Visa Information for International Students and Visitors

San Francisco Zen Center’s programs and meditation halls are open to people from all walks of life and countries of origin.

If you are traveling from abroad to take part in an SFZC program, here are some general guidelines.

Our comments regarding visas are intended to be helpful, but they are no substitute for legal advice. Tourists coming to SFZC are responsible for securing all necessary visa paperwork and checking with all US organizations, consulates, and/or an immigration attorney.

In addition to visa requirements, all students must meet the requirements for residency or for partaking in SFZC programs. These requirements are decided by the practice center and under the authority of the Director, Tanto (head of practice), Abiding Abbots or Senior Abiding Dharma Teacher, and the Practice Committee at the temple where the international tourist or student wishes to practice or reside.

Tourist Visas

Generally, when people come from abroad, they come on tourist visas.

  • B Visas can be requested for stays of 3–6 months, and in some cases can be extended for up to an additional 6 months.

  • Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) travelers may stay up to 3 months. Travelers on an ESTA may not extend their stay.

Travelers must check at a US Consulate to find which visas apply to their countries. Visitors that are here on B visas or under the Visa Waiver Program (ESTA) may only participate in avocational or recreational stays that are paid for, such as a Guest Student Stay, non-certificate offerings like workshops, sesshins, and practice periods.

While in the US with a B visa or under the Visa Waiver Program, a tourist may not work or attend school and may not participate in the Zen Training Apprenticeship Program or become employed at SFZC.

International Students

Zen Center School is a vocational school with Student Exchange Visitors Program (SEVP). Students receive an M-1 vocation visa to participate in the program.

This is a one-year Apprenticeship Program that can be extended two times if needed to complete the program. Extensions will be based on a yearly review of the student’s progress and determined by the Practice Committee of the temple where the student trains.

To find out more about the Apprenticeship Program, including details on how to apply, click on the following links to find out more about each temple:

For any questions or further information about SFZC’s offerings, programs, workshops, or Apprenticeship programs, please contact the corresponding practice center director:

If you have additional questions about visas beyond the material that is covered above, you are welcome to contact our Principal Designated School Official (PDSO) with SEVIS:

Additional Resources:

Note: The SEVIS link provides information for foreign students entering the US with facts such as clearing customs, paperwork, etc.