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Student and Tourist Visa Information for International Students

October 12, 2017

Student Visa Information for International Students

Are you coming to the U.S. to study English? If so, you probably have many questions regarding your visa: how to obtain it, what to do (and what not to do) during your interview, and how long your visa will be valid. Read on for information about student visas, including the I-94, B2, F1, and I-20.

Student Visa Information for International Students


An I-94 is a document that shows when you arrived to the U.S.. Everyone entering the US (who is not a U.S. citizen) has an I-94.

You can access your I-94 and get a copy of it here.

F-1 student visas

F-1 visas are only issued by the local US Embassy or consulate in a student’s home country.

The steps to obtain a student F-1 visa are as follows:

  1. The student applies for a full course of study and is accepted to a certified school, such as CISL. (For information on how to obtain a visa from CISL, visit our website: or visit the Study in the States website:
  2. The school issues an I-20 form to the student. For this to happen, the student must provide the following: a copy of their passport, a permanent home address, proof of funds, city and country of birth, and exact study dates. Important: Only a DSO (Designated School Official) can sign an I-20. Copies are not permitted and it is illegal to send the I-20 by email or fax.
  3. The student then pays the $200 SEVIS fee using the I-20. The link to pay this fee is:
  4. After paying the SEVIS fee, the student can make an appointment with their local embassy. Follow the steps and pay the visa appointment fee at this address:–online-nonimmigrant-visa-application.html

Student Visa Information for International Students

Tips for the F-1 visa

At the interview, it is important to have all of the required documents with you. This includes:

  • I-20
  • I-901 receipt
  • passport
  • passport photos for the new visa
  • proof of funds
  • proof of a permanent address

Students are asked a lot of questions at the interview, including what they will study at CISL. Sometimes students are denied if they don’t have a clear academic goal. Make sure that you clearly know which courses you have enrolled in for CISL and be able to show that you have a clear academic goal (for example, to pass the English for Academic Purposes course, or to complete the Cambridge First Certificate Exam Preparation course). Students who are unaware of their program and their purpose of study can be denied a visa.

If students are enrolled in the Career English program, it is important not to use the word “internship.” An internship visa is a separate visa, and one that students at CISL do not obtain. CISL does not use the word “internship” in any of its documentation online or in print: this is because the Career English program is to help students improve their English skills at an American company. The goal of the program is not to have students improve their business skills.

If approved, the student will receive a visa in their passport. Please remember our school does not issue “visas.” Only the U.S. government issues visas.

Very important: F-1 students should not attempt to enter the US more than 30 days before their starting date. If this happens, students might not be able to enter the country.

Student Visa Information for International Students

Information regarding other types of visas

Most visas are for students studying full-time. Students studying part-time (17 hours or less) may apply for ESTA at

Note: students already here on an ESTA visa waiver or B2 visa cannot be issued an I-20. They must return to their own country to apply for an F-1.

Visa waiver tourists are limited to 90 days or get a B1/B2 tourist visa for 6 months.

For B1/B2 tourists visas, students can go to the website: for more information.

Students with J-1, M-1, or F-2 visas may only take part-time courses.

Contact CISL for more information on tourist visas.


California Life Student Life Suggested student activities

5 Things You Should Do in Your First Week as an International Student

September 8, 2017

Moving to the U.S. to study English is exciting, but it can also be a little scary! Follow these suggestions for the 5 things you should do in your first week as an international student at CISL San Diego or San Francisco and you will feel adjusted and comfortable in your new home in less than a week.

5 Things You Should Do in Your First Week as an International Student

Things You Should Do in Your First Week as an International Student

#1: Learn the transportation system

Make it easy to see your new city! Learn your transportation options immediately. Here are some suggestions:

  • Get your transportation passes. Check out our Guide to Transportation for San Francisco and San Diego Students for information on city buses, the metro, and trains.
  • Buy a bicycle (if you want to own a bike). Check out Craigslist to buy a used bicycle for a good price. (As always with Craigslist, be sure to meet the person in a public location, like a coffee shop, to make your purchase.)
  • Download apps for the ride-share services in your area (like the apps Uber and Lyft) so that you can get a ride for a good price.
  • If you’re in SD, download FRED (The Free Ride). You can get a free ride to anywhere Downtown!
  • If you are interested in getting your driver’s license, visit the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) for information on how to take the test: the process is quite simple in California, but you will need to show proof of address (like an electricity bill). This may take some time for you to set up.

Things You Should Do in Your First Week as an International Student

#2: Get your phone card

Get connected to family and friends back home! Pre-paid SIM cards can be purchased from many locations and are very affordable. They can be purchased from a local convenient store (such as 7-11) or at a mobile phone carrier such as T-Mobile or AT&T.

