Travel and Reentry
Many students and scholars take the opportunity to travel home—or to another country—during their time in the US. While you can make plans to depart the US at any time, you need to make certain that you have the appropriate documentation to return to the US to resume your activities. The information below will help facilitate your return to the US.
Traveling in the U.S.
It is recommended that you carry copies of your immigration documents or have access to electronic copies of your passport, visa, I-94, I-20/DS-2019, proof of enrollment, and EAD card (if on OPT) even when traveling domestically within the U.S. No signatures are required on the I-20 or DS-2019 .
Traveling outside the U.S.
IMPORTANT! NEVER re-enter the U.S. on any visa status other than F-1 or J-1 as it will cancel your student/scholar status.
If you plan to leave the U.S. to visit another country, all students and scholars must have certain documents in order to return to the U.S. See below for the required documents.
- Valid Passport
- Valid Visa
- You CANNOT renew a visa in the U.S. but must do so in another country (preferably your home country).
- A Valid I-20 (F students) or DS-2019 (J students and scholars) with a valid travel signature
- Travel signatures are valid for 12 months (except for students on OPT; your signature is valid for 6 months)
- If you have been out of the country for 5 months or more, your travel signature is not valid and you will need a new I-20 or DS-2019.
F-1 Students on Post-completion OPT must also have:
- Valid EAD card
- Job offer letter
J scholars should also have:
- WNE Appointment Letter (recommended)
- Financial Certification (recommended)
For more information, please see the Department of State's Travel and Re-entry FAQs.
Check Your I-94
All students and scholars entering and departing from the U.S. have their travel history reported on an electronic I-94.
Students and scholars should check their I-94 EVERY TIME they return to the U.S. to ensure they entered in the correct status as mistakes are occasionally made.
Check your I-94 here.
If you cannot find your I-94 or there is an error on your I-94, please contact ISSS as soon as possible. Having an incorrect I-94 will cause issues when you apply for a Social Security Number, Driver's License, or OPT.
F-1 Students on Post-Completion OPT
An F-1 student who has an unexpired EAD issued for Post-Completion OPT and who is otherwise admissible may return to the U.S. to resume employment after a temporary absence. The EAD must be used in combination with an I-20 endorsed for re-entry by ISSS (OPT travel signatures are only valid for 6 months).
- It is not recommended that you depart the U.S. if you have a Cap-Gap I-20 (expired EAD card) as you are at risk of denial at the port-of-entry into the U.S.
- If you are outside the U.S. and you do not have a job offer at the time of re-entry, it is possible you will not be permitted to re-enter. We strongly recommend that you DO NOT travel without a valid job offer.
- Re-entering the U.S. using a tourist visa (B-1/B-2 or the "visa waiver program") will forfeit your F-1 status, and automatically cancel your permission to work in the U.S.! Once you have been admitted on a tourist visa, you will NOT be allowed to quickly "re-gain" your F-1 status by departing and re-entering in F-1 status again.
You must have a passport that is valid for at least 6 months into the future unless your home country has a passport agreement with the U.S. To see a list of countries that have this agreement (as of Nov. 1, 2006) please click here.
If your valid visa stamp is in your expired passport, you will use both your old expired passport and new passport to re-enter the U.S.
A valid visa in your passport is also required for re-entry. If your visa has expired, you will need to go to a U.S. consulate or embassy ideally in your home country to apply for the new visa stamp. You may not renew your visa within the U.S.
If your valid visa is in your expired passport, you will use both your old expired passport and new passport to re-enter the U.S.
NOTE: If your visa expires while you are still in the U.S., this is OK! You can remain in the U.S. on an expired visa as long as you maintain your status. Once you leave the country, you will need a valid visa to return.
A Valid I-20 (F students) or DS-2019 (J students and scholars) with a valid travel signature
A valid travel signature on the I-20 or DS-2019 is required for re-entry for F or J students and scholars.
Travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean
For a visit of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (except Cuba), you are allowed to re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa. This process is known as “Automatic Visa Revalidation.” Your I-94 record is reviewed but not taken from you (if you have a paper copy). Inform ISSS if you plan to use Automatic Visa Revalidation to ensure your paperwork is correct. You will need your:
- I-20 or DS-2019
Please note if you apply for an F-1 or J-1 visa in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean and are denied, you will not be able to return to the U.S. using Automatic Revalidation.
***Note: Check with the specific country's embassy website to see if you are required to have a tourist visa in order to visit the country you are visiting***
Nationals of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria are not eligible for automatic revalidation of an expired visa.