Differences Between Studying on an H4 or an F1 Visa?

Updated on March 6, 2024

At a Glance

  • When studying in the US as a nonresident, you have three options: study on an F1 visa, study on an H4 visa, or study on both an H4 and an F1 visa.
  • Choosing the right option depends on your specific needs, financial situation, and career goals.
  • If your goal is to stay in the US after your studies and obtain an H1B visa, starting with an H4 visa and transitioning to an F1 visa is recommended.
  • However, if you don’t plan to stay long-term and want to take advantage of in-state tuition fees, studying on an H4 visa might be beneficial. It’s important to consult with your university’s international department and understand the requirements and timelines for each option.

If you are planning to study in the United States, but don’t know which visa you need or which visa is better to use abroad, then you have come to the right place!

We are going to explain the differences between studying on an H4 and an F1 visa, as well as list the pros and cons of each.

Read on to learn more, or check out our video Differences Between Studying on an H4 or an F1 Visa?

3 Options for Studying in the US as a Nonresident

When you come to the United States with the plan of attending a college or a university, you essentially have 3 options. These options include:

  1. Study on an F1 visa (meaning you go from an H4 visa to an F1 visa)
  2. Study on an H4 visa
  3. Study on an H4 and an F1 visa

Which one you choose depends on your specific needs. For example, if you study on an F1 visa, the fee will be more expensive than on an H4 visa. However, you will be eligible to be a Teacher’s Assistant (TA), Research Assistant (RA) or to do an Optional Practical Training (OPT).

So the visa that is better for you depends on your needs and education desires. If you keep on reading, you might be able to pinpoint the best option for you.

The first thing you need to take into consideration when choosing the right visa for you is what is your current visa status is, how does your financial situation look like, and what are your future career goals? Have the answers in your head? Now you can assess which visa is the right one for you. We explain the differences between the visas below, starting by explaining what is possible on each one.

The F1 Visa

First of all, if you are planning to stay in the US after your studies, and you want to get an H1B visa, the F1 Visa is the right one for you.

This is because going from an H4 to an H1B is very difficult and will cause you a lot of trouble. If you start off with an H4 visa and then apply for an F1 visa, you will go through a very simple process — it can be done online in about 30 minutes.

Essentially, if your main goal is to get an H1B visa and have the possibility of staying and working in the United States after the completion of your studies, this is what you should do:

  1. Start off with your H4 visa and apply for an F1 visa; this process is really easy.
  2. Now you can do a Curricular Practical Training (CPT) or an Optional Practical Training (OPT) if you’d like. Remember that you can only do these on an F1 visa.
  3. From the OPT you can go into an H1B visa.

The H4 Visa

The United States allows you to start university or college with an H4 visa status, whether it’s full-time or part-time. If you don’t plan on staying in the US or doing a CPT or OPT, staying on an H4 visa can be very beneficial, as you already have an H1B visa counted under the cap. Additionally, when you convert to H4, you are able to apply for an Employee Authorization Document (EAD) and can then get a job by doing so.

However, as we mentioned above, if you have the goal to get a full-time job and an H1B visa, this visa is not the right option for you. On the H4 visa, it is less likely that you will be able to get a full-time job. There are also some cases where H4 spouses are not eligible to apply for an EAD, so check the H4 EAD eligibility requirements if you want to work in the States.

You might need to invest a lot of time and money in order to find a job and get an H1B visa through this option.

Let’s say you graduate in May, meaning the H1B cap is already over in April — you will then have to wait until next April in order to apply for an H1B visa. Then you would have to wait again until October to start working. This equates to about a year of doing nothing or being limited in what you can do in the United States.

Therefore, this might not be the route for you if you are planning on staying in the US. Make sure you look at the timeline of your visa to see what option best fits your goals.

How to switch from H4 to F1 Visa

Although it might seem uncanny, you can actually start off with an H4 and then change it to an F1 visa. How does this work exactly? If you want to choose this option, you have to start off with an H4 visa and then change it into an F1 visa after a year or more.

Make sure to talk to your university’s international department first about this option, because each university has specific rules on how CPT and OPT options work with different visas. Essentially, however, if you are willing to apply for either one of these two, there are specific rules and procedures you must follow.

The decision to go for this option depends on your wants and needs. There are several options you can consider, such as completing 2 semesters on an F1 visa in order to be eligible for a CPT. Another option you could consider is doing an internship, and then doing your studies with an H4 visa and before graduating, converting it to an F1 so that you can apply for an OPT.

