New Scholar Information

Welcome to Southern Methodist University!


The International Student & Scholar Services team is excited to welcome you to SMU, Dallas and the United States. As you prepare to come to SMU, we hope that the following information will help you ease your transition to SMU and the Dallas/Forth Worth area. Please read this page carefully, as this page will contain information on what you need to do before you arrive to campus and during your first week at SMU.

There are many non-immigrant visa classifications. An Immigration Specialist will make recommendations on the appropriate visa to use for each individual Foreign National. The type of visa chosen depends on many factors: the source and amount of the Foreign National’s salary or funding, the nature and duration of the appointment, how soon the appointment will begin, whether the individual is currently in the U.S. or has recently been in the U.S., and if they are subject to certain restrictions. Foreign Nationals must not plan to enter the U.S. without the appropriate visa documents processed by SMU, the Department of Homeland Security or The Department of State.

Please complete the Visa Determination Questionnaire. The ISSS Responsible Officer will review the answers provided in the questionnaire and make recommendations on the type of visa you should apply for. 

Visa Determination Questionnaire

Upon submission of the Visa Determination Questionnaire, the ISSS office will provide a recommendation on the most appropriate visa type.

1. If the ISSS office has determined that the H1-B visa is appropriate for the foreign national, the hosting department will receive an email with the contact information of their liaison at Human Resources.

2. If the ISSS office has determined that the Exchange Visitor should come to SMU as a J-1 Exchange Visitor, the hosting department will initiate the DS-2019 request process. The request will be submitted through DocuSign. 

  • DS-2019 Request (hosting department)
  • Proof of appointment or invitation clearly stating program objectives (hosting department)
  • Copy of Passport (Identity page w/ date of expiration) (Exchange Visitor)
  • Financial Evidence (51 % must be non personal funds): please note
  •  If funds are from SMU, include appointment letter.
  •   If funds are from other sources, the Exchange Visitor will attach proof of funding.
  • Transfer IN form (Exchange Visitor should get this form signed by current Alternate Responsible Officer)
  •  Proof of SEVIS maintenance fee payment (Exchange Visitor)
  • Other (dependent information if applicable) (Exchange Visitor) 

Once all required documentation has been submitted, the ISSS office will begin processing the request, which may take up to 7 business days. Once DS-2019 Form has been issued, the Hosting Department and Exchange Visitor will receive a notification through DocuSign, that the request has been approved. 


  1. DS-2019 Request  (Process will begin with Hosting Department) 
  2. Transfer TO SMU Scholar/Professor
  3. SEVIS fee maintenance fee payment: Prospective exchange visitors must pay a $200.00 SEVIS maintenance fee to the ISSS Office. 

After receiving the SMU DS-2019, scholars are required to pay a $220 USD I-901 fee associated with the SEVIS ID number on the DS-2019. Please visit to pay for the I-901 fee and print a copy of the SEVIS fee payment receipt, as you will need it in order to apply for a J-1 Visa a U.S. Embassy or Consulate and when entering the U.S.

It is preferable to apply for a J-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country. However, you may be able to apply at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate outside of your home country, but the acquiring of visa might be more difficult if you are not a citizen of that country and could take longer for processing.

How to Apply

There are several steps to apply for a visa. The order of these steps and how you complete them may vary at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate where you apply. Please consult the instructions available on the embassy or consulate website where you will apply.

Complete the Online Visa Application

  • Online Non-immigrant Visa Application, Form DS-160Learn more about completing the DS-160. You must: 1) complete the online visa application and 2) print the application form confirmation page to bring to your interview.
  • Photo – You will upload your photo while completing the online Form DS-160. Your photo must be in the format explained in the Photograph Requirements.

Schedule an Interview

While interviews are generally not required for applicants of certain ages outlined above, consular officers have the discretion to require an interview of any applicant, regardless of age.

If you are age:

Then an interview is:

13 and younger

Generally not required


Required (some exceptions for renewals)

80 and older

Generally not required

You must schedule an appointment for your visa interview, generally, at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where you live. You may schedule your interview at any U.S. Embassy or Consulate, but be aware that it may be difficult to qualify for a visa outside of your place of permanent residence. 

