We are glad that you chose The University of North Florida (UNF) for your Exchange Visitor Program and look forward to welcoming you to Jacksonville. At the UNF International Center (IC), we are here to help you with immigration planning and related matters during your stay.
This Exchange Visitor Pre-Arrival Guide contains essential information about immigration regulations and advice for new international professors and researchers on how to successfully move to and live in the United States. Whether you are coming to UNF from your home country or from another United States university, please read this guide carefully.
The city of Jacksonville is located in Duval County in the northeastern part of Florida on the St. John's River and the Atlantic Ocean. Jacksonville's motto is "Where Florida Begins" because of its geographic location. Jacksonville is the largest city in the state of Florida and the largest city in land area in the contiguous United States. It is located in the First Coast region and is centered on the banks of the St. John's River, almost 25 miles (40 km) south of the Georgia border and about 340 miles (547km) north of Miami. The city is named after one of the Presidents of the United States. In 1822, a year after the United States acquired the colony of Florida from Spain; the city was renamed for Andrew Jackson, the first military governor of the Florida Territory and the-future President of the United States.
Jacksonville has a humid subtropical climate, with mild weather during winters and hot weather during summers. It is common for daily thunderstorms to occur during a standard summer afternoon. Jacksonville is situated in a warm temperature zone, with average yearly rainfall of 51 inches and heavy afternoon showers during the summer months. During the winter months of December to mid-March temperatures can drop below the freezing mark and during the summer temperatures can reach 100 degrees. However the spring and fall seasons in Jacksonville are very pleasant.
To capitalize on this experience it is imperative that you take the time to properly plan your trip. Please refer to this guide to find answers to some of your questions.
Our goal is to introduce our exchange visitors to American culture and help them to gain a better understanding of U.S. society.
The cross-cultural component of the exchange visitor program gives participants the opportunity to learn about U.S. society and culture outside of their university activity; to share their own culture, traditions and views with Americans; to help see the world from another perspective; to be more tolerant and respectful of differences; and to appreciate similarities that bring people together.
Carefully read all of the information in this Exchange Visitor Pre-Arrival Guide.
Before arriving, you must:
All J-1 visa applicants must pay the SEVIS fee of $180. The SEVIS fee must be paid at least three business days before the scheduled visa application interview. For most individuals, the SEVIS fee can be paid by electronically completing the Form I-901 and pay online with a credit card. You will need the information from your DS-2019 in order to complete the SEVIS Fee payment.
Print the electronic I-901 fee receipt immediately at the time of payment. You must show the receipt to the consular officer at the time of the interview.
Spouses and dependent children (J-2s) do not pay this fee. The SEVIS fee is not a visa application fee. It is used to operate and maintain the SEVIS system. The fee is non-refundable, even if the visa application is denied.
Canadian nationals will receive a DS-2019 and will need to pay the $180 I-901 fee, like citizens of other nations. However, they are visa exempt.
A valid J-1 visa is required for entry to the U.S. on the Exchange Visitor Program. For information on processing times and procedures, visit the U.S. Department of State website
A personal interview is required for the visa, so you will need to schedule your appointment as soon as possible. Be aware that there could also be substantial delays due to security checks, so please plan your travel arrangements accordingly.
Immediate family members (spouse and children under the age of 21) who will accompany you to the U.S. may apply for J-2 visas using the DS-2019 forms enclosed. If your family will join you later, a DS-2019 form will be issued by the IC upon request.
The following is generally required for the consular J1/J-2 visa application:
Applying for a J-1 visa using the enclosed DS-2019 implies acceptance of the terms and conditions outlined on the second page of the form. You may be admitted to the U.S. to engage in the activity described in item 4 of the form and for the period of time specified in item 3.
The category indicated in item 4 of your DS-2019 determines your maximum period of stay under the Exchange Visitor program. See the second page of the DS2019, 1(c) "Limitations of Stay." Upon completion of your Exchange Visitor program, you are afforded a 30-day grace period to prepare for departure from the U.S. You should not work or engage in other program activities during this period.
Present the following documents to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer at the U.S. port of entry:
The officer should return the following:
Under the current system, your I-94 entry record will be available to you by accessing the Department of Homeland Security website. Occasionally, a paper I-94 is issued at the U.S. port of entry.
Canadian nationals are visa exempt. However, they must present the enclosed DS- 2019, SEVIS fee receipt, and a Canadian passport at the U.S. port of entry in order to be admitted in J-1 status for D/S (duration of status). If you are a Canadian Landed Immigrant, please check with the nearest U.S. Consulate about whether or not you require a J-1 visa stamp, as requirements vary depending on country of citizenship.