This is all a little confusing to keep up with, we know! However, we just want to show that there are other possibilities you can seek out with your international adviser and lawyers. A plus side to an H4 visa is that you would only have to pay in-state tuition fees with it.

Our recommendations

We recommend that you do not opt for the hybrid version as it might get a little too complicated to go through with. Although it is still an option, we believe that choosing to study with either an H4 or an F1 visa might be easier and less of a headache.

Therefore, if your goal is to get a job and an H1B visa, we recommend that you study on an F1 visa.

On the other hand, if you are a spouse and your partner is getting close to getting the green card, you should definitely go for an H4 visa because paying in-state tuition fees will be much easier on your finances.

Remember that on an F1 visa, you are not eligible for in-state tuition fees; you will have to pay out-of-state tuition if you haven’t lived within the same state for at least a year, which won’t be the case for the most of you.

Notes on In-state Tuition Fees

You will only be eligible to receive in-state tuition fee if you have lived in one, and only one, state for at least a year. Your university will ask you to provide proof of residency requirements such as State Tax filing or a driver’s license from the state.

Read More


Please make sure to think and rethink your decision, and always keep in mind your main goal and financial situation, as both will guide you through the decision-making process.

Regardless of what you choose, we wish you the best of luck with your studies in the United States! Please keep in that you should make the best decision for your specific situation. If you need any more help thinking through these visa complexities, let us know! We are available to help anyone considering a move to the United States!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

What is the primary difference between studying on an H-4 visa and an F-1 visa?

The primary difference is in the visa status and eligibility. An H-4 visa is for dependents (spouse and children) of H-1B visa holders and does not grant the holder the right to work or study without obtaining the necessary approvals. An F-1 visa, on the other hand, is specifically designed for international students and allows them to study at U.S. educational institutions.

Can H-4 visa holders study in the United States?

Yes, H-4 visa holders can study in the United States, but there are restrictions. They can enroll in educational programs, from elementary school to higher education, but they cannot work while on an H-4 visa. To study at the college or university level, H-4 visa holders may need to apply for a change of status to an F-1 visa or obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) to work on or off-campus.

What are the advantages of studying on an F-1 visa?

Studying on an F-1 visa offers several advantages:

  • Eligibility for Optional Practical Training (OPT), allowing students to work in their field of study for up to 12 months after completing their program.
  • Access to Curricular Practical Training (CPT) for internships and practical training during the program.
  • Ability to work on-campus without separate authorization.
  • Flexibility in transferring between schools and programs.
  • No requirement for a change of status when transitioning from student to worker.

Are there any work restrictions for F-1 visa holders?

While F-1 visa holders have certain employment opportunities, there are still restrictions. They are generally limited to part-time on-campus employment during the academic year (up to 20 hours per week) and full-time employment during school breaks. Off-campus employment requires authorization from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Can F-1 visa holders work after completing their studies?

Yes, F-1 visa holders are eligible for Optional Practical Training (OPT), which allows them to work in their field of study for up to 12 months (or 36 months for STEM fields) after completing their program. They can apply for OPT employment authorization before or after graduation.

Are there any age restrictions for H-4 visa holders to study?

There are typically no age restrictions for H-4 visa holders to study in the United States. They can enroll in educational programs regardless of their age.

Do H-4 visa holders need to change their status to F-1 if they want to study at a U.S. college or university?

If H-4 visa holders want to pursue higher education at a college or university and work on or off-campus, they often choose to change their status to F-1. This involves applying to a U.S. educational institution, obtaining an I-20 form, and then filing for a change of status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Can H-4 visa holders apply for financial aid or scholarships to study in the U.S.?

In general, H-4 visa holders may face challenges in obtaining financial aid or scholarships for their studies in the U.S. These opportunities are typically available to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and F-1 visa holders. H-4 visa holders may explore alternative funding options, such as private scholarships or grants, to help cover educational expenses.

Can F-1 visa holders bring their dependents to the U.S.?

F-1 visa holders can bring their dependents (spouse and children) to the U.S. They can apply for F-2 visas for their dependents. However, F-2 visa holders are generally not allowed to work or enroll in full-time academic programs but can attend primary and secondary school.

What are the key factors to consider when deciding between studying on an H-4 or an F-1 visa?

Key factors to consider include your educational goals, employment opportunities, and immigration status. If you plan to study full-time and seek employment options during or after your studies, an F-1 visa may be more suitable. If your primary purpose is to join a family member in the U.S. and you do not intend to work or study full-time, an H-4 visa may be appropriate. Consulting with an immigration attorney or a designated school official (DSO) can help you make an informed decision based on your specific circumstances.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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