J-1 Orientation For Teachers

Congratulations and Welcome!

Your application to Cultural Vistas for sponsorship under the BridgeUSA program for Teachers has been approved! Here you will find step-by-step instructions and the items you need to apply for your J-1 Visa and start your program.

Cultural Vistas is designated by the U.S. Department of State to sponsor foreign citizens under BridgeUSA, and to issue the Certificate of Eligibility document (Form DS-2019) that entitles individuals to apply for a J-1 visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate overseas.  Cultural Vistas will be the legal sponsor for your J-1 Visa and is responsible for your immigration records and monitoring your health and safety throughout the program.

Cultural Vistas, as the legal sponsor of your J-1 visa, is here to provide support or advice to you throughout your practical teaching assignment in the United States. Please do not hesitate to contact Cultural Vistas staff, particularly if you should have questions or concerns about your program. It is our goal to see you successfully complete your program, and also to have the best possible experience in your life while in the United States.

We welcome you to the United States and hope that your experience here will result in personal and professional growth, as well as a better understanding of American society.

Step 1: Obtain Your J-1 Visa and U.S. Entry

This section contains information on preparing your non-immigrant visa application for the embassy or consulate. This section will provide all the information you need to know to apply for your visa. Canadian citizens do NOT have to apply at the U.S. Consulate for a J-1 visa stamp.

Special Instructions for Canadian Citizens

The process for entering the United States for Canadian citizens is different from any other nationality. Due to the unique relationship between our two countries, Canadian citizens do NOT need to apply at the U.S. Consulate for a J-1 visa stamp. You may proceed directly to the border and cross with your DS-2019from Cultural Vistas no more than 30 days in advance of the start date printed.

When preparing to cross the Canadian/United States border please have a valid Canadian passport, your receipt of SEVIS payment, and your DS-2019 form. You will receive a stamp in your passport indicating a J-1 visa. Your admission number and electronic I-94 can be accessed online at www.cbp.gov/I-94. You will likely need to present this document to apply for a social security card, complete paperwork for your employer, and to show that you have a legal status in the United States. Do not lose this form or the DS-2019 form. Keep them in a safe place. Please skip the rest of the STEP 1 instructions and proceed to STEP 2.

*The Step 1 materials were mailed to the address you provided Cultural Vistas. These materials include:

  • DS-2019 SEVIS Certificate of Eligibility
  • Receipt for Payment of SEVIS Fee

Make a visa appointment with a U.S. Consulate in your country

You must submit a DS-160 non-immigrant visa application and schedule an in-person interview appointment. You should make an appointment immediately upon receiving your approval e-mail from Cultural Vistas which you should reference for your SEVIS number and Program Number needed for the application.

Use this website to find your U.S. Embassy and where you can apply for visas in your country.   Refer to the specific post you intend to visit for scheduling instructions or you can start here.  Be sure to check out the FAQs first and consider if you have dependents who also need to complete an application.  See an example DS-160 and the FAQs.  When completing the visa application, it is important to choose the correct visa type which is J-1 for teaching, not for study or any other activity.

An application for a non-immigrant visa carries a fee that you must pay prior to your interview. Please see your Consulate’s website for specific instructions on how to pay.

J2 Dependents.  Each dependent must also have a DS-160 completed and pay the associated fee.   You will find each of their DS-2019 SEVIS numbers in the approval email from CV.

When you select “Email Confirmation” on your Confirmation Page, you will be directed to a “Thank You” page. On the “Thank You” page you will see an option to create a family or group application. When you select this option, certain information from your application, such as destination, will automatically be imported to and displayed on a new application. Please note that if you use this option you must create an individual application for each family member or for each individual within the group.

Typically, children under a certain age do not have to attend the appointment.

**If you cannot make an appointment that allows you meet the start date of the program, please contact us.  It is ok to arrive in the U.S. up to 30 days after the start date.  However, some consulates will not approve the visa if they believe you cannot arrive before the start date.  We may need to adjust the start date and issue a new DS-2019.

