Success!!! Here's sort of a 'trip report' just in case someone has the same situation in the future.
I decided to renew my visa in Nogales, Mexico, which was the most convenient location for me. It also helps that there were a lot of available appointments- you can book biometrics + an appointment for tomorrow or two days out if you wish. Before I went, also emailed the consulate to make sure I was eligible for renewal there, which they confirmed.
I took a TUFESA bus from Phoenix to Nogales. There was a wait at the border and someone from customs boarded the bus, but there were no individual inspections. I stayed at a hotel called Marques de Cima which is right next to the TUFESA station and within walking distance of the consulate, which was very convenient. The staff didn't speak English, but they were nice, and it worked out fine with my broken Spanish. They don't have a problem with you leaving your bag at the front desk when you go for your interview/visa pickup, since you can't bring electronics. It's not located in the center of the town, but there are some fast food places, a supermarket, banks, and a small mall also within walking distance you can eat at. There is also a nice sit down restaurant nearby called El Marcos. Some people said dollars are widely accepted in Nogales, but you aren't going to get a good exchange rate, so I would suggest just withdrawing pesos from an ATM.
Biometrics appointment. I took a taxi to the ASC (tell the driver you want to go to 'Edificio Azul') with my papers in hand. Present your appointment confirmation to security outside the building. Inside, they just looked at my DS-160 confirmation and took my picture and fingerprints. Only took me 15-30 minutes in total. The only problem is the ASC is in a sort of quiet area, so I had to walk for a few minutes to find a taxi. I took the chance to go to the 'tourist area' and do some shopping.
Appointment at the consulate. I'd suggest taking the earliest appointment you can because they only had 2 people interviewing when I was there and the (standing) line was pretty long when I left. Bring a book if you wish. The consul who interviewed me was very nice and didn't even ask me about my reason for applying. The only question I was asked was why I was going to a different university for my PhD. Also, there was a small problem with my OPT and graduation date as it looks like the SEVIS timeline didn't exactly match the actual one, but fortunately I had my OPT card and a copy of my MS diploma with me, which I think saved me from having the visa denied due to lack of documents. Bring all the supporting documents you think you need! I'd recommend bringing an official transcript as well. After my visa was approved I was told to come back to the consulate that afternoon and see if it was ready for pick up, but it wasn't. I was told to go back the next day.
Went to the consulate in the afternoon and my visa was there! I picked up my bag from the hotel and took a taxi to the border. The border crossing took around an hour, as I had to wait for my I-94. All waiting was done inside so it wasn't so bad. When you cross into Nogales AZ, you'll see some shuttles offering service to Phoenix/Tucson for around $25-30. I took one and was back in Phoenix the same night.
I'll be attending ASU this fall and am currently looking at apartments and rentals. Right now I'm considering two different ones, one located slightly east of the university, walking distance, and one further west of the university near Priest Ave and Elna Rae St. Is there a better/safer neighborhood between the two or does it not really matter? Thanks!
Just to clarify, my sister is getting married in a country outside of the US (not my home country), so I wouldn't be able to combine my visa renewal and her wedding in a single trip. Well I could, but it would be pretty impractical for a PhD student! I'm from the Philippines, which I know could be a red flag for illegal immigration, but I don't have immediate family who are US Citizens/Permanent Residents. My sister and her fiance are also permanent residents of another country, so I don't think that would be a problem. I have also been previously issued a B1/B2 (still valid) before my current F1 visa which I have not misused, which could further help my case.
I went back and reread the embassy pages and you're right. I should be able to apply for a F1 visa as long as I'm not changing my visa category, and I'm not. Although Mexico may have a better system, I'll still likely apply in Canada since I have family I can stay in case anything goes wrong.
Thanks for the information everyone! I haven't talked to my ISO yet but I'm leaning towards taking the risk and applying in Canada. I'll come back here with an update.
Thanks. If that's the case, that rules out Mexico, as they only process renewals. It might also increase the risk I get denied at the Canadian Embassy, since it's an entirely new visa and not a renewal. Fortunately, the TAL doesn't apply to me, and I have distant family in Canada I can stay with if things go wrong. I guess I just need to decide if it's worth the risk to go to Canada, or just suck it up and pay the $1k difference in fare.
I'm currently on OPT (from my MS) and will start my PhD program in another university this August. My F-1 visa is also set to expire this August. I know I can remain here as long as my I-20 is ok, but I need to renew my visa as I will be attending my sister's wedding in December/Early Jan and was thinking to do it around summer before my program starts for the least hassle.
