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Before you get here

Passports, Visas & Entering the United States

Passport Validity

All international visitors to the U.S. are required to have valid passports.


  • If you are a J-1 scholar, you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months past your date of admission to the U.S.
  • If you hold another status (i.e. H-1B), you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months past the expiration date on your I-797 or other immigration document.

If your country appears in the Passport Agreement List, the six month requirement does not apply, and your passport only needs to be valid on the date of entry to the U.S. Please Note: You are still required to have a valid passport for the duration of your stay while in the United States.

About Your Entry Visa

Your entry visa is only important when you need to enter the U.S. from abroad. It is not a problem if it expires while you are in the U.S. See general information on visas under Basic Terms and Concepts.

Your first entry visa for a particular status must be obtained outside the U.S. If you leave and make a new entry, you will need a new visa before you reenter if 1) the visa has expired; 2) you have used all the entries allowed or 3) you have changed to a different immigration status than the one covered by the visa or to a different J-1 program. Exceptions apply to those who are eligible for automatic revalidation (see below) and to Canadian citizens.

While it is possible to apply for an entry visa in a country other than your home country, ISSS strongly recommends applying for your entry visa in your home country.

If you wish to apply for a U.S. entry visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate in Canada or Mexico, you must plan to book and pay for an appointment well in advance of traveling there.  Be aware that you may also need to obtain an entry visa for these countries before traveling there.

NOTE: If your field of study is technologically sensitive, such as nuclear physics, you may experience delays in getting your visa while a clearance is obtained from the State Department. You will not be permitted to return to the U.S. while you wait for this clearance.

Visa Waiver Program

Citizens of certain countries may be eligible for the Visa Waiver Program. Entering the United States under the Visa Waiver Program will not allow you to do certain activities or change status while in the country. Do not enter the country using the Visa Waiver Program unless you have spoken with your department and have determined it is appropriate as it may not be an appropriate alternative to a J-1 or an H-1B. For more information about this program, please visit the State Department website.

Visa Denials and Delays

ISSS cannot assist with expedited visa processing for our visitors. If you are a scholar whose field of study/research appears on the Department of State Critical Fields List, you may experience visa issuing delays while a Security Advisory Opinion is sought.  There is no way to expedite this process, so please make your travel plans accordingly. Please remember to keep your department informed about all delays.

Entering the United States

When entering the U.S., you will be issued an I-94 to document your entry. U.S. Customs and Border Protection has automated the I-94 at air and sea ports of entry. However, if arriving via land border, you need to pre-apply for an I-94 no more than 7 days in advance using the Apply for New I-94 option at



University Housing
Information regarding all aspects of Family Housing -- leases, maintenances, community services -- is available at the website given above or in the Family Housing Office. Their telephone number is 217-333-5656. If you think you would like to live in Family Housing, send your application as soon as possible.


Utilities include electricity, gas, water, and trash/garbage pick-up. All or part of these may be included in the rent. If they are not, here is a list of phone numbers that will assist you:

  • Ameren Illinois (gas and electricity): 1-800-755-5000
  • Illinois American Water Company (water): 1-800-422-2782

Telephone Service

Most of you will need to purchase your own telephone. Usually, a landline phone can be installed by plugging the phone into the wall. Phones can be purchased at many local stores.

Landline telephone service has a monthly fee. You will be charged a small amount for each local call and an additional amount for each long distance call. There are extra charges for calling card calls, directory assistance, operator assistance, etc. You can ask a telephone representative about special plans for people who make many long distance calls.

You will need to make a number of choices such as which local telephone service you want and which long distance. If you do not have a Social Security number, you will have to fax copies of your passport and visa papers to the telephone company.

Another option is to purchase a mobile phone. Some people have a mobile phone along with their landline telephone, while others only have a mobile phone.


Most apartment buildings have coin-operated washing machines and dryers in the building where you live or in a separate structure. In some apartments it is possible to install your own washer and dryer. There are also many laundromats in Champaign-Urbana where you can do your laundry in coin-operated machines. Most laundromats are “self-serve”, but some have attendants who will do your laundry for you for a fee. You can search online for “Laundromats in Champaign-Urbana” to find a location that is convenient for you.

Personal Property Insurance

It is a good idea to protect your property in your home from such things as theft, flood, and fire. You may purchase renter’s personal property insurance by the year. There are many insurance companies listed in the Yellow Pages of your telephone directory and online.

Non-University Housing

Many different types of apartments and houses are available to rent in the Champaign-Urbana area if you are not interested in or cannot find space in university-owned housing. The cost of this type of housing varies. If you wish to live in this type of housing, your sponsoring department may be able to help you arrange it before you arrive, or you might stay in a hotel after you arrive and then make your housing arrangements after you've had an opportunity to see what is available.