The Jacksonville airport is called Jacksonville International Airport (JAX) and is located approximately 25 miles from the UNF campus. When making your travel arrangements, please be aware that there are several cities in the U.S. named Jacksonville. It is extremely important you ensure the final destination on your itinerary is Jacksonville, Florida (airport code JAX).
If you arrive on a Saturday or Sunday, the university and many businesses will be closed, so please plan accordingly.
Transportation options from JAX to campus include:
This company provides airport transportation to the location in Jacksonville desired. To get to the UNF campus, you should plan to pay approximately $70 fare for one passenger. To make an online reservation, visit the Go airport Shuttle website.
You should plan to pay approximately $50 - $60 from Jacksonville International Airport to the UNF campus. In most cases, you do not need to arrange a taxi in advance, simply go to the taxi pick-up area near the baggage claim. Taxi drivers are customarily tipped about 15% of the fare.
Contact the IC to confirm your appointment and attend the mandatory Exchange Visitor Orientation at the IC (more on Entering the United States/ Arrival Information)
The U.S. Department of State requires the University to provide you with an orientation program. After you attend the orientation, an International Scholar Advisor will validate your arrival in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) database. This validation notifies the Department of Homeland Security that you have arrived and started your Exchange Visitor program, and changes your SEVIS record to "ACTIVE" status.
Failure to attend orientation and have your SEVIS record validated may result in future immigration complications.
Be sure to schedule your orientation shortly after you have arrived. Orientation sessions typically last about one hour. To schedule an orientation session please email the International Scholar Advisor you have been working with.
Please be on time for your appointment and have all of your documents with you (see the next section).
You will need to bring the following documents to your orientation session for you and any accompanying J-2 dependents:
Your J-2 dependent family members are welcome to attend the orientation with you if space permits; however, the Exchange Visitor is the only one who is required to attend. If your family members do not accompany you to orientation, please remember to bring their immigration documents and insurance for verification.
The U.S. Department of State administers the Mutual Educational and Cultural Exchange Act of 1961, as amended. The Act promotes mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and other countries by means of educational and cultural exchange. The Exchange Visitor Program provides foreign nationals with opportunities to participate in exchange programs in the U.S. and then return home to share their experiences.
The U.S. Department of State designates sponsors to administer individual Exchange Visitor programs. Sponsors are U.S. organizations such as government agencies, academic institutions, educational and cultural organizations, and corporations. They screen and select Exchange Visitors participating in their programs, provide them with pre-arrival information and an orientation, and monitor their activities. Sponsors offer Exchange Visitors cross-cultural activities that will expose them to American society, culture, and institutions. Exchange Visitors are encouraged to participate in activities that provide them with an opportunity to share their language, culture, and history with others.
An Exchange Visitor is a foreign national selected by a sponsor to participate in an exchange program, and is issued a DS-2019 to apply for a J-1 visa. An accompanying spouse and any unmarried children under 21 years of age may apply for J-2 visas, with the permission of your sponsor.
Sponsors appoint individuals as Responsible Officers and Alternate Responsible Officers to advise and assist Exchange Visitors. These officers have authority to issue the Certificate of Eligibility (DS-2019) to Exchange Visitors and communicate with the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security on your behalf.
You must understand and abide by the Exchange Visitor Program regulations, U.S. laws, and sponsor rules. Regular contact with your Responsible Officer will help you keep current of any changes which may affect your J status.
You will enter the U.S. in one program category and will be required to engage in that category and subject/field of activity listed on your DS-2019. You must comply with the specific program provisions of the regulations relating to your program category.
You are required to have a valid and unexpired DS-2019. Sponsors may terminate an Exchange Visitor's program for violating U.S. laws, Exchange Visitor Program regulations, or the sponsor's rules governing their particular program.
You must inform your Responsible Officer if you change your address or telephone number, or complete or withdraw from your program early. Doing so assists your sponsor in reporting current information to the U.S. Department of State.
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
Office of Exchange Coordination and Designation
301 Fourth Street, SW
Washington, DC 20547
Exchange Visitors and their dependents may be subject to the 212(e) Two-Year Home Residence Requirement. This requirement is different from the 12-month and 24-month repeat participation bars. Please read and understand section 1(a) on the second page of your DS-2019.
This requirement is normally associated with government funding (from your country or the U.S.) and/or the U.S. Department of State skills list. To see if your country and skill results in this requirement, please check the skills list.
If you are subject to 212(e), it means that you cannot change status in the U.S. or obtain a work visa (H), permanent residency (green card) or an intra-company transferee visa (L) unless this requirement is waived or met. However, you can return to the U.S. for two years in any nonimmigrant status, (i.e., F student or B tourist).
