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International Student FAQs

Getting to Sonoma State

Unfortunately, due to COVID, we can not provide transportation this year. However, we have detailed information on getting to SSU on our website: /international-students/getting-ssu.

General Information

The beautiful Sonoma State University is located California’s premier Wine Country, Sonoma County. The campus is in Rohnert Park, California, just an hour north of San Francisco and 45 minutes east of the Pacific Coast.

You can schedule an appointment by International Student Services Coordinator, Katie O'Brien at

Yes, they will be provided with that information from Housing in the summertime.

There is some information available on the Housing website: Students are expected to leave their on-campus housing for a period between Christmas and the new year. However, arrangements can be made for students in extenuating circumstances, such as former foster youth and other students in need of housing. Most international and exchange students spend that time traveling California and some are even invited to visit new friends' families over the Holidays.

Students can set up for guests to have access to her SSU account to make deposits on their behalf. For more information, visit our website: Families can also contribute money to the student's Seawolf Bucks, which is accessible via their campus ID and can be used at the Bookstore, on-campus dining, and some vending machines. If you would still like to mail a check, there are instructions on our website here:

Yes. More information can be found on our CAPS website:

Review the following resources from the Department of Motor Vehicles (CA).

The Driver's License Application Process

  1. You must wait at least 10 days after entering the United States to apply for a Driver's license. This will ensure that appropriate US government databases are updated with your arrival information. 
  2. Contact your International Student Advisor to ensure your SEVIS record is up-to-date and in Active Status. 
  3. Check your I-94 arrival record to ensure it matches the information on your passport and your US entry stamp. 
  4. Review the DMV links provided above to insure you are ready to take your driving tests.
  5. Prepare the documents you need when going to the DMV
    1. Your I-20 or DS-2019
    2. Print out of your I-94 record
    3. Passport with F-1 or J-1 visa
    4. Two documents which show your proof of residency in California
    5. *If you are on OPT, you must also bring your EAD card
    6. Social Security Number
      1. If you do not have a Social Security Number and are not going to pursue working on campus, then you need apply for a Social Security Number and receive a rejection letter from the Social Security Administration, which can be presented at your DMV appointment. 

The two DMV locations closest to Sonoma State are located in Petaluma and Santa Rosa


To apply for undergraduate/graduate degree programs, visit the Office of Admissions website. To apply for Special Sessions degree programs through the School of Extended and International Education, visit their Academic Credit Programs website.

To apply for the CSU IP exchange program, visit the Cal State Exchange website.

To apply for the Semester at Sonoma program, visit the Semester at Sonoma (SAS) program.

When you are admitted to your program, your initial I-20/DS-2019 will be issued and shipped. I-20s for undergraduate and graduate degree-seeking students are issued by the Office of Admissions. DS-2019s for CSU IP exchange students are also issued by the Office of Admissions, but you will receive them from the exchange coordinator at your home institution. I-20s for Semester at Sonoma students are issued by International Admissions.

If you have questions about your I-20/DS-2019, please contact the appropriate admissions office:

Please refer to our Tuition and Fees page to find out more about specific program costs. International students who wish to apply to Sonoma State University must demonstrate financial support that is sufficient to cover all of the expenses of their first year of study, including academic and personal costs. This is a federal requirement for issuance of the F-1 visa. The certification of financial support will be included in the application process.

Undergraduate degree-seeking students must have 60 semester units in order to transfer to SSU. SSU only admits upper-division (60+ semester units) transfer students.

SSU does not offer pre-application evaluations of transcripts. If you are applying to transfer from a California Community College, you may consult the ASSIST website for a complete listing of approved General Education courses. International or out-of-state transfer applicants may use this list of approved General Education courses as a guide to determine if a course is appropriate. You must apply in order to find out if your credits will transfer.

