F-1 Student vs. F-3 Commuter Student Visa

Citizens of Mexico or Canada wishing to study in the U.S. may have the choice to be admitted under either the F-1 or F-3 nonimmigrant student visa category.

If you are a citizen of Mexico or Canada and want to enroll in an academic program in the United States, you may have the choice to be admitted under either the F-1 or F-3 nonimmigrant student visa category. It is important to understand the differences between these two visas so that you can choose the one that makes the most sense for you.

F-3 Nonimmigrant Student Visa

If you live on the border and are interested in commuting to the United States to attend school, consider the F-3 nonimmigrant student visa. The F-3 visa was created specifically for Mexican and Canadian citizens to commute to the United States to study at a U.S. institution of education. See F-3 Visa for Border Commuter Students. F-3 visa holders are commonly referred to as “border commuter students.” In order to be eligible for this visa category, you need to be enrolled in a SEVIS-approved school that is located within 75 miles of the border of your home country, where you must actively maintain a residence.

If the F-3 visa is an option for you, the primary advantages of this visa category over the F-1 visa are that you can continue to reside in your home country and you are not required to be enrolled as a full-time student. You will also be eligible for curricular practical training (CPT) and post-completion optional practical training (OPT).

The disadvantages of the F-3 visa category that you need to be aware of include the following:

  • Your choice in schools is limited geographically.
  • You are not eligible for on-campus employment or pre-completion OPT.
  • You will require a new form I-20 for each semester you are enrolled; and
  • Dependents are not eligible for the F-2 dependent visa category.

If you begin your program with an F-3 visa but later decide that you want to take advantage of some of the benefits provided to F-1 visa holders, you always have the option to apply for the F-1 visa at a later date.

F-1 Nonimmigrant Student Visa

If you do not maintain a residence on the border with the United States, or you are interested in attending a school that is not within commuting distance, you will want to apply for the F-1 nonimmigrant student visa. The F-1 visa is issued to citizens of any foreign country for the purpose of enrolling in a full-time course of study in the United States.

The F-1 visa category has additional benefits that aren’t available to F-3 visa holders, including the following:

  • You are entitled to on-campus employment and pre-completion OPT authorization.
  • You are admitted for “duration of status” and do not need a new I-20 each semester. and;
  • Your dependents can accompany you to the United States in F-2 status.

The disadvantages of the F-1 visa category that you need to be aware of include the following:

  • You have to provide proof that you have enough liquid assets to pay for living and dependent (if applicable) expenses, in addition to your tuition; and
  • You are generally not allowed to be enrolled as a part-time student.

See Eligibility for an F-1 Student Visa for more on the rules for this visa.

Seeking Advice

If you have been admitted to an academic program and you qualify for both the F-3 and F-1 visa categories, you can consult with your Designated School Official (DSO) about which option is best for you and your circumstances.

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