Go To Your Interview Appointment

When you go for your appointment, you should bring the following documents:

  • Valid Passport
    In most cases, your passport should be valid for 6 months beyond the end date of your program.  If not, your visa and/or initial period of admission may be limited to that expiration date but once you renew your passport, you can then extend your stay to the full end date on the DS-2019.
  • Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019 form)
    Be sure to sign and date your DS-2019 form in the lower left where “signature of applicant” is indicated.  Print this form double sided.
  • Receipt for Payment of SEVIS fee (provided by CV)
  • Completed DS-160 Non-immigrant Visa Application(s)
  • Proof of payment of all visa fees
    Application fees must be paid before your appointment.
  • Copy of your host school’s application
    This is the information submitted by your school to Cultural Vistas. You should review carefully and make sure you understand the information and be prepared to discuss your teaching position.
  • Any other documents required by the United States Consulate
    It is beneficial to bring documentation to the interview that supports your home ties to your country and your reasons/intention to return home, i.e. evidence of property, family ties, job offer.
  • Financial Support.  Evidence of your funds to support yourself in at least the initial stage of the program.

Submit your application, passport, and supporting documents to the United States Embassy or Consulate. Your application will be reviewed by the consular official.

  • The United States Consular Officer will make the final decision on your J-1 Visa. The Consular Officer will interview you to determine your interest in the United States, your English language skills, and the purpose of your stay.  It is also important to understand that the J-1 visa is a non-immigrant visa which means your intent is to visit the U.S. temporarily and not to obtain citizenship or permanent residence.  You are coming to teach and learn about U.S. culture, share your culture with U.S. students and promote exchange between the two countries. You must return to your home country at the end of your program.  If the officer does not believe your intent is temporary, you may be denied the visa.
  • Ink-free, digital fingerprint scans are taken as part of the application process. They are usually taken during your interview, but this varies based on location.
  • If approved, your J-1 visa will be issued and stamped in your passport within several days. The consular official will return your DS-2019 form, and your passport with your J-1 visa.  In some cases an additional review of your application may be required which could delay your arrival and this is referred to as “administrative processing”.
  • Remember to check for a “multiple entry” visa. A “multiple entry” visa will allow you to enter the U.S. multiple times during your program dates on the J-1 visa. To check your visa for multiple entrances, look under the “entries” section on the J-1 visa. It should be marked with an “M” under the “Entries” section.

If your J-1 visa application is denied, please contact Cultural Vistas immediately. We will determine whether or not we are able to support a second attempt, or whether we will withdraw sponsorship. Please note that Cultural Vistas reserves the right to withdraw program sponsorship and, at such time, issue any refunds due in accordance with our refund policy.

Important Notes

The J-1 visa stamped in your passport is like an entry ticket that allows you to enter the U.S. However, it is your Certificate of Eligibility (Form DS-2019) form that allows you to teach while in the United States at the school specified on the form. Both the visa and the DS-2019 form are required for your program. In addition, please keep your SEVIS fee receipt (I-901 Form) with your documents. These are essential legal documents. Please keep these in a safe place at all times.

Step 2: Enter the U. S. and Visa Validation

This section contains information on steps to take before and after your arrival in the U.S. Your insurance information is also included.

Please read through this important information and instructions to follow before your entry into the United States. It is essential that you understand the procedures. Please contact Cultural Vistas if you have questions.