For more information on the Two-Year Home Residence Requirement, please visit the state government website. The Consular Officer may indicate this requirement on your visa or DS-2019; however, the Department of State Exchange Visitor Program makes the final determination on whether this requirement applies.
USCIS regulation 22 CFR 62.20(d)(ii) established a "12-month bar" on beginning a new Exchange Visitor Program as a Research Scholar or Professor for those persons who spent the previous year in the U.S. in any J status (J-1 or J- 2). This bar does not apply to transfers from one institution to another, to persons who were Short-Term Scholars, or to persons whose J program lasted less than six months.
USCIS regulation 22 CFR 62.20(i)(2) established a "24-month bar" on repeat participation as a Research Scholar or Professor for those persons who were present in the U.S. in a Research Scholar/Professor Category on or after November 17, 2006. The bar does not apply to transfers from one institution to another.
These bars only prevent new programs as Research Scholars and Professors who have previously held J status. They do not prevent someone who has held J status from beginning a new program as a Student or Short-Term Scholar. Once the applicable 12-month or 24-month time period has lapsed, Exchange Visitors are again eligible to begin a program in any J category.
If you held J status within the last year or believe that one of these bars might apply to you, please contact your International Scholar Advisor at the International Center
U.S. Department of State regulations require all Exchange Visitors to have medical insurance for themselves and any accompanying dependents for the duration of their program.
In addition, Exchange Visitors and their dependents may be subject to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.
Willful violation of the insurance requirements can result in termination of your Exchange Visitor program by the IC, as required by immigration regulations.
Fulfilling this insurance requirement is essential, not only because of the U.S. Department of State regulations, but because medical treatment in the U.S. can be very expensive, especially without proper insurance coverage.
It is the Exchange Visitor's responsibility to notify the IC of dependents who are currently in the U.S. or who arrive later and to present evidence of appropriate insurance coverage for them.
You are required to purchase an insurance policy for the entire duration of your program (as indicated on your DS-2019). Whether you purchase insurance monthly or yearly is your decision. Regardless of the plan you choose, it is your responsibility to provide proof of continuous insurance coverage to the IC.
Exchange Visitors who receive all of their funding from a source outside of UNF, must purchase medical insurance from one of the following options:
Exchange Visitors are eligible for enrollment in the University Student Health Insurance Plan, which satisfies all U.S. Department of State Insurance requirements for the Exchange Visitor program. Detailed information about this year's current insurance plan is available on the Medical Compliance website.
To purchase this plan or to have more detailed questions answered, please contact the Medical Compliance office.
The University Student Health Insurance Plan offers comprehensive benefits that include hospital room and board, inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures, labs and x-rays, chemotherapy and radiation, inpatient and outpatient mental health services, physician office visits, consultant visits, ambulance, emergency care and prescription drugs.
Preventive Care Services are available to cover routine physicals and examinations, routine screenings, routine GYN examinations, and most immunizations.
All covered individuals will need to pay a portion of medical expenses out of pocket.
Any health insurance plan purchased from a private insurance company will have to meet the requirements mandated by the U.S. Department of State (see Medical Insurance Requirements on page 9). The UNF IC can provide you with a short list of companies/plans that meet these requirements.
If you will be employed full-time by UNF, your medical insurance coverage may be provided to you as a benefit of your employment. Please consult with your hiring department regarding your eligibility for insurance benefits as a UNF full-time employee.
If you will receive insurance benefits from UNF due to your employment, you will need to attend a new employee orientation to elect your insurance coverage. New employee orientation is presented by the Office of Human Resources (HR). Your hiring department will contact you regarding the Orientation time and date.
UNF Employee medical insurance does not include repatriation and medical evacuation coverage. You must purchase supplemental coverage for these two requirements. A supplemental policy for medical evacuation and repatriation is available from the UNF Student Health Services Office.
It is important to remember that in the U.S. certain kinds of elective medical care, such as vision and dental care, are ordinarily not covered by regular medical insurance. Exchange Visitors should take care of such needs before leaving home, or may elect to purchase separate coverage for these needs through a private company.
Visiting scholars may use the University Health Services on-campus clinic for a fee of $30.00 per visit by showing their UNF ID card. If you do not hold the University Student Health Insurance Plan, you will need to pay University Health Services up front, then file a claim for reimbursement from your insurance company. First aid care, Acute Care Appointments, Travel Health and Flu Shots are available at the clinic. University Health Services is only available to the J-1 Exchange Visitor and not to J-2 dependent family members.
A Social Security Number (SSN) is required in order to be paid in the U.S. Instructions on the SSN application procedure are available at the International Center.
