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It looks like you have figured out where your problem is. You won't be able to use the F-1 student visa to enter the U.S. more than 30 days before classes. You also cannot use the ESTA Visa Waiver to enter and then change status to F-1. IF you had a B-2, you could enter using the B-2 and then apply for a Change of Status to F-1 from B-2. Or you can enter on the ESTA and then leave to Canada or Mexico and come back using the F-1 student visa. If not, you will need to change your flight for after December 22.
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Thanks Guillermo! I didn't actually get to my question as there wasn;t enough space! It's this:
If I went to the US on 11 December as planned and already had my F1 visa in my passport, would I be able to travel to the US on the VWP and then go over the Canadian border so that my visa could become valid when I re-enter the US? Or would I have to not apply for my visa in London next week, and apply for it instead when I am in Canada in late December?
Thanks so much for your very fast and clear answers, Guillermo.