Travel and Re-entry

If you intend to re-enter the United States after traveling to another country, you must present yourself for inspection at the US port of entry with documents to demonstrate that you qualify to re-enter in the status you request.

Required documents to re-enter the US:

You should verify all of your documents prior to leaving the US. The documents will not be inspected when you depart the US, only upon re-entry.

Your passport

Your passport should be valid for six months into the future on the day you re-enter the US. Click here for exceptions.

US entry visa

A US entry visa in the appropriate category (F-1 or J-1).  If you recently renewed your passport, your entry visa may be in your old passport, so you should carry both. The entry visa must be valid on the day you re-enter the US.

Your I-20 or DS-2019

A Certificate of Eligibility (I-20 or DS-2019) endorsed for re-entry with a signature on page 2 of the I-20 or page 1 of the DS-2019.  The signature must be less than one year old on the day you re-enter.

In addition to your passport, US entry visa and I-20 or DS-2019, we recommend that you carry with you the following documents:

  1. An unofficial transcript (you can print from Patriotweb)
  2. Copies of all prior I-20 or DS-2019 forms
  3. Proof of funding
  4. If on OPT, your EAD card and proof of employment
  5. If a J-1 student on post-completion Academic Training, carry your Employment Authorization letter

Do not pack your important documents! Carry them with you when you travel.

If your F-1 or J-1 entry visa has expired, or if you changed your status in the US and don’t have an entry visa in your new status, you will need to apply for a new visa while abroad. Click this link for details:

The other recommended forms, including the transcript, the prior I-20 or DS-2019 forms, the sponsor or bank letters, and the employment documents, should be with you when you deplane at your port of entry. Present only the forms requested by the inspector.

Further Inspection

If you do not have the required documents, or if the inspector is uncertain whether you are eligible to enter the US, he or she may ask you to step into a separate room while your case is reviewed further. This is called “secondary inspection.” Depending on what the concern is, USCIS may allow you to enter with the usual “D/S” authorization; or they may give you a 30-day permit, called a Form I-515. It is rare for them to decline to admit a student, but it could happen. If you receive a Form I-515, you should meet with an OIPS advisor as soon as possible after entry. DO NOT ignore the 30-day deadline. You must submit the required documents or your legal status will be terminated.

Automatic Revalidation

Question: I have a valid passport and I-20 or DS-2019 but my F-1 visa has expired.  I am planning to visit Canada during the winter break.  Do I need to renew my visa?

In certain situations, some non-immigrants may be able to request re-entry without a valid visa in the passport. This is called “automatic revalidation of expired visa.” Read the information carefully to see if you are eligible.

Here are the specific requirements:

  1. Travel to contiguous territory (Canada and Mexico) and adjacent islands (see below for a list),* and not travel elsewhere;
  2. Travel limited to 30 days or less;
  3. Maintaining your current F or J status and intend to resume that status;
  4. Must carry with you:
  5. Recommended to carry with you:
    • An unofficial transcript (you can print from Patriotweb)
    • Copies of all prior I-20 or DS-2019 forms
    • Proof of funding
    • If on OPT, your EAD card and proof of employment
    • If a J-1 student on post-completion Academic Training, carry your Employment Authorization letter
  6. Not apply for a new visa during your trip;
  7. Not be from a country that is currently designated by the US as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The list is here:

*Adjacent islands: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba (Note: Cuba not included in automatic revalidation), Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.

Important: You should also check if you need a Canadian entry visa or Mexican entry visa before you travel.  Click here for more information about Canadian visas and click here for more information about Mexican visas.

Get a Travel Signature from OIPS

A travel signature is valid for one year (12 months) and can be used for multiple entries.  If you are on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), you must obtain a travel signature every 6 months.  Do not wait until the last minute to request a travel signature.  To obtain a Travel Signature, please fill out the I-20 Reprint Request Form by using the link below.

Click here and scroll down to the I-20 Reprint section to learn more.