You can find the application deadlines for international students the website specific to your program:

All documents must be official, and, if the original language is not English, must be accompanied by certified English translations. For undergraduate and graduate degree-seeking students, original documents must be mailed to the Office of Admissions. For CSU IP exchange students, original documents must be submitted to the exchange coordinator at the home institution. For Semester at Sonoma students, scanned documents are acceptable. Contact Ms.Katie O'Brien

Students on F-1 or J-1 visas are not eligible for state or federal financial aid. However, international students are eligible to apply for the University Scholarship Program. which is awarded based on academic excellent and offered on an annual basis. For more information about international scholarships please visit our Tuition and Fees page.

You will be notified via email when your admission has been processed. Be sure to frequently check the email account that was included on your original application. The processing time for undergraduate applications is 2-4 weeks after all documents are received. Graduate application processing times may take longer as these applications are also reviewed by the academic department. The processing time for CSU IP exchange student applications will depend on your campus deadlines; contact your campus’s exchange coordinator for more information. Processing times for Semester at Sonoma applications is 1-2 days after all documents are received.

Please visit the Sonoma State American Language Institute (SSALI) website to see if you qualify for the University Preparation Program (UPP)or the Academic Culture and English (ACE) Program.


The fall semester runs from mid-August to mid-December. The spring semester runs from mid-January to mid-May. To see important dates and deadlines, including holidays and when instruction begins, view our Academic Calendar.

Because of the high-quality housing options, many international students choose to live on-campus. There are many benefits to living on campus, including being close to your classes, making friends with your roommates, having access to swimming pools, and participating in tons of organized events for your residential community.

If you do choose to live off-campus, there are lots of different apartment complexes across Rohnert Park and Cotati, many of which are within biking or walking distance. However, most landlords require students to prove a source of income and sign a year-long lease.

More information can be found on our Housing page.

If you will be living on-campus and purchasing a meal plan, you won’t need a car. Everything that you need is on-campus and within walking distance. If you will be living off-campus, you might only need a bicycle, or a car, depending on how far away you choose to live from campus.

Public transportation is limited in California, however there is a public bus system that offers free rides for students throughout Sonoma County. There is a bus stop on-campus which runs throughout Rohnert Park and to nearby towns like Cotati, Sebastopol, Santa Rosa, Petaluma, Healdsburg and Windsor.

If you don’t have a car, the easiest way to get to San Francisco is by bus. The Golden Gate Transit system has buses running to and from San Francisco every day. Routes 72, 74, and 101 go from Santa Rosa to San Francisco and they all stop in Rohnert Park on their way south.

If you do have access to a car, you just have to drive south on Highway 101 (40 minutes), cross the Golden Gate Bridge ($7), and you’re there!

The International Education Exchange Council (IEEC) student club also plans several trips to San Francisco each year, so be sure to join!

The downtown area of Cotati, just adjacent to Rohnert Park and within walking distance to SSU, is lined with restaurants, shops, and bars for those that are over 21 years old. Some of the cities that surround SSU are Santa RosaPetaluma, and Sebastopol, each with a vibrant community, nightlife, and population. Although each city is different from the other, there are shopping malls, many local shops, and wonderful downtown areas to enjoy.

If you are interested in nature and the outdoors, there are tons of parks to picnic, hike, bike, or just hang out at. About an hour away you’ll find Bodega Bay, a quaint little town with many access points to the beach! Check out this website for more information on events, outdoor activities, and other fun things to do in Sonoma County.

Current weather report in Rohnert Park

There are many grocery stores in Rohnert Park to find food, as well as different stores for personal items. During orientation, you will receive a Local Amenities Guide with more information on different places where you can find food and personal items. We also arrange an orientation field trip to Target where you can purchase anything you need!

If you are going to be attending SSU for more than one semester, or plan on getting a job while you’re here, a bank account is very useful. There are many options for students to get free bank accounts that they can easily close when they go back to their home country. This is also the easiest way to cash a check without any fees, or withdraw cash from your bank account at an ATM. We will talk more about banking during orientation.

In the U.S., having a mobile (cell) phone is incredibly useful. With the data plans available today, you can have access to the internet virtually anywhere. Data can help you check your email, look up facts, or use Google Maps to plan a trip using public transportation!