Before You Go

Make Travel Plans and Inform All Parties

  • Make your flight arrangements as soon as you have received the J-1 visa from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your country. Be sure to notify your host employer of your expected arrival date and flight information.
  • Confirm that your passport and non-immigrant visa are still valid for entry into the United States.
    Check to see that your visa accurately reflects your correct visa classification. This means you MUST have a “J-1” entered in the visa Type/Class on the visa itself.
Program Dates
  • Please note that your Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019) document is valid only for the dates printed in Box 3 of the form. It is required that you inform Cultural Vistas if you cannot enter the United States in time to begin your program by the start date printed on your DS-2019 form. You may need to be issued a new DS-2019.
  • If you arrive after the start date printed on your DS-2019, this time will be considered lost and you cannot stay longer at the end of your program to make it up. Exchange visitors entering the United States for the first time under their non-immigrant visa may be admitted up to 30 days prior to the program start date. You may also remain in the US up to 30 days after the end date printed on the 2019. This time is intended for you to travel around the U.S. and gather your belongings. You are not able to leave the U.S. and come back within this 30 day period after the end of the program.

If you do not identify a place to live prior to your arrival, it is essential that you arrange a temporary place to live in advance, and expect that once you arrive, the process can take up to a month. This is a great way to utilize the 30-day grace period before your program start date! Check out 4stay and other resources and advice for the housing search HERE.  Make sure to read through the advice there on searching and leasing apartments. Always remember, it is important to know your rights as a tenant (renter) which can vary by state. The U.S. government provides an index of tenant information by state. Choose from a variety of housing options with flexible short-term, long-term, and month to month leases from our housing partners below.

  • Travelers Haven offers customized options to fit your budget, all-inclusive pricing, fully furnished and move-in ready housing, and 24/7 on-call support. Start here to book your housing.
  • 4Stay offers co-living rooms for rent and off campus housing options with all utilities included in a single weekly or monthly rent that can be booked directly from the website or via a dedicated Booking Team.  They also offer homestay options.

Note that if you have no U.S. credit history and no Social Security Number, it can be more challenging to find a place to rent since the landlord cannot verify your history of paying your bills on time.  Check out some of these tips for navigating this:

Health Insurance & Medical Coverage

As discussed during the application process, the J-1 Visa has specific medical insurance coverage requirements and CV must verify coverage for all J-1 and J-2 participants.  If you have not received an email from our provider, Envisage Global, and accessed your ID card, please do so before departure.  You can do that through the Healthcare Zone website.  Please review the brochure about the coverage you have by accessing My Documents.

It is helpful to become familiar with this information prior to actually needing a doctor.  There are some videos and tips here for understanding our healthcare system on this page: https://www.internationalstudentinsurance.com/explained/

When you arrive in the U.S., you will likely be offered your school employee policy.  If you want to take this on top of CV insurance, you may do so for more comprehensive coverage.  Please note that in order to opt out of CV insurance in future, you must choose a plan that is compliant with visa rules.  Make sure to review the visa requirements with HR in selecting a plan as you may not be able to change your plan for another year depending on the sign up period in your school.

Below you will find more information on your health insurance plan through Cultural Vistas. Please refer to the appropriate section based on your insurance start date as listed on your health insurance card. If you are entering the USA within the 30-day grace period before your program begins, or planning to remain during the 30-day grace period after your program ends, and would like additional coverage for the full 30 days please contact Cultural Vistas to arrange this. Insurance for dependents accompanying the participant must be purchased separately prior to DS2019 issuance. Participants can purchase dependent full coverage health insurance from Cultural Vistas, an approved third party or participants can purchase only medical evacuation and repatriation insurance from Cultural Vistas for their dependents if they have school coverage.

You may find information about your Seven Corners health insurance plan, administered by Envisage Global, on the Healthcare Zone website.

For claims, please sign up for the secure My Account platform (see instructions on getting started with My Account).

Mental Health

If you have a full medical policy with Cultural Vistas (Standard Lite, Enhanced or Family), you will have access to Talkspace.  Talkspace is a mobile app that provides access to professional, personal and confidential online therapy, at no cost to participants.

Important Note: Insurance through Cultural Vistas meets the requirements of the J-1 visa but does not meet the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). It is possible that a J-1 visa holder may be subject to comply with this legislation which regulates health insurance and specifies minimum coverage. Please refer to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services webpage on PPACA and the IRS webpage (Question 11) for more information. Failure to comply may result in penalty.