Wait times for interview appointments vary by location, season, and visa category, so you should apply for your visa early.


Pay the non-refundable visa application fee of $160 USD, if you are required to pay it before your interview. When your visa is approved, you may also pay a visa issuance fee, if applicable to your nationality.

*This information has been provided by the U.S. Department of State. Please visit for more details on the visa process.

Exchange Visitors will also pay a $200.00 SEVIS maintenance fee to the SMU International Student/Scholar Services Office through the eStore at the time of requesting a DS-2019 

Note: Citizens of Canada and Bermuda are exempt from getting a J-1/J-2 Visa, but must present a valid passport, SMU DS-2019, and proof of the I-901 fee payment at the port of entry to the U.S.

For J-1 Exchange Visitors: Enter the U.S. up to 30 days prior to the program start date 

For H-1B Visa holders: Enter the U.S. up to 10 days prior to the approved status period

U.S. Immigration Inspection

It is important that you have the proper documents to present to immigration officials at the U.S. port of entry. Be sure to carry your DS-2019 (J-1 Exchange Visitors)financial documents (J-1 Exchange Visitors), visa, passport, I-797 Approval Notice (H-1B holders) with you to show them to immigration officials when you enter the United States. Please do not enter the United States on a tourist visa unless you are coming to the United States for tourism only. 

Initial Expenses

You should plan to arrive with enough money to meet the initial expenses of your first weeks in the United States. Until you are living in an apartment/house, you should expect to spend an average of $70 per day for meals at moderately priced restaurants and from $100-$400 per night for off-campus accommodations. You may use an automatic teller machine (ATM) to get U.S. dollars at a U.S. airport using your existing bank card from home.


You should try to bring your belongings with you because the University cannot store baggage sent ahead. You may ask your department or school if someone is able to accept your baggage, but it is usually not possible to do so. Please do not send packages or baggage to the ISSS office since we do not have storage space. Once you have a U.S. residential address, personal effects and packages under a certain weight may be mailed to you by international parcel post. Consult your local post office for details.

Medical Records

Be sure to bring copies of your medical records translated into English and those of any accompanying family members with you to the United States. If you are bringing children/dependents, records of your children's immunizations are required before they may enroll in public schools in the United States. Please review the current immunization requirements. 

Health Insurance

Full-time benefits eligible employees can enroll in health insurance through SMU’s Benefits office during HR orientation.

If you are a J-1 Exchange Visitor (benefits eligible):

Your insurance must meet the additional Department of State requirements (see below) and will incur additional premiums.

Exchange Visitors are required to be fully enrolled in J-1 Health Insurance prior to beginning activities at SMU.

If you are a J-1 Exchange Visitor (non-benefits eligible):

J-1 Exchange Visitors and their J-2 dependents are required to have medical insurance coverage with the following minimum benefits [22 CFR 62.14].

  • Medical benefits of at least $100,000 per accident or illness
  • Repatriation of remains in the amount of $25,000
  • Expenses associated with the medical evacuation of the exchange visitor to his or her home country in the amount of $50,000
  • A deductible not to exceed $500 per accident or illness.

Scholars and their dependents typically purchase health insurance while in their home country because they are required to have valid health insurance from the start and end date of their program with the university. For a list of U.S. health insurance providers that have plans that meet the minimum requirements, please see the Health Insurance Providers form below.

If you will not be using a U.S. health insurance provider, please ensure that your health insurance plan meets the minimum requirements and that proof of health insurance clearly demonstrates that you are enrolled in a plan the has the requirements stated above. Proof of insurance that meets the Department of State requirements must be provided by the international scholar upon arrival to the U.S. to ensure compliance with Federal Regulations governing the J-1 Exchange Visitor program, along with the Health Insurance Compliance form.

Exchange Visitor Health Insurance Policy and Company Information
Exchange Visitor Health Insurance Verification Form (exchange visitors not receiving compensation from SMU) 
Exchange Visitor Health Insurance Verification Form (exchange visitors receiving benefits or SMU exchange students)

Temporary Housing

Please see our list of temporary housing accommodations near SMU. For more long-term housing we recommend you use an apartment finder. Typically, students seek housing accommodations near SMU for convenient access to campus. However, housing near SMU is typically more expensive.