If you cannot make housing arrangements before you arrive or if you want to have an opportunity to see what is available before you choose a place to live, you may choose to stay at a hotel or motel. Some have special weekly and monthly rates. You may choose to review this Google map to see the various locations of local hotels near the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.


Getting to Champaign-Urbana



  • AMTRAK has service between downtown Chicago and Champaign.


  • Peoria Charter serves many different locations including both Chicago airports (O'Hare and Midway), Union Station in Chicago and a number of Chicago suburbs.
  • Greyhound has daily service between downtown Chicago and Champaign.

For more information on local transportation options, visit the Champaign County Convention and Visitor's Bureau's transportation page and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign's Facilities and Services page.

Health Insurance

How Medical Insurance Works

Medical care in the United States is very expensive. A visit to the doctor or hospital can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. It can also be difficult to receive proper health care without insurance.

When you purchase health insurance, the money you pay (called the premium) is combined with the premiums paid by other people. This money is then used to pay the medical bills of those participants who need health care. Your coverage remains valid as long as you continue to pay your premium. When you purchase insurance, the insurance company will provide you with an identification card for proof of your coverage when you need health care from a hospital or doctor. The company will also provide instructions for filing a claim. The company will evaluate any claim you file and make the appropriate payment for coverage under your particular policy. In some cases the company pays the hospital and/or doctor directly; sometimes they reimburse you after you pay the bill.

NOTE: Health insurance policies in the United States do not pay for all of the expenses resulting from illness or injury. Insurance plans have deductibles (a specified amount of money you must pay for medical services before your insurance makes payment), co‐payments (the percentage of your medical bill that you must pay after paying the full deductible), and exclusions (services for which the insurance will not pay) which must be paid by the individual.

For specific information about J-1 insurance requirements, please visit the J-1 Status page.


Champaign-Urbana has four distinct seasons.

  • Fall (mid-September to mid-December) is cool, sometimes rainy, and famous for the changing colors of tree leaves.
  • Winter (mid-December to mid-March) is cold, windy, and often includes much snow and ice.
  • Spring (late March to late May) can be very rainy and stormy, but also has many sunny days with a mix of cool, warm, and hot temperatures.
  • Summer (June to mid-September) is warm, but can be very hot and humid with many thunderstorms.

Bad Weather

Cold temperatures here can reach -22 F. (-30 C). If you are not used to weather this cold, it is important that you remember to dress properly. Several layers of clothes and a heavy coat are necessary in such cold temperatures.

It is important to cover your ears and fingers as they can freeze easily. Small children chill easily, so they should be dressed warmly. In addition to a coat, wear boots, a hat, gloves or mittens, and a scarf that you can wrap around your face. If you are traveling in a car and have mechanical problems or suddenly cannot see to drive, stay inside your car to remain protected from the cold.

Ice is dangerous to walk on and even more dangerous to drive on. Stay off it if possible. If you must walk, wear shoes or boots that have rubber grids, not smooth leather-soled shoes.

Snow should be shoveled away from your porch and sidewalks where you and others walk, because it can become compressed and slippery.

Blizzards include snow, high winds, and cold. You often cannot see to drive in such conditions even if you can see out the window of your home. During blizzard conditions, do not travel by any means. If you must travel for an emergency, call the police department for direction and assistance.

Tornadoes can occur here. A tornado is a storm with very high winds that form a funnel cloud. These clouds can form very rapidly and do great damage in a very short time. These conditions develop most often during the spring and summer.

  • A "tornado watch" means weather conditions are right for tornadoes to develop.
  • A "tornado warning" means that a tornado funnel cloud has been seen.

Champaign-Urbana has a disaster warning system which is used when a tornado threatens the area. A series of yellow sirens mounted on several buildings throughout the cities will sound continuously while a storm is threatening.

If you hear the sirens during threatening weather, take cover in a basement or under a table away from windows. If outside, seek shelter indoors, or take cover face down in a ditch. The warning sirens are tested the first Tuesday of every month at 10am; be sure to familiarize yourself with their sound.

In April of 1996, a tornado struck southeast Urbana, destroying homes and damaging a great deal of property. Residents of Champaign-Urbana pay close attention when severe weather threatens.

Weather Information

For a complete weather forecast, call 217-351-2900.

During severe weather, local radio and TV stations carry frequent weather reports and during the winter, information about schools which might be closed temporarily due to bad weather is also provided.

In the summer, storm and tornado warnings are not uncommon. Local television stations will show a symbol on the screen such as a "W" (for "Watch" or "Warning") to indicate the threat of severe weather in the area. Regular television and radio programs will frequently be interrupted with weather information during these times.

In the winter, local schools, businesses, and activities are occasionally closed because of heavy snow and ice.

If you are planning a trip out of town by car, you can get road condition reports from mid-November through March by calling 217-352-6705, or by checking the website