Pre-existing Conditions

If you have a pre-existing condition and/or require prescribed medication:

**Only the Cultural Vistas Enhanced plan has any coverage for pre-existing conditions.

Initial Expense Money
  • Cultural Vistas recommends that you bring the equivalent of one month’s wages to cover your initial expenses (such as apartment rental deposits, utility deposits, food, transportation, international driver license, etc.) until you receive your first paycheck.  Additional funds are necessary should your wages not cover your monthly expenses for any reason and for emergencies.
Prepare for U.S. culture and your adjustment

Take some time to learn more about the place you’ll be living and other aspects of American culture that interest you.  To help you get started:

Documents for Border Crossing

These are the documents you should bring with you and carry on your person when you travel. Do NOT check them in your baggage. Documents to carry on your person:

  • Passport
  • Certificate of Eligibility – Form DS-2019
  • Cultural Vistas address and contact information – Cultural Vistas is your program sponsor
  • Address and contact information for where you are staying

Make sure you bring your DS-2019 to the United States and have it accessible to show at the border crossing.

Arriving in the United States

Border Crossing

As you approach the inspection station, ensure that you have passport and DS-2019 form available for presentation to the immigration officer.

It is important that you tell the Customs and Border Protection Officer that you will be an exchange visitor.

You will be asked to state the reason you wish to enter the United States: “Why are you coming to the United States?” Your answer should include the following: “I am coming to the United States as an exchange visitor to participate in a J-1 visa program sponsored by Cultural Vistas.  I will be teaching in an American primary/secondary school.”

Simplified Arrival is an enhanced international arrival process that uses facial biometrics to automate the manual document checks that are already required for admission into the United States. This process provides travelers with a secure, more touchless travel experience.  In addition, foreign travelers who have traveled to the United States previously may no longer need to provide fingerprints, as their identity will be confirmed through the touchless facial biometric process.

Immigration Inspection

With new biometric tools, when a traveler arrives at an international airport, he or she will pause for a photo at the primary inspection point. A CBP officer will review and query the travel document, which will retrieve the traveler’s passport or visa photo from government holdings and compare it to the new photo. This enhanced process using facial biometrics only takes a few seconds.  You may not need to hand over your passport at all.

At this time, the United States Customs and Border Protection will generate an automated electronic I-94 Arrival/ Departure record for you upon your entry. A paper version of your I-94 can be obtained at www.cbp.gov/I94.

I-94 Overview

You should print the I-94 for your records. You will likely need to present this document to apply for a social security card, complete paperwork for your employer, and to show that you have a legal status in the United States. You must carry a copy with you at all times in the U.S.

Cultural Vistas Arrival

You MUST contact Cultural Vistas within 5 days of your arrival and provide Cultural Vistas with your address where you will reside while in the United States.  Dependents who enter separately from the J-1 do not need to contact us.

If you are staying at a hotel for a few days until you find permanent housing, please submit the hotel address. If your U.S. home address, phone, or email changes, or if you move from a hotel to a more permanent address, you are required to send your updated information within 10 calendar days to remain in compliance with J-1 visa regulations.

Please submit your information here: J-1 Teacher Validation

Cultural Vistas needs to enter this information into SEVIS so that your arrival is recorded and your visa is activated. Failure to do so will result in problems when your employer checks your authorization to work in the U.S., as well as problems when trying to apply for your Social Security card. (More details about SSN card to follow)

Step 3: Begin Your Program

This section contains information which will assist you throughout your stay in the United States. Documents in this section include instructions for applying to Social Security, tax assistance, and evaluations you will need to complete.

Please read through this section and follow the instructions and contact Cultural Vistas if you have questions.

Initial Steps

Contact Cultural Vistas

If you have not already done so, you MUST contact Cultural Vistas within 5 days of your arrival and provide Cultural Vistas with your address where you will reside while in the United States.  Dependents who enter separately from the J-1 do not need to contact us.