Things You Should Do in Your First Week as an International Student

#3: Find your grocery shopping locations

Where will you do all of your shopping? When you are exploring your new neighborhood, try to locate all of the area’s grocery stores. Usually you will be close to a large grocery store (such as Von’s, Ralph’s or Safeway), but there will probably also be small stores close to you that have many of the items you need. In addition, see if your neighborhood has a farmer’s market: usually these are once per week on a scheduled day.

More information:

Things You Should Do in Your First Week as an International Student

#4: Find out where you will exercise

The quickest way to feel like you are at home is to have a routine: make sure your routine includes staying healthy! Find a gym, yoga studio, or other exercise studio in your area and join it so that you can make friends and stay healthy. Check out our International Student Guide to Exercising in the U.S. for some tips and information on U.S. gyms.

Things You Should Do in Your First Week as an International Student

#5: Enjoy some of the local restaurants

The best part about living in a new country is of course the food! Explore your neighborhood and try a few restaurants and cafes that are close to you. See which ones are open late (in case you get a late-night craving for something delicious). Don’t be afraid to talk to the employees: people are very friendly in the U.S.! Chances are, the employees will love to give you some tips for things to do and see in your new neighborhood.

More information:

California Life CISL San Francisco Featured Grammar San Francisco San Francisco Travel Tips Student Activities Student Life

English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN) + SF’s Best Beaches

July 1, 2017

Prepositions are some of the most difficult aspects of English for many language learners: especially English prepositions of location such as AT, ON, and IN. (These are also called prepositions of place.) Learn how to use them properly to avoid confusion! Since CISL offers English courses in San Diego and San Francisco, we can’t think of a better way to practice English prepositions of location than to use examples of these prepositions in relation to something every Californian loves: the beach!

English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

She is AT the beach, ON the sand, and IN the sun. Lucky girl!

English uses AT, ON, and IN for prepositions of location.


The preposition AT can be used for a location, to show a destination, and to show a direction that something moved.

For location:

  • I’m at the store. Do you need anything?
  • I will call you when I’m at home.
  • Meet me at the coffee shop in Little Italy.

For a destination:

  • We will arrive at the final stop soon.
  • I thought the drive would be long, but before I knew it, we were at home!

For a direction:

  • Why are you looking at me?
  • In dodgeball, you have to throw the ball at the other players to try to hit them. (Notice how this is different than throwing a ball TO someone. When you throw a ball TO someone, they try to catch it. When you throw a ball AT someone, you are trying to hit them!)


The preposition ON is used when we speak about the surface of a space. Imagine that something is on top of an area, not inside.

  • I was tanning on the beach when I saw dolphins!
  • I spilled coffee on my shirt.
  • They put some plants on the walkway of the house.
  • I was jumping on the bed and I fell.
English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

Do you get IN the water when you are AT the beach? Or do you stay ON the sand?


The preposition IN is used when we speak about the area of a space. Imagine that something is inside of a space or area.

  • I am in my room.
  • She is still sleeping in her bed.
  • She won’t be in the office this week. She is sick.
English Prepositions of Location (AT, ON, and IN)

IN the wave or ON the wave? Both, actually!!!

Practice: IN or ON?

The prepositions IN and ON are often confused. Try this lesson to see if you understand the difference. Remember: when choosing the preposition, ask yourself if it is inside of a space or on top of a space.

  1. CISL is located __________ San Francisco and San Diego.
  2. The San Francisco location is __________ the top floor of a building.
  3. The school is also located __________ Market Street.
  4. Some students live __________ a hotel __________ San Francisco.
  5. The school is __________ Market Street; Market Street is __________ the Financial District.
  6. The other campus is __________ San Diego.
  7. The school is __________ a modern building.
  8. The building is __________ Broadway.

The answers are at the bottom of this page.

SF’s Best Beaches

San Diego gets all the credit for having beautiful beaches, but the truth is that all of California offers stunning coastline! Have you explored these five beaches that we consider to be SF’s best?

Ocean Beach

Surfers love Ocean Beach for its strong waves, and locals love it because it is a place where they have beach bonfires. Ocean Beach is also the perfect place to watch the sun set in SF!


A post shared by joe bennett (@tk.joe) on

How to get there:

Take the 5R bus to the La Playa and Fulton St. stop.

Baker Beach

Baker Beach provides visitors with a beautiful view of the famous Golden Gate Bridge. Yes, the beach is also a nude beach, but locals know that it is so much more: because fewer people visit Baker Beach than Ocean Beach, it’s a much quieter and more peaceful place for relaxing. Many couples come to Baker Beach to take their engagement or wedding photos, which prove that it’s a romantic beach spot!

How to get there:

Take bus 7 to Lincoln Way and 21st Ave,; transfer to the 29 Baker Beach bus and get off at Lincoln Blvd. and Bowley Ave.

