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A Beginner's Guide to the J1 Visa

Looking to work at summer camp but don't know what visa you need? Don't worry; we're here to help.

We send thousands of applicants to work at summer camps in America every single year, and have done for nearly 25 years.

That's meant we understand the J1 visa (the cultural exchange visa you'll need to work at camp) as well as anyone.

So if you're wondering 'what is a J1 visa?', here's some of the key things you need to know.

Author: Camp Leaders
14 Dec 14:45

If you're considering going to summer camp, you’ll hear lots of lingo and official terms for your paperwork.

It can all seem a bit daunting, especially when you're new to it and don’t know much about it yet.

Let’s find out more…

To work in the USA, you need to have the right visa for the amount of time you are in the States and the type of work you are performing.

Every work or visit type is categorised and given a supporting letter - then to really be specific, a number.

The cultural exchange visa we use for being a Camp Counselor or Specialist is the J1 visa.

"But; what is a J1 Visa?"

The J1 is a cultural exchange Visa supporting visitors (you) who are promoting and participating in cultural exchange (Summer Camp).

'Cultural exchange' sounds an official term, but broken down it is the exchange of two countries - sharing ideas, creating friendships, and forming a mutual understanding.

You’re bringing the best of your home culture to the States - exposing them to our thoughts, habits, lingo, and a different way of seeing the world… all whilst experiencing the best of America. We give them our quirks and, in turn, get to experience theirs.

Cultural exchange is just the fancy way of saying it.

"This is a true blending of cultures and life experiences. Campers who have not left the US, or traveled far at all, are able to interact with someone half way across the world. I don't know of another place where a 12 year old from northern Minnesota can interact with people from 10 different countries without even leaving his or her home town. These interactions lead to more informed and inquisitive youth that will grow up to shape America."

Justice Goracke - J1 Visa Sponsor Representative

J1 Visa Requirements

Alongside the visa application itself, there are a few requirements you have to hit.

But, fear not, by going through us for camp, you’re going to be fine…

  • To have had an interview with a sponsor

We have paired up with some rockstar visa sponsors, who make sure you have all the paperwork alongside being looked after.

When you start your application with us, you’ll be asked to join us for an interview. The interview with our national team, although very laid back, is actually tied with the visa and our sponsorship of you on the program.

We need to make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons and that you’re over 18.

  • To be proficient in English

Being an English speaking country, despite the Americanisms, it’s a requirement that you will be able to happily communicate once Stateside.

  • To have insurance

We will provide your medical insurance as part of your package, no extra cost.

To have been provided with arrival information.

When you log in to your account you shall be able to see your onward travel section with clear instructions on how to get to camp. If you’re ever not sure then you must let us know straight away!

  • An orientation

We love our Camp Leaders prep days. As part of your J1 visa - you’ll need to attend an orientation with us. It’s a great day - with prize giveaways, useful tips for camp life, your questions answered and heaps of energy. We want for you to get as much as possible out of the day, which is why it’s not your average orientation.

  • You have your forms

The DS2019 (Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor (J-1) Status) is a really important form when applying for your J1 visa. It’s actually part of the visa, so don’t be losing it!

We provide your DS2019 for you. This is one of the main reasons to go with us, or any agency, than doing it yourself.

To have proof this is a temporary stay and that you’re returning home.

As much as we’d all love to stay at camp and travel the States forever, the US Embassy will be needing proof you’ll be coming home. From going back to uni or having a job sorted for when you come back, whichever ties you choose to talk about at your embassy interview, just make sure you do.

  • Monitoring

We want to know how you’re doing in America. With the J1 visa we’ll be checking in with your camp monthly to see how you’re getting on. We are also going to be on hand 24 hours a day just in case you need us. You can’t get rid of us that easy!

"How do I apply for a J1 Visa?"

Once you have your placement and your SEVIS number on your account, you’ll be able to begin your J1 Visa application.

The form is online and you can book your appointment slot from your US Embassy account portal. We’ll be taking you through this step by step with our handy guides that you can find on your Camp Leaders profile.

You’ll be asked to pay for your appointment before you can choose a time, so make sure you’re prepared to make the payment before you begin as although your DS2019 form and sponsorship costs are all taken care of by us, the appointment itself is third party.

The price, at writing, for the J1 Visa appointment is approx $160 USD.

Once granted, the J1 Visa will be displayed in your passport.

After your interview at the Embassy, the officer will keep your passport to print your Visa in. Make sure you have a double-page free!

It usually takes 10 working days to be returned to your selected collection point, or if you choose, the courier service to deliver it straight to your door.

The embassy advises that it can take up to 4-6 weeks, so make sure you book your appointment well in advance of your travel date.

When you receive your passport back, it will be wrapped in the DS2019, keep it together, guard it with your life.

Promise us. That little piece of paper is the other half of your Visa and you’re going to have a tough time at customs in the US if you arrive without one.

"How long does the J1 visa last?"

The J1 Visa lasts for the length of your summer camp contract.

For as long as you are employed by your camp, your visa is active.

"But wait, how can I travel on the J1 visa if it’s only active when I’m at camp?"

Fear not, the J1 visa was designed to give you the best taste of America. Travel is a huge part of the package. To see the sights, taste the food and get to know the locals… really experiencing culture on a ground level.

You may have heard of a grace period. If not, you’re about to. The grace period is an optional 30 days you can take after your contract is up at camp. You don’t need to ask or request a grace period, the nice people in the US government have already built this in for you.

You just need to leave the US within the 30 days

  • You mustn’t work once your contract has finished.

This is your holiday time.

Some people often ask if they also need an ESTA when travelling to the States, when you book your flight you’ll be hit with a pop up reminding you to get one, but does this apply to you?

Nope. The J1 Visa and ESTA are very different things.

"How is the J1 Visa different to an ESTA?"

The ESTA is an electronic application for a US visa waiver.

You only need this if you don’t have a visa. Because you are travelling on the J1, there is no need to apply.

The only time you would need to apply is if you are leaving the States on your travels and planning to re-enter the country.

When you leave the U.S., your J1 visa will automatically finish. So, if you’re planning on heading to Mexico or Canada after camp and then coming back into the States, you won’t be able to use your J1 Visa anymore.

The ESTA application is much quicker and all done online; no embassy visits for this one.

Once accepted, it will be added to the chip on your passport.

You can apply for an ESTA here. Please make sure you give yourself at least 48 hours before needing to use the ESTA for travel.

The J1 visa beginner's roundup…
  • Designed for you to work at a summer camp

  • Part of the cultural exchange program

  • Valid for a maximum of 4 months or for your contract length

  • Appointment costs $160

  • Fixed into your passport and supported by the DS2019

*We’ve worked with J1 Visas for nearly 25 years and are always here for advice and support.

If you would like to know more and for further reference always look to the Department of State’s official website and statements.*

Camp Leaders
With over 20 years of travel experience, the Camp Leaders team has the answers to almost anything you can think of. We're here to help you sort your ultimate summer - feel free to ask us anything.

Want more in-depth info on the J1 process?

Start your American summer camp adventure today.