If you are staying at a hotel for a few days until you find permanent housing, please submit the hotel address. If your U.S. home address, phone, or email changes, or if you move from a hotel to a more permanent address, you are required to send your updated information within 10 calendar days to remain in compliance with J-1 visa regulations. This is required for both J-1 and J-2 participants.

Please submit your information here: J-1 Teacher Validation

Cultural Vistas needs to enter this information into SEVIS so that your arrival is recorded and your visa is activated. Failure to do so will result in problems when your employer checks your authorization to work in the US, as well as problems when trying to apply for your Social Security card.

You will need your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record for this process. A paper version of your I-94 can be obtained at www.cbp.gov/I94.  You must carry a copy with you at all times in the U.S.

I-94 Overview

If you or your dependents will depart the US prior to the end date listed on the DS-2019, you must notify Cultural Vistas of your planned departure. Cultural Vistas will then update your SEVIS record.

Social Security Number

J-1 visa holders should obtain a Social Security Number if they receive income. The Social Security number is used in the United States as a taxpayer identification number. All J-1 participants must file a U.S. tax return in order to abide by appropriate tax laws. Your host company will need your Social Security Number in order to add you to payroll.  You may also need it to open a bank account, rent an apartment, or apply for a driver’s license. It is therefore important that you apply for a Social Security Number as soon as possible. If you already have one from a previous stay in the United States, you should not apply for another one unless the one you have is not valid for work.

Social Security Number Overview

Information about the Social Security Administration and how to apply for a Social Security Number can be located on the Social Security website:

  • Do not apply for the Social Security number until you have contacted Cultural Vistas to have your visa validated in the SEVIS government database. You will not be able to obtain your Social Security number if your visa status is not validated by Cultural Vistas before you apply.
  • In order to apply for your SSN you must wait 2 business days after contacting Cultural Vistas for validation in SEVIS, and a minimum of 10 days after you arrive in the United States.  Then you should go in person to the nearest Social Security office in your area.
  • You will need to present the following original documents (not photocopies) during the application:

Your Social Security Number card will be mailed to you, so it is very important that you include an up-to-date address on Form SS-5 when applying. If you are staying in temporary housing during the application process, you may want to enter your host company’s address.

Be sure to get a receipt or confirmation of your application while you are at the Social Security Administration Office. It usually takes three to six weeks for you to receive your Social Security Number; however, this receipt can be used immediately by your host company to enter you in payroll.

Once you receive your number, be sure that the Social Security Card reads “Valid for Work with DHS (or INS) Authorization”. If this phrase does not appear on your card, return to the Social Security Office immediately and request a new card.

You should memorize your Social Security Number and keep your card at home in a safe place (not in your wallet). Never give your Social Security Number to an unreliable source and never email it, not even to Cultural Vistas. If you are asked to provide the number online, make sure that the connection is secure.  If someone calls you or texts you and requests your number, it may be a scam.

SSN for Dependents:  Only dependents with work authorization will be given Social Security Numbers in general.  If a child without work authorization NEEDS a tax identification number for some reason, you can apply for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS.

Bank Accounts

One of your first steps will be to open a bank account here in the U.S.  Some banks may be more particular about opening an account without a Social Security Number and it is likely you cannot complete the process online.  We’ve identified a few that are likely to be more flexible and used to international visitors.  You may want to do some research and call in advance.  Be sure to look for what documentation they might require from you like proof of residence/address, IDs, etc.

  1. Bank of America
  2. Chase
  3. PNC Bank
  4. Wells Fargo
  5. Citibank
  6. TD Bank

Make sure you are careful to review if there are minimum amounts required, monthly fees, ATM fees, overdraft fees (if you spend more than you have) as well as features such as mobile apps, in-person locations, availability of ATMs, and usability in your home country.

You may even be able to start the application process online before you arrive or with an international branch of the bank in your country.