I know that it's recommended to go back to your home country, but since the flight home is $1.5k+, I was hoping to 'renew' my visa in Canada or Mexico. Has anyone ever done this? I know it's much harder to get an F-1 visa in a third country, and since my I-20 will be from a new university, I don't know if that counts as a renewal or a completely new visa altogether. Of course I'm going to consult my university international student's office, but I wanted to see if anyone had any experiences or anecdotes related to my issue. Thanks!
Fellow international here- Hmm, did you talk with any potential advisers? I've found that they are extremely influential in your admission and are actually the ones who 'endorse' you to your department so to speak. No adviser = no one to fight for you in the grad committee. If you have, you could try sending them an email to see where you are in the process?
I'm a lurker who creeped through this thread and forum through application and interview period and I just wanted to sort of thank everyone for their advice and discussion, even though I didn't take active part in it. I just had a really great PhD interview at a school and at the end, my prospective adviser said they'd recommend me for admission! It will still be up to the department since they provide the funding but I'm crossing my fingers that the result is positive. I find out in two weeks!
Yes, if your program is based in East Campus, then you can easily park nearby, no need for a pass. Not too sure about City though. Intercampus travel is inconvenient outside shuttle hours (ends around 8:30 pm) although you can easily bike it in good weather.
Hello from the midwest US! I remember the heat hitting me like a wave when I walked out from the airport when I first arrived, only to have it -20C with snow blowing in my face a few months later!
To the OP: As a fellow international student who lived in a tropical country all her life, the thing I found hardest was the variation in temperature when the seasons change- I remember days that were around 18C and then the next few days would be in the single digits, and then it would swing slightly back up again, and so on. My body had a hard time adjusting and I felt awful- be sure to take vitamins and stay well hydrated during these periods.
To add on to the advice about layers, if you have extra time when you arrive and can find your way to an outlet store of say Columbia or TNF or other outdoor brands, do so: I picked up a lot of my winter gear this way at ultra-cheap prices and it has all served me well. If you happen to have relatives or friends in the US who live near these kinds of stores and you have the means to swing by them before you go to your school's city, take full advantage!
I started around May and found a great place on craigslist- it was directly posted by the owner so it was much easier to talk to him and wrangle out details than through an agency. Try to keep your eyes peeled for things like that, and once you see one, inquire immediately. I also can't agree enough with asking advice from current grad students, you may be even be lucky enough to take the place of someone who is graduating. Another craigslist option is to look for someone who is also looking for a place and then combine forces- I found that there are a lot more options available for 2 bedrooms compared with 1 bedroom apartments. One thing you can do to make sure you're not ending up with a crazy roommate is to email and maybe Skype before agreeing to look for somewhere together- I did this and my roommate ended up being one of my great friends here so far. Of course, all of this is easier if you're applying to a small college town like I was. Like others were saying, craigslist may not be the best option for other cities, but the reason I stuck with it was that university housing would have been much much more expensive than living off-campus.
Classes start on August 20, but my assistantship starts on August 15. Will be leaving home on August 5, and plan to spend a few days visiting my aunt and uncle on the way to break the journey. It would be 24 hours of travel if I were to do it straight (lots of connecting flights since I'm on a budget)!
Our situation is slightly different since I only applied to MS programs, but my average was 3.09 with two failing grades and I got into 4 schools, one fully funded + stipend. Talking with your undergrad professors or current graduate students in your field (if you know any) could be really helpful since they'll be able to give you relevant advice based on their experience in your field, but ultimately I agree that you'll only know if you try. Be prepared to really look through programs and send lots of letters to professors, as establishing rapport helps immensely, I think.
1) Get an F-1 Visa- I already have my I-20 so I just have to wait for my next salary so I can pay the necessary fees and schedule an appointment
2) Book air tickets- My mom will stay a few days with me to help me get settled and we'll also visit some relatives before we go to my city. We had to break up the trip somewhere as all the legs will take 20+ hours!
3) Start an inventory of what things to bring and what things I have to buy, especially winter wear as my uni is in the Midwest- I have a hand-me-down coat, an autumn jacket, a windbreaker, some wool socks, a few thin leggings and shirts for layering, and that's about it. Of course I'm going to buy the rest of the stuff I need in the US, but I want to have a good idea of what I need before I go.
4) Learn all my favorite native food recipes that I haven't learned yet
5) Find housing! I hope to avoid having to find a room only when I arrive.