There are two major types of cell phone plans:

  • Pay as you go – you can add minutes to your phone whenever you want
  • Monthly contract – this plan usually comes with a new phone

During our orientation field trip to Target, you can purchase a new phone or purchase a SIM card to put in your existing phone.

Yes, don’t be afraid to talk to students around campus! Living on-campus is a great way to make more friends, as well as joining any of the hundreds of clubs on campus. In addition, there are club sports, fraternities and sororities, and many organized events for you to meet new people. You can see a complete list of clubs, teams, fraternities and sororities on our website.

There are many opportunities to play sports at SSU! Although the university sports teams are very selective and only available to degree-seeking students, you may still join a club sport or an intramural sport through the Recreation Center on campus.

Club sports on campus are run like regular clubs and compete against other universities in California. You can see a list of all of the sports offered at SSU on our website. You simply need to contact the club president to find out more information!

Intramural sports are league sports that are run within the campus only, by students who create the teams. If you would like to play a sport for fun with friends, you may create an intramural sport team through the Recreation Center.

Health Insurance

Yes. The SSU insurance policy is required for all students, except those who at attending SSU on a government program and already have qualifying insurance through their sponsor. More information can be found on our Health Insurance page.

You must maintain health insurance throughout the course of your stay in the U.S. in F-1 status. You can renew your SSU insurance during post-completion OPT by using the Monthly Health Insurance Request Form. Be advised that after you graduate, you will no longer have access to the SSU Student Health Center and will need to find a primary care doctor at an off-campus location. You can do this online using Aetna’s DocFind system.

For international students, it is required to purchase an insurance plan through the SSU recommended provider, and more information can be found here: /international-students/health-insurance-and-healthcare.

SSU does not have health insurance for domestic students, however, health insurance is not required to visit our on-campus Health Center. More information can be found on our Health Center website:

Visas and Regulations

You should speak with your DSO in the Center for International Education as soon as possible. Your I-20 should always reflect your current degree program, educational level, and program dates. Furthermore, your current name, U.S. address, phone number, and email address should be entered in your SEVIS record. You must notify your DSO within 10 days of any change.

You must report your new address to your DSO in the Center for International Education within 10 days of the change using the CIE Document Request Form. You should also update your address in the Student Center of your MySSU account.

You can request a new DS-2019 using the CIE Document Request Form. Submit this form to your DSO in the Center for International Education.

You will need to apply for a new passport from your home country’s Embassy or Consulate in the U.S., which you can locate online. You must have a valid passport at all times while in the U.S. It’s a good idea to leave your passport at home and only carry a copy with you. You can obtain a California State Identification (ID) card at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) which can verify your legal age.

Your visa may expire before you are finished with your F-1/J-1 program. It is okay if your Visa expires while you are in the U.S. as long as your I-20/DS-2019 is still valid and you are maintaining legal status. You will, however, need to renew your visa in your home country if you plan to travel outside of the country; you may not re-enter the U.S. on an expired F-1/J-1 visa.

If you require additional time to complete your program requirements, you must request a program extension BEFORE your I-20/DS-2019 expires. You can request an extension using the CIE Document Request Form. Submit this form to your DSO/ARO in the Center for International Education. You will need to provide proof of financial support for the additional time that you will need to study in the U.S.

F-1 visa holders have a 60 day grace period following program completion. J-1 visa holders have a 30 day grace period to remain in the U.S. after their program end date. If you remain in the U.S. beyond this period of time, it is called an “overstay” and it may negatively impact your application for future immigration benefits.

When cross U.S. borders you are assigned an arrival or departure record number. The I-94 is your most recent entry record. You may need to look-up your I-94 number for various reasons, including employment authorization. You can obtain the number online at

You will need travel authorization in order to be allowed re-entry to the U.S. This will take the form of a signature from your DSO on Page 2 of your Form I-20, or a signature from your ARO on Page 1 of your DS-2019. To request travel authorization, submit the CIE Document Request Form, along with your I-20/DS-2019, to your DSO/ARO in the Center for International Education. If your DSO/ARO is not available, leave your documents with the front desk and you will be notified via email when they are ready for pickup.