Income Taxes

When you first arrive in the U.S. you will fill out some forms at your school which help determine the taxes to be withheld from your paycheck.  This is a good time to remind them that if you are a Non-Resident Alien, you do not need to pay FICA and FUTA taxes (certain federal taxes).  This is true for most people who have not recently lived in the U.S. and usually for the first two years of the program.  If these taxes do get withheld, you will receive a refund the following spring when you file your tax return for the prior calendar year.  If your school has questions, you can share this article with them:  Hiring a J1 & taxes

Non-Resident vs. Resident Alien for tax purposes– check out this article
Taxable Income for Non-Resident Aliens

You or your school may wish to utilize this service to assist with new hire documentation and ensuring appropriate deductions:

If you earned a U.S. salary then you likely paid taxes on a federal, state and/or local level.  These taxes are typically deducted automatically from your paycheck.  Each year individuals must file forms with the federal and state governments to ensure the proper taxes were paid on the income received in the previous calendar year.  If you overpaid in taxes you may be due a refund.  Additionally, if you did not pay enough tax you may be required to pay additional money.  If your program spans more than one calendar year you will complete this process more than once.  The forms are due April 15 each year.

Cultural Vistas cannot offer specific tax advice.  However, we do know this can be a confusing and complicated topic and we offer participants free access to software that will help you file the necessary forms for the federal return.  You will receive information about this software via email as tax time nears each year.  Please make sure to keep your email address up to date with Cultural Vistas.

If you choose to look for a professional service to assist you with this, please make sure the organization has experience helping foreign nationals file US tax returns in order to make sure it is done properly.

During your Program

Program evaluations

Program evaluations are sent to participants and supervisors via email in the spring of each year so that you can provide feedback on your program experience which assists us in providing high quality programs. These forms are required to be completed in order to maintain your valid visa and program status.

Cultural activity

Participants in U.S. teacher exchange programs play an invaluable role in facilitating cross-cultural learning. As part of the Exchange Visitor Program, international teachers are expected to facilitate at least two opportunities for cross-cultural learning between their home country and the United States.

  • One activity should highlight their home country’s culture with a U.S. audience. This can take place in the host classroom, school, or the local community.
  • The other should create dialogue between American students and students in their home country through virtual or other means.

Teachers must report to Cultural Vistas annually on the details and impact of these activities.  We will send you the online report each spring.  If you do not complete these, you may be ineligible to extend your program.

Travel Outside the United States

You must have an officer of Cultural Vistas authorize your travel outside of the United States. A Cultural Vistas officer must sign your original DS-2019 form to authorize or validate any foreign travel during your program dates. You will need to scan your DS-2019 to Cultural Vistas at least 2 weeks prior to any travel outside the United States.  We will add the travel signature and email it back to you.

Should you decide to travel abroad at some point during your internship be sure to email Cultural Vistas teach@culturalvistas.org with dates of travel, destination and emergency contact.

You do not need travel validation for travel to Canada, Mexico or the Adjacent Islands.

Family members (Dependents)

If your spouse or child did not accompany you to the U.S. under a J-2 Dependent visa, you may request that they join you at a later date.  They will need to provide us with their passports, birth/marriage certificates as well as proof of insurance coverage.  Please contact us if you decide to request J-2 status well in advance of their intended arrival.

Dependents are issued their own Form DS-2019 with which they must apply for the J-2 visa at an American Consulate. The visa application process is the same as for the J-1 visa. J-2 visa applicants must complete the DS-160, pay the visa application fee, and complete an interview at the American Consulate. J-2 visa applicants are not subject to the SEVIS fee.

The status of the J-2 dependents is tied to the J-1 participant. The J-2 visa expires when the J-1 participant has completed his or her training program. If the J-1 training program is cancelled early, the J-2 visa is also cancelled. If the J-2 dependent departs the United States earlier than the J-1 participant, the J-2 must inform Cultural Vistas.

Frequently Asked Questions

Please be sure to review the FAQs for important information about your J-1 visa program.