Things to keep in mind while looking for an apartment:

  • Initial deposit is required-amounts vary, but first month’s rent is standard.
  • Rent range could be anywhere from $1,000-2,650 USD, depending on area and size.
  • Utility charges are additional (i.e. gas, water, electricity)-amounts vary, but could range anywhere from $60-$200 USD.

To compare electric plans, we recommend you look at


Schooling Resources for Dependents: 

Public education for children is determined by geographic area. Your children may only attend the school provided in the geographic area in which you live. SMU is in the Highland Park Independent School District. If you live in University Park, contact the schools below for information necessary for enrollment.


John S. Armstrong Elementary School (grades K-4) 214-780-3100

University Park Elementary School (grades K-4) 214-780-3400

McCulloch Intermediate School (grades 5-6) 214-780-3500

Highland Park Middle School (grades 7-8) 214-780-3600

Highland Park High School (grades 9-12) 214-780-3740


If you live in Dallas, you may contact the Dallas Independent School District @ or call (972)925-3700 for instructions on school enrollment. The quality of public school may vary. Where you live will determine the school your child will attend. Although there are other schools in the SMU area, international parents recommend the schools in Highland Park Independent School District (listed above) and Stonewall Jackson Elementary in the Dallas Independent School District (972)749- 7200. We highly recommend that you check the schools in your area before renting an apartment.


Childcare and Preschool:


Families with children age 5 and younger may be interested in daycare or preschool opportunities. Daycare provides supervised play activities. Preschool offers an academic structure. All charge for their service. Many have waiting lists so you should call as soon as possible. None of the businesses near SMU accept drop-ins, (take a child for just an occasional day). Many churches have Mother’s Day out, where children are taken care of in a playgroup for one morning a week. They usually require regular enrollment for this service.





Present the following documents to the inspections officer at the U.S. port of entry (do not pack these items in your checked luggage):

  • Valid Passport with (J-1/H-1B) Visa (unless you are exempt from the visa requirement)
  • Appointment Letter
  • Form DS-2019 issued by SMU (for J-1 Exchange Visitors)
  • Evidence of Financial Resources (if non-SMU funded J-1 Exchange Visitor)
  • If you have a dependent, he or she will need to present a passport, Form DS-2019 and J-2 visa (for J-1 Exchange Visitor)

Before you leave the airport, you should download your I94 arrival document and check that you have been given admissions under Duration of Status: D/S. Go to i94.cbp.dhs.go/I94/#/home

Arriving in Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW)

You may take a taxi/uber/Lyft from DFW International Airport to Dallas. The cost to SMU is approximately $50-100. You can also take a shuttle bus to your destination. Public transportation is also an option. Although, public transportation may be less expensive, it may take a lot longer for you to make it to Dallas. For more information on the local train system, please visit www.dart.orgFor more information about transportation from the DFW airport, please visit

For H-1B Holders: 

  You must attend an orientation with Human Resources. 


For J-1 Exchange Visitors:

Exchange Visitors MUST check-in with the International Student and Scholar Services office upon arrival and BEFORE beginning activities at SMU. Please be sure to have the following documents: 

  1. Original DS-2019
  2. Original Passport & Visa (if applicable)
  3. I-94 Arrival Record (can be printed after arrival to the U.S. at
  4. Proof of Health Insurance (Exchange Visitor Health Insurance Verification form)
  5. Must have U.S. Residential Address & U.S. Phone Number
  6. Immigration Documents of J-2 Dependents, if applicable 

If you are receiving university benefits, you must also schedule an orientation with Human Resources.

Forms: Tips to Locate and Print Electronic Form I-94

The ISSS office hosts various events year-round to help exchange visitors acclimate to U.S. Living. Please visit our Events Calendar page for a list of events happening at SMU.

In addition to attending our events, we recommend that you review the Post-Arrival Handbook for an extensive list of resources on and around campus.