Travel And Re-Entry In The US
To re-enter the U.S. after a temporary absence you must carry the following documents:
- Valid and updated I-20 or DS-2019 with travel endorsement (also knowns as a travel signature) from your DSO/ARO within last year (6 months while on OPT)
- Valid passport (at least 6 months into the future)
- Valid U.S. visa* (some exceptions may apply for travel to Canada or Mexico, see automatic visa revalidation info below)
- OPT & STEM OPT students must have their EAD and employment verification letter (not offer letter) from their employer
- If dependents travel with you, proof of relationship to dependents (marriage or birth certificate in English.) Each dependent should have an individual SEVIS I-20/DS-2019 with valid travel endorsement.
- It is also highly recommended you have the following with you
- Proof of SEVIS fee payment (payment receipt)
- Current proof of financial support
- Unofficial transcript (click here for instructions for generating this in Workday)
Customs and Border Protection (CBP) - Port of Entry (POE) Inspections
Expect increased scrutiny from CBP officers during inspection (i.e., more questions asked, increased scrutiny of travel documents). DO NOT PACK YOUR IMMIGRATION DOCUMENTS IN YOUR LUGGAGE. Hand carry your original documents. It is important to tell the inspecting officer that you are a student.
If you are selected for Secondary Inspection (sent to a private examination/interview room for additional questioning):
- Do not panic, often this is normal administrative processing
- Be consistent and truthful with your answers
- Remain calm and avoid being confrontational
- At their discretion, a CBP officer may contact the school for further verification
- At their discretion, a CBP officer may ask to see your phone. CBP has the right to search passengers’ electronic devices if they choose to. If you are asked to turn in your electronic devices, please behave respectfully and cooperate with the authorities.
Renewing Or Obtaining Your Visa Back Home
Your visa is allowed to expire while you remain in the US as long as you are maintaining your valid F-1 or J-1 visa status and you are in possession of a valid I-20 or DS-2019 and valid passport.
If your F1/J1 visa has expired or if you’ve changed your status within the U.S., you will need to apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate outside the United States. At your interview, you will need to provide all of the following documents. If you have any questions, please ask in IPO prior to your departure.
Students on OPT or STEM OPT are very unlikely to have their visa renewal approved, since the purpose of the visa, which is seeking a degree, is fulfilled.
Required Supporting Documents for Student Visa Applications:
- Proof of SEVIS fee payment, if applicable
- Valid passport (must be valid for at least 6 months from arrival date into the U.S.)
- Original I-20 (or DS-2019 for J Visa holders) recently endorsed by a school official
- Original, recent financial documents (bank letters, sponsor statements, scholarship letters)
- Official or student copy of a transcript and proof of current or subsequent term enrollment (click here for instructions for generating this in Workday)
- Dependents must have proof of relationship to principal visa holder, such as marriage or birth certificates in English
Travel within the U.S. and U.S. Territories:
It is advisable to have all of your travel documents with you (I-20/DS-2019, passport, visa, I-94, EAD if on OPT) especially if traveling by commercial airlines.
Automatic Revalidation of Visa:
Under certain and very specific circumstances, an F-1 or J-1 visa holder with an expired visa may re-enter the U.S. if traveling to Canada, Mexico, Bahamas, Bermuda, or any of the US adjacents islands (except Cuba) after an absence of less than 30 days. The student must have a valid passport, a properly endorsed I-20/DS-2019 and the original I-94 card reflecting F-1/J-1 status and marked by DHS for D/S (duration of status). Students should consult with the International Programs Office before attempting this and ask for a letter explaining this regulation. Please carefully read the eligibility criteria on the U.S. Department of State website before you decide to use this exception.
This benefit is NOT available for citizens of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, and Cuba.
Any nonimmigrant (not just someone from the countries listed above) who chooses to apply for a new visa while in contiguous territory must be prepared to wait for background checks as necessary. Should the application for a new visa be denied, the person will not be eligible for automatic revalidation of visa. For a student that means that you would be unable to enter the U.S. in student status to continue your education without returning to your home country to obtain the proper visa. Do not attempt this if you are in OPT or STEM OPT (Note: once you have been refused a visa, it may become more difficult to obtain a future one, so students should consider very carefully before attempting to obtain a visa outside of their home country.)
Travel to Countries Other Than Your Home Country/Country of Citizenship
Be sure to check entry requirements. Most countries will require tourist visas for travelers who are neither citizens or residents. Some will also require a Transit Visa if you have a lay-over enroute to your destination.
Certain countries may also require security checks for travelers from certain countries before issuing a valid entry/travel permit. (Example: Mexico).
Taking a cruise is considered exiting the United States. For this reason, you should travel with all your valid travel documents.
If you go on a cruise during your 60 day grace period please be aware that you will not be allowed to re-enter as an F-1 or J-1. You could potentially re-enter as a visitor using a B1/B2 visa or ESTA if you are from a Visa Waiver country.
Warning: Entering as a visitor would abandon any benefits related to your F-1 or J-1, such as OPT or starting a new degree program. If you have any concerns please make an appointment to meet with an International Student Advisor to discuss your options.
An F-1 student may remain in the United States for up to 60 days (30 days for J-1s) beyond the completion of the program of study. This is not an extension of your program. You cannot take additional courses or continue any employment or volunteering during this period. Your grace period is time given to prepare to depart the US, start a new degree program at the same school, or transfer out to another school. If an F-1 or J-1 student exits the USA during the grace period they will not be allowed to re-enter on that status.
US Department of Homeland Security: ICE Travel FAQ - http://www.ice.gov/sevis/travel/faq_f.htm
US Department of Homeland Security: Study in the States - https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/traveling-as-an-international-student
Department of State - www.travel.state.gov
List of US Embassies in other countries - https://www.usembassy.gov/
Visa Services - http://usvisa-info.com/
List of Embassies in the US - www.embassy.org/embassies
US Visa Wait Times - https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/us-visas/visa-information-resources/wait-times.html
Study in the States - http://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/
I-94 Processing - https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov
List of CBP Preclearance Locations - https://www.cbp.gov/border-security/ports-entry/operations/preclearance
DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) - http://www.dhs.gov/dhs-trip * For students/scholars experiencing repeated problems at the port of entry