Aquatic Park

Aquatic Park is actually a protected beach and swimming area in the San Francisco Bay. The protective cove makes it a safe place to swim, and Alcatraz and Marin are beautiful backdrops to your day at the beach. The best part? Across the street from the beach is Ghirardelli Square, so visitors have a delicious option for post-swimming dining!

How to get there:

Take bus 47 to Fishermen’s Wharf. Get off at Van Ness and North Point St.


  1. CISL is located IN San Francisco and San Diego. (The school is inside the area of San Diego and San Francisco.)
  2. The San Francisco location is ON the top floor of a building. (The school is located on top of 
  3. The school is also located ON Market Street.)
  4. Some students live IN a hotel IN San Francisco. (The students live inside of the hotel; the hotel is located inside of the area of San Francisco.)
  5. The school is ON Market Street; Market Street is IN the Financial District. (The school is on the area of Market street and is located inside of the area of the Financial District.)
  6. The other campus is IN San Diego. (The school is inside the area of San Diego.)
  7. The school is IN a modern building. (The school is inside of a building.)
  8. The building is ON Broadway. (The school is on the area of Broadway St.)
California Life Cambridge Exams Featured Student Life

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

June 27, 2017

According to Cambridge ESOL, each year more than 5 million people take the Cambridge Exams in 130 countries. With so many options, why should you take your Cambridge course in California? Here are just a few of the reasons to consider taking your Cambridge course and exam in the sunniest and happiest U.S. state.

Why you should take your Cambridge course in California

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

(and how to choose the school that is right for you)

Studying on the beach is the best kind of studying

Sure, libraries and coffee shops are great (and cities such as San Diego and San Francisco have great coffee culture and amazing libraries!) but at the end of the day, it’s preferable to enjoy the beautiful California weather and study while working relaxing on the beach. Enjoy California’s 840 miles of coastline while also improving your English (and your tan)!

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Friendly, happy people

What is the best way to practice English? By making friends who are native speakers! Californians are said to be the friendliest and happiest people in the United States. In a recent study, 12 California cities were in the top 20 happiest cities in the U.S., including both San Francisco and San Diego.

California is a diverse state with people from all over the world. Politically, Californians are left-leaning (Trump is not someone a Californian loves!) and are proud of the international aspect of their state. This openness and inclusion makes California a friendly and welcoming place for international students of any ethnicity or background.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Expose yourself to accents other than British/Australian

The world does not speak one form of English, but many: with a Cambridge course, you will learn the standard UK spelling and pronunciation through the texts and practice tests; in your everyday life in California, you will learn the standard (Hollywood) English that people around the world agree is the easiest to understand and most clearly spoken. In the end, you get the best of both worlds (and speak some California slang when you return home)!

Cambridge is known for using non-native speaker accents on its exams, so this is a priority when it comes to language learning for CAE and FCE. When choosing a school, make sure you select one with high population diversity. This will allow you to meet people from all over the world and become accustomed to different accents.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Well established, accredited schools

From beachy San Diego to urban San Francisco, California has many language institutions for you to choose from. When selecting a school, make sure that you think about a few things, including:

An emphasis on speaking within the curriculum. The Speaking Module of the Cambridge exams is incredibly difficult, and many students need extra help in this area. Make sure that your school provides an emphasis on speaking so that you have a lot of chances to practice and improve.

Class size. In order to improve your English (especially in speaking), you will need lots of feedback from your instructor. Schools with small class sizes will allow you to spend more one-on-one time with your teacher so that you will improve quicker.

Student diversity. Part of being an international student is meeting students from around the world: make sure that your school has a diverse student population!

Accreditation. The most important accreditation organization in the United States is the Commission on English Language Accreditation. This organization is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and is specifically for English language learning schools. The standards are very high for a school to be accredited: the school must complete a very long application, attend workshops, write reports, and have visits from the CEA staff. The accreditation process includes looking at the school’s curriculum, teachers, staff, and administration; additionally, CEA considers factors such as how schools rate student achievement and progress. Use the CEA search to see if your potential school is accredited.

Bonus: if the school is also a Cambridge Testing Centre, you know that they are Cambridge approved!

Cambridge Testing Centres are highly trusted

A Cambridge experience doesn’t have to happen in the UK! The process of applying to be a Cambridge Testing Centre is difficult, and all centres (usually schools) have many visits and inspections from Cambridge. If you take your course and exam at a certified Cambridge Testing Centre, you are assured that you are getting a Cambridge approved experience. When booking your course, make sure you choose a trusted Cambridge centre.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

A healthy lifestyle

It’s not just the sunshine and Vitamin D that keep people healthy in California: the state’s citizens are known for being some of the most active and physically fit in the U.S. Learn some water sports, play basketball or tennis or volleyball in the many parks or beaches that surround you, go hiking on trails that go through the city, or enjoy some of the most impressive gyms, boot camps, and yoga studios in the world. In the winter, grab your skis and see why the state once hosted the Winter Olympics!


Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California

Great food (and drinks) for study breaks

Stay healthy with California’s obsession with fruits, healthy drinks, and avocados . . . and then cheat a little with the most delicious California burritos, sushi, and burgers. (It’s all about balance!) On the weekend, celebrate a hard week of study by exploring the microbrew beer culture of California or visiting some of its beautiful, world famous wineries.


Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California


California’s many international airports make it easy to arrive and to travel on weekends. San Diego’s airport, for example, is located next to Downtown San Diego. A cab ride from the airport to Little Italy (where many international students stay) is less than 10 minutes! From San Francisco’s international airport to the city’s Financial District (where many international students live) is less than 25 minutes. San Diego, San Francisco, and Los Angeles international airports offer non-stop flights from many locations year-round, including the following:

  • Amsterdam
  • Berlin
  • Dubai
  • Hong Kong
  • Istanbul
  • London
  • Paris
  • Tokyo
  • Zurich


Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California


The majority of Cambridge classes in the U.S. are taken by Swiss students . . . but not in California. California Cambridge classes are more diverse because the state is also an ideal destination for many Asian students, so a Cambridge course in California is more likely to have students from countries such as Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Additionally, Cambridge is now accepted by U.S. universities, so more and more students from other countries are enrolling in these courses. When choosing an English language school, always ask about the student diversity.

Why You Should Take Your Cambridge Course in California


Since 1972, CISL has provided quality English language training to students from around the world. It is accredited by the Commission on English Language Accreditation and is also a certified Cambridge Testing Centre. CISL’s 8 student policy provides its students the opportunity to improve their English is a small classroom with one-on-one attention from their qualified instructor, and CISL’s impressive student diversity allows students to meet people from around the world. Contact CISL to learn more about studying for the Cambridge Exams in San Diego or San Francisco or watch our video about Cambridge courses below. 


Featured Student Life

5 Things You Can Only Learn in an English Classroom

June 20, 2017

The internet is full of information for language learners (including apps, software, websites, and blogs such as ours at CISL!). However, there are many things that you can’t learn through self-study: here are 5 things you can only learn in an English classroom when studying English abroad.

Things You Can Only Learn in an English Classroom

5 Things You Can Only Learn in an English Classroom


Intonation is when a voice rises and falls when speaking. Among other things, it shows attitude, emotion, and the difference between a question or a statement. In other words, intonation is incredibly important when relaying meaning! Instructors provide feedback regarding intonation for questions and statements.

By spending time each day with your CISL English instructor, students learn how to use intonation to make their speech sound natural. With just eight students in each class, students definitely have the opportunity to practice intonation through questions and statements!

Things You Can Only Learn in an English Classroom


Every student knows that confidence when speaking is the biggest barrier when learning English. How do you gain confidence? Through practice and feedback! A classroom provides students with feedback that they don’t receive when studying from a book, software program, or app.

Confidence is #1 with CISL: our motto is “To help clients learn to communicate effectively and with confidence in English.”

Things You Can Only Learn in an English Classroom

Gestures and Body Language

Each culture has its own unique way of communicating using gestures, facial expressions, and body language. By living in another country and socializing with its people, you will quickly learn these subtle and important ways of communicating. Your time in the classroom is further exposure (and is also the time to ask your teacher what certain gestures mean).

Want to learn more about how important body language is? Check out our article about Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.”


What’s the best way to improve your English? Practice with friends! What’s the best way to make English-speaking friends? Live in an English speaking country! Consider staying with a host family to improve your English even more, and be sure to look at a school’s diversity so that you are in a classroom with people who do not speak your native language.

CISL is proud to have an impressive student diversity: check out our nationality mixes for San Diego and San Francisco!

Things You Can Only Learn in an English Classroom

Slang/Cultural References

Have you ever heard the expression “jumping the shark?”* If you’re not a native English speaker from the U.S., you probably haven’t . . . but the expression is well known! Americans use this term when discussing TV shows that are no longer interesting because of a change in the story or characters. As an English student in another country, you will interact with locals constantly and will learn strange and funny idioms and slang (like “jumping the shark”). This language will enrich your speech and make you sound more natural while also improving your listening and comprehension skills.

*”Jumping the shark” is a negative statement for when a TV show or other form of entertainment does something to get attention or keep the viewer’s attention. It comes from a scene in the TV show Happy Days when the character Fonzie jumps over a shark while he is water-skiing. Needless to say, viewers didn’t like it: the scene became an idiom that is now used for these types of entertainment stunts!