If you need to apply for a SSN upon arriving to the U.S., please be aware of the processing times involved. Your Exchange Visitor Program will be validated in the SEVIS database system 3-4 days after your attendance at the mandatory Exchange Visitor Orientation. Please understand that the Social Security Administration Office will be able to view your information in their systems approximately 10 days after this validation.
If you have an SSN from a past visit to the U.S., you will use the same number for your entire lifetime.
To drive a car in the U.S., you must have a valid driver's license and car insurance. As a nonimmigrant you are not required to obtain a Florida driver's license, however, the IC still suggests that you obtain a Florida Driver's License. To apply for a license you need to go to the Florida Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and bring your passport/visa, DS-2019, I-94, utility bill/rental agreement and two address documents.
If you want to set up a bank account for the duration of your stay in Jacksonville we will provide you with a list of banks that do not require a SSN. The phone numbers provided are for the bank branches closest to UNF.
As in most countries, the tax laws in the U.S. are very complicated. Tax treaty benefits, Social Security taxes, and filing requirements depend on your visa status, the purpose of your visit, the number of days you will be in the U.S., and the history of prior visits.
If you are in the U.S. for even a day in J-1/J-2 status, you will have tax filing responsibilities during tax filing season (February through April). If you did not have any U.S. source income, you are still required to file Form 8843 with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Your J-2 dependents must also file Form 8843. If you have U.S. source income, you may also be required to file a tax return. Exchange Visitors at UNF are eligible to use a tax preparation software that is available through the International Center. Tax workshops are held annually in February to demonstrate how to use the tax software. For more information, please contact the international center.
J-2 dependents with work authorization are fully subject to Federal, Social Security, and Medicare taxes and are not eligible for tax treaty benefits.
The following information may be helpful to you in finding housing in Jacksonville. You may also want to contact your sponsoring department to see if they are able to provide housing assistance to you. On-campus housing available for Exchange Visitors is very limited. Your sponsoring department will assist you in finding appropriate lodging in the Jacksonville area.
Depending on the apartment complex, you may be able to rent an apartment before you arrive in Jacksonville or in person upon your arrival.
You might consider a plan for living in a hotel for the first few days after your arrival, until you are able to find housing that suits your needs. Jacksonville covers an extremely large area, so if you are planning on living by the UNF campus it may be helpful to look up UNF's address and familiarize yourself with the area. UNF is generally included in an area of Jacksonville called Southside. A list of apartment/housing locators is provided if you need assistance with finding housing. There is no fee for using an apartment locator service.
If you are unable to obtain housing before entering the U.S. please refer to this list of hotels that provide special rates for UNF visitors.
Depending on your lifestyle, living expenses in Jacksonville range from $1,200 to $1,800 per month or higher. The estimate of $1,200 per month is for a single visitor with a very frugal lifestyle. Visitors with dependents should be prepared for increased living expenses - at least $500 per month for your spouse and $400 per month more for each child. In addition, exchange visitors should plan on spending a minimum of $250 per month on food. Lastly, it is also important to include the cost of transportation which is approximately $318 per month for one adult. Please consider the following factors (plus any individual needs) while preparing for your expenses as an Exchange Visitor at the UNF:
The public schools that your children will attend are determined by the location of your housing in Jacksonville. Exceptions are based on individual circumstances. To determine the school your child is zoned to attend, visit the Duval schools website. Immunization records are required to enroll children in Florida public schools. School transcripts are also helpful (though not required) for placement of children into appropriate grade levels. For details regarding the public school schedule for registration and classes, contact:
Duval County Public Schools or call 904-390-2082 (school choice office)
There are also a number of private schools located in Jacksonville for your children to attend. These are schools that are not funded by the Federal, State, or local government and are often operated by religious organizations. As they do not receive funding from the government, they are not required to follow educational regulations and are free to establish their own guidelines. Each school will have unique requirements for admittance and tuition payments. It is important to note that private schools often cost substantially more than public schools. For a list of private schools in Jacksonville please visit these websites:
Private schools review
UNF offers childcare for UNF students, faculty, and staff through the University Child Development Research Center. This service is not free. There is often a waiting list for placement, based on the date of application. Additionally, there are numerous qualified childcare facilities in the Jacksonville area.
A licensed childcare facility must be a well- managed, accountable organization with adequate supervision that provides a safe and healthy environment and activities geared toward specific age groups.
Building 58 East
University of North Florida
1 UNF Drive
Building 58E, Room 2300
Jacksonville, Florida 32224
Phone: +1 (904) 620-2657
Fax: +1 (904) 620-3925
International Center email
Monday-Friday 8 a.m. - 5 p.m.
International Center Web page