You must request a Leave of Absence (LOA) from the university. Complete the LOA request form from the Registrar’s office, and provide a copy to your DSO in the Center for International Education before submitting the original document to the Office of Admissions and Records. You must communicate your intent to resume your studies to your DSO 60 days before you intend to re-enter the U.S. Your DSO will terminate your SEVIS record (giving you a 15-day grace period to depart the U.S.), then request a correction 60 days before you will resume your studies. If you will be resuming your studies within 5 months, you may use the same I-20 and valid F-1 visa to re-enter the U.S. for the subsequent semester. If your LOA is more than 5 months, you will need to be issued a new I-20 and re-pay the I-901 SEVIS fee. If you need to leave SSU for more than two semesters, you will need to withdraw from the university and re-apply when you are ready to return.

International students must be enrolled in a minimum of 12 undergraduate units or 8 graduate units at all times to be considered full-time. The only exceptions to this rule are if you qualify for a Reduced Course Load (RCL). You must receive RCL authorization before dropping below full-time.


You may take one online class per semester which can count towards your full-time requirement. Beyond full-time enrollment you can take as many online classes as you like. If you only have one course remaining in the final semester of your degree program, it cannot be taken online. You cannot be enrolled solely in online courses. During summer session, you can take as many online classes as you like – this is considered the vacation term and there is no full-time requirement.

F-1 students might qualify for a Reduced Course Load (RCL). The RCL authorization is available under any of the following circumstances:

  • Medical reason – you have a documented condition and a doctor/psychologist’s recommendation that you need an RCL. This must be renewed each term.
  • Academic reason – good for one single term, and for:
    • Initial difficulty with the English language or reading requirements
    • Unfamiliarity with U.S. teaching methods
    • Improper course level placement
  • Last term – you do not need a full course of study if you are in the final term of your program; you may take as few credits as are required to graduate.

To apply for a RCL, submit the request form to your DSO.

Yes! International students in F-1/J-1 status can work on-campus up to 20 hours per week while school is in session and up to 40 hours per week during official school breaks. For more information about working on-campus, please visit our Employment page.

Yes! Only international students and scholars who will be employed in the U.S. are eligible to apply for a Social Security Number, or SSN. For more information about Social Security Numbers, please visit our Employment page. Employment page.

All international students and scholars are required to file documentation with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) even if they didn’t work or receive income in the U.S. Depending on your circumstances, you’ll need a specific form to prepare your tax return as explained below.

If you worked on or off-campus in the U.S.: You’ll need a W-2 form from your employer to complete your tax return. The W-2 reports your annual wages and the amount of tax withheld from your paycheck. Contact your employer if you haven’t received this form by the end of February. Using the W-2 form, you will need to file Form 8843 and most likely Form 1040NR-EZ.

If you received a scholarship or fellowship grant or any other source of U.S. income: You’ll need a Form 1042-S from the payroll department in your university. If you have received a scholarship/fellowship grant/other income in the last calendar year then you will need to file Form 8843 and most likely Form 1040NR-EZ.

If you have not received any source of income you’ll still need to file Form 8843.

The filing deadline for the Form 1040NR-EZ is April 15th. The filing deadline for the Form 8843 is June 1st.

You cannot transfer in the middle of a semester. In order to transfer, complete the Transfer Request Form, attach your admission letter to the new school, and submit these documents to your DSO/ARO in the Center for International Education. The start date at the new school may not be more than 5 months from the date that your SEVIS record is transferred.

Your visa will be revoked. You will be notified by the Embassy/Consulate office where your visa was issued. They will notify you via phone or email using the contact information that you put on your original visa application. You should not make plans to travel outside the U.S. If you are cited, arrested, or convicted of a crime, you should contact your DSO immediately for further guidance.