If you are leaving the U.S. and intend to return as an F-1 student, the information below will help you determine what documents you need.
Valid Documents (Passport, I-20, Visa)
Check the expiration date of your passport. Your passport should be valid for the duration of your academic program but at a minimum, your passport should be valid for 6 months beyond your expected date of re-entry to the U.S. If you need to extend your passport, contact your embassy in Washington, D.C., for instructions. If you are issued a new passport and you still have a valid F-1 visa in the old passport, ask if you can carry both; thereby allowing you to use the visa. Otherwise, on your next trip outside the U.S., you will have to apply for a new F-1 visa stamp.
Check the Information on Your I-20 Form
The current form should be up to date. Check the expiration date and major field of study in section 5, and the source of funding in section 8.
- If any of the above information has changed, you will need a new I-20. Submit proof of funding and a Request for I-20 form to IES. Please allow three business days for your request to be processed.
- If the information on the I-20 is correct, you will need a travel signature on the third page of your I-20. Travel signatures are valid for one year.
- Carry all of your I-20s with you when you travel. The Immigration Official at the port of entry may want to see your F-1 history. This is particularly important if you have transferred from one school to another, changed program levels, or extended your I-20.
You Need a Valid F-1 U.S. Visa Stamp in Your Passport to Re-enter the U.S.
U.S. visa stamps are entry permits. The visa stamp does not determine how long an individual can stay in the US. However a valid visa stamp is required to enter or re-enter the U.S. from abroad. When checking the validity of a U.S. visa stamp, review the number of entries (usually marked "1", "2", or "M" = multiple) and the expiration date. If your visa has expired or all entries have been used then you will need to apply for a new visa stamp while you are abroad. F-1 visas cannot be obtained inside the U.S. If your F-1 visa has not expired and is marked "M" for multiple entry, you do not need to apply for a new visa even if you have transferred schools and the old school's name is written in the remarks section on the visa. However, you must show the I-20 for the school you intend to attend to the immigration official when you enter the U.S.
Applying for a New Visa
If your visa has expired or you have used all of the entries, you will need to apply for a renewal of your F-1 visa stamp on your next trip abroad. Make sure you can obtain a U.S. visa in the country you plan to visit and within the time limits of your trip. Check for visa application guidelines and wait times at U.S. consulates. Some consulates take applications by appointment only. Others have a drop-off process that can take several weeks. Some consulates will not accept third-country applicants. Please check on the process of the particular consulate you plan to visit before you go.
Special Travel Situations
Automatic Visa Revalidation
Special rules for travel to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean (except Cuba) if you are planning a trip:
- To Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean ONLY (applicable Caribbean islands are listed below)
- Your trip will last LESS THAN 30 days
Then you can re-enter the U.S. using an expired F-1 visa stamp if you meet the following criteria:
- You are in valid F-1 status
- You have a valid passport (for at least 6 months beyond day of re-entry to U.S.)
- You have an I-94 marked "Admitted F-1 until D/S"
- You have a recent travel signature (within 5 months) on the third page of your I-20. Please note, the Canadian government prefers to see a more recent travel signature (within 2 months) before they issue a Canadian tourist visa stamp.
- You have an expired U.S. visa stamp in your passport. It cannot be stamped "cancelled." If you applied for a new visa and it has not been issued or has been denied, you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. on your expired visa.
- You are NOT from one of the following countries: Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, or Syria.
Students that have changed status to F-1 in the U.S. and that are travelling out of the U.S. for the first time are NOT eligible for automatic visa revalidation. Please check with the appropriate embassies to see whether or not you will need to apply for a visa before you enter Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean islands. Caribbean Islands Where automatic visa revalidation is applicable: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, The Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French and Dutch territories or possessions in or bordering the Caribbean Sea.
Traveling after Graduation while Participating in Optional Practical Training (OPT)
If your F-1 visa stamp is still valid, carry:
- Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD).
- A letter from your employer indicating that you have a temporary job in your field of study and are returning to employment.
Your current I-20 with a travel signature.
- Your old I-20s; see section on valid I-20 above.
- Your valid passport.
If your F-1 visa stamp has expired, if you have not yet received your EAD or if you are not yet working, then see an advisor before traveling while on OPT.
The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was implemented in 2002 and requires that certain non-immigrants go through a special registration procedure when entering and exiting the United States due to certain security issues. Students from the following countries are subject to NSEERS:
Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Lebanon, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.
Students subject to special registration will receive an I-94 card with "NSEERS" and a special code handwritten on it. They also must register any departure from the U.S. with Immigration before they leave and they are only able to depart the U.S. from certain airports. More information about the registration process and a list of designated ports of departure can be found at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.