International Students

International students are welcome at WISLI and UW-Madison, so let’s make sure you have everything you need to enjoy a summer in beautiful Madison!

International students must obtain a short-term visa to attend the Wisconsin Intensive Summer Language Institutes (WISLI) programs (CESSI, MULTI, MEDLI, NORD, SASLI, SEASSI, SIPI). International participants are encouraged to apply early to their intended WISLI program to allow enough time for visa processing. You will need to know whether you already have an I-20 (i.e. you are already in the US enrolled at another university) or if you will need to get an I-20 through UW-Madison (i.e. you are not currently enrolled in another US institution).

Understanding your visa status can be complicated. If you think you may need a visa to attend a WISLI program, we ask that you apply to the program as early as possible to ensure that there is enough time for processing any necessary paperwork on your behalf. For those unsure about their visa status, we encourage you to reach out to the WISLI team and/or your Institute’s Program Coordinator.

Please note that these visa requirements do not apply to US citizens who are currently attending a non-US institution and would like to study through WISLI.

Steps to attend WISLI as an international student

  1. Show that you have funds to cover the full cost of your tuition, room, board and health insurance
  2. Obtain an I-20 from UW Madison
  3. Obtain an F-1 Visa (Please apply early to WISLI to allow time for visa processing)

International Student Services (ISS) is a helpful resource for additional information for UW-Madison international students: ISS webpage – for Special Students at WISLI

You may email ISS directly with any visa questions:

Health Insurance

The University of Wisconsin-Madison has mandated that all international students and their dependents residing in the United States be enrolled in the UW-Madison’s Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP). International students attending any of the WISLI programs will either need to enroll in the UW Student Health Insurance Plan (SHIP) or sign the SHIP waiver.

For SHIP costs and further information, please review the SHIP for International Students website or contact them at University Health Services (+1-608-265-5232)

International students should be sure to check their email address (or have it forwarded to another account) for any insurance- or visa-related communications from UW-Madison.


Please apply early! The sooner you apply, the sooner we can work on reviewing your application and any next steps. In order to help ensure that your visa will be processed in time, all applications to WISLI must be complete and submitted by March 1, but please do apply earlier if you are able. Any applications from international students received after March 1 will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for the likelihood of being able to go through the visa process in time.

(Note: The entry process for Canadian citizens is different than for citizens of other countries.)


For the F-1 visa you will need a document issued by UW-Madison called an “I-20.”  UW-Madison can produce this document for you, but you will first need to show that you have adequate funds to cover the full cost of your tuition, as well as room, board and health insurance. International students will need to show financial support for room, board and health insurance (amount varies by program).  Please contact WISLI for information regarding where to send your financial support documentation.  UW-Madison will then be able to issue the I-20 for you.  Once you receive our I-20 you will need to apply for the F-1 visa stamp at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.  You will need to provide evidence of financial support as soon as possible, as it can take several months to complete all these steps.  F-1 visa holders may enter the U.S. 30 days before the start of their WISLI program and could stay as long as 60 days after the program ends.

Frequently Asked Questions

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I am a non-US citizen but am already enrolled in a degree program in the US. Do I need a visa?

Do you already have an I-20 issued for your current institution? If so, then you won’t need a separate visa to attend a WISLI program. Please be sure to enter your information correctly in the WISLI application.

I am a non-US citizen and am currently outside the US. Do I need a visa?

Most likely, and we can help! If you are a Canadian citizen, you’ll need an I-20 but not a visa. Citizens from all other countries will need an I-20 and a visa. Please be sure to apply to WISLI early so we can make sure you can get your I-20/visa in plenty of time.

I am a US citizen but am enrolled in a degree program outside of the US. Do I need a visa or anything?

Nope! Once admitted, you just need to make plans to come to Madison for the summer.

I am not a US citizen and my course will be run in a synchronous online format. Do I need a visa?

Great question! If you will not be traveling to the US for your study, you will not need an I-20 or a visa to participate in the program.

What if I am coming from Canada?

If you are a Canadian citizen, you will need to follow the process to obtain an I-20, but you won’t need a visa to enter the US. If you are in Canada but are not a US or Canadian citizen, you’ll need to follow the process for non-US citizens coming from an international location, and you’ll need the I-20 and visa.

I am confused. What is the difference between an I-20 and a visa?

An I-20 is a document that UW-Madison will issue after you have been admitted to WISLI and UW and take all the appropriate steps. The I-20 proves that you are going to attend an eligible program in the United States, and allows you to get a nonimmigrant visa at your local embassy if required. Canadian citizens need an I-20 but not a visa. All other citizens will need their I-20 AND a visa. The I-20 is necessary to get the visa and the visa is necessary (except for Canadian citizens) to enter the US.

How do I get an I-20?

First you’ll have to be admitted to your WISLI program. Once you receive that admission, you’ll be given instructions to apply to be admitted to UW-Madison and to request your I-20 immigration documents through the Terra Dotta portal. You will need information specific to your admission to UW-Madison in order to start this process so please do not access Terra Dotta until you have been admitted to UW-Madison and have your NetID.

*See below for what materials you need to apply for an I-20*

What is SEVIS?

SEVIS stands for the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System, a US government database used to administer the processing of F, J, and M visas through the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP). All applicants for a nonimmigrant student visa to the US must pay a SEVIS fee prior to obtaining a visa. More information about this will come once you are admitted to UW-Madison for the summer.

What will I Need to Apply for an I-20?

  • Copy of the biographical page of your passport
  • Financial documents showing that you have sufficient funds to cover your costs while in the US
  • A letter showing any tuition remission offered by your WISLI program. We will prepare this for you, but please feel free to remind us if you are ready for it!

Once Accepted… 

Once you have been accepted to a WISLI program, you will apply to become a special student at UW-Madison (we’ll tell you how). This is when you’ll get information about obtaining an I-20 and visa. If you need an I-20 and visa, here are the steps you’ll need to take.

(But please do not start these until you have been admitted to UW-Madison! Starting them early could slow down your I-20 application process.):

  1. Receive 10-digit campus ID by email and activate your MyUW.
  2. Read your Admissions email carefully.
  3. Request your I-20 immigration documents via the Terra Dotta portal (here’s where you’ll need all those documents).
  4. Activate your WiscMail email addressin your MyUW account. Your email address will be used for all official university communications, so be sure to check it frequently throughout your time at UW-Madison.
  5. Enroll in your WISLI classes as soon as you are eligible (typically early to mid-April).
  6. Understand enrollment deadlines, academic policies, refund policies, and fees.
    1. Review the International Student Fee one-page fact sheet to learn more about who gets charged a fee and what these funds support.
  7. Research the visa application process, pay your SEVIS fee and schedule an appointment with the nearest U.S. Embassy or consulate.
  8. Research housing possibilities. You may also receive information about this from your WISLI program coordinator.
  9. Understand mandatory health insurance requirements. You may purchase SHIP or file a waiver when you arrive.
  10. Research the airports, orientation date, and arrival information.