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For decades, conservation professionals have come from all over the world to train with the Smithsonian Institution. More than half of our Smithsonian-Mason training course participants hail from outside the United States, representing 88 different countries to date.

Our graduate and professional courses are open to anyone who shares our passion for conservation. Due to the fast pace and technical nature of these courses, all participants should have some background in the field and be fluent in English.

Obtaining a U.S. Visa

International participants needing a visa to attend an SMSC course must have the approved visa in hand two weeks prior to the course start date. If the visa is not approved by that time, registration will be cancelled and course payments will be refunded. Applications for new visas should be made 2-3 months before the start of the course to meet this deadline.

Types of Visas

  • B-1/B-2 “Visitor” Visa: SMSC programs fall into the category of accepted activities for a B-1 visa. This visa requires an application fee of $160. Be sure to bring the conditional acceptance letter to the visa appointment.  Information on B-1/B-2 visas can be found here.
  • J-1 “Exchange” Visa: Applicants who have secured full funding (course registration fee + travel) and have been formally accepted to the course, may be sponsored by the Smithsonian Office of International Relations. Email SMSC to determine if the Smithsonian can proceed with J-1 visa sponsorship. The office will need approximately 3 months advance notice to process these requests. The $180 SEVIS fee and $160 application fee will be waived, but applicants will be responsible for shipping costs for the DS-2019 forms. Credit card payment is required.
  • ESTA: Applicants who are citizens of countries participating in the ESTA program will not need to acquire a U.S. visa to attend. A list of eligible countries and the application for a visa waiver can be found here.
  • Scholarship Recipients: Some scholarship support provided by SMSC will require a J-1 visa. Scholarship recipients will be informed at the time of the scholarship offer if this requirement applies.

Scholarships for Visa Recipients

There is limited scholarship funding available for international participants. Most SMSC scholarships do not cover travel costs. For scholarship consideration, check the scholarship interest box on the application. Be sure to apply before the initial application deadline to allow time for the visa process.

International Health Insurance

Health insurance coverage is not supplied by George Mason University or the Smithsonian Institution.  Medical insurance should provide coverage during travel and for the duration of the course. This is a requirement for participants entering the U.S. on a J-1 visa. Bring proof of insurance to campus. Email your course coordinator if you have difficulty obtaining insurance.

The Smithsonian cannot make specific recommendations for an insurance plan and advise reviewing plans carefully before deciding on the best option. For additional information, please visit the FAQ page.

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