your passport and visa documents to the International Student and Scholar Office. This should be done no later than your first date of hire and before you apply for your Social Security Card.

Health Care
In general health care in the U.S. is very expensive. Each individual is responsible for paying his or her own costs In the U.S., individuals and their families are responsible for their own health care costs, unlike many countries where the government pays health care costs for citizens and, sometimes, for visitors. For the international Exchange Visitor, purchasing health insurance for the duration of the visit is the only way to protect against the high cost of unexpected medical emergencies.

In the U.S., certain kinds of non-emergency elective health care, such as eye care and dentistry, frequently are not covered by insurance and may be quite expensive. To the extent possible, the Exchange Visitor should take care of those needs before leaving home or bring additional funds to cover these expenses.

Climate and Weather
As Huntsville is located in the southern part of the United States, the climate here is generally quite mild with just a few months of colder weather and a few months of hot, humid weather. In the winter months (December-February) the temperatures range from highs of about 52oF (11oC) to lows of about 30oF (-1.9oC) and the summer months from the highs of 92oF (33oC) to lows of about 65oF (18.5oC). Be prepared though, we do have extremes in both seasons!

It is advisable to have around US $2,000.00 in cash and traveler's checks to help you get settled in Huntsville. It also is advisable to bring a major credit card with you in case of emergencies. Both Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted in the U.S.

You will find it almost essential to have a checking account in the U.S. Most shoppers here use automatic debit cards, checks or credit cards for many purchases and usually carry only enough cash for daily activities.

Coins (cents) denominations are: penny=1 cent; nickel=5 cents; dime=10 cents; half-dollar=50 cents; one dollar=100 cents=$1. Paper currency (dollars) denominations are $1, $2 (seldom used), $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100. Denominations above $100 are no longer printed, but some of the larger denominations still remain in the hands of private citizens. All currency in general circulation is the same size and color, which can be confusing at first.

Most apartments have, at minimum, a kitchen, living room, bath, and one, two, or three bedrooms. Kitchens usually contain a sink, refrigerator, and stove. Most apartment complexes have central laundry facilities which charge a nominal fee for use by its tenants. Unfurnished apartments have the kitchen basic appliances but no other furniture. Most traditional commercial apartments are unfurnished but it is possible to find furnished apartments. Used furniture may be purchased from several civic and charitable organizations at reasonable prices. New furniture may be rented from several local agencies, which specialize in furniture rental.

Prices for apartments vary depending on location and amenities. Rent for an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment in this area starts around $400 per month and goes up depending on the number of bedrooms, location, etc. Though you pay rent on a month-to-month basis, you will find that most apartments require you to sign a six-month to one-year lease which is a contract binding you to pay the rent for your apartment the length of time specified. When you sign a lease, you should be prepared to pay the rent for the time indicated in the contract or find someone to "sublet" or take over the lease when you leave. Check with the apartment company though because some apartments do not permit subleasing.

Water often is the one utility that is included the rent price. Other utilities, such as electricity and gas, often are not included in the rent fee, and payments must be made directly to the respective companies. To obtain telephone service, you must contact the telephone company directly. There is a basic monthly fee that permits unlimited local calls. Long distance calls are charged by the minute.

Huntsville has local public transportation in the form of city bus and taxis. Because taxis are expensive and bus service is limited in some areas and often not available at night, most people who do not live close to campus find it useful to own an automobile.

If you plan to own or operate an automobile while in the U.S., you will be required to hold a driver's license and to obtain automobile insurance in order to operate the vehicle in Huntsville. After you have found a place to live and have settled in, and receive your social security card, you can take the licensing exam and obtain a license. Automobile insurance must be purchased in order to register a car in Huntsville. You can choose from a number of insurance agencies and costs vary depending on the type of car to be insured, the age and driving experience of the drivers, and the amount of insurance purchased.

Depending upon your activities and your tax and visa history, you may or may not be required to pay taxes. There are four major categories of taxes: federal tax on income; state tax on income; city and/or county tax on real or personal property; and FICA or Social Security tax - a federal retirement fund contribution based on income. There are other taxes, which relate directly to owning or operating a business, or buying or selling real property (houses, land, etc.)

In the U.S. our system is to pay taxes for a full year and then file a report with the federal and state Internal Revenue Service to document the amount paid and any exemptions, treaties, or other exclusions that may provide for a refund of taxes paid. Sometimes this annual tax report may show that you paid less taxes throughout the year than the government requires and you may owe taxes to the federal or state government. The International Student and Scholar Office provides tax assistance and resources for F and J visa holders starting in early March each year.

Tax treaties between the U.S. and other countries exempt some students, researchers and professors from paying U.S. state and federal income taxes. Each treaty has its own restrictions and provisions. The national tax authority in your country or the U.S. embassy or consulate can provide current information on tax treaties. The Payroll Office at the University of Alabama in Huntsville will determine if you are eligible to claim exemption from income tax withholding based on a treaty. You should meet with the Payroll Office staff if you have questions regarding your eligibility for a tax treaty.

If you plan to enroll your child/children in school, be sure to bring their immunization records. Public school attendance for grades one through twelve (beginning at age six) is available free. Public schools in the U.S. are those supported by taxes paid to the government. These schools are open to all children residing within the school district. The public school that your child attends is determined by where you live.

Private schools operated by either secular or religious organizations usually charge tuition and may or may not have admission requirements. Attendance at these schools generally does not depend upon your place of residence.

The U.S. is divided into six time zones. When it is 12 noon Eastern Standard (the East Coast) it is 11:00 a.m. Central, 10:00 a.m. Mountain, 9:00 a.m. Pacific Standard (the West Coast), 8:00 a.m. in the state of Alaska, and 7:00 a.m. in the state of Hawaii. During the summer almost the entire country goes on Daylight Saving Time. All clocks are moved ahead one hour in order to extend the number of daylight hours in the evening.