Travel Outside the U.S. for F-1 Students

If you are traveling outside the U.S., you will need the following documents in order to re-enter. Check each item in the list below for more detailed information. If you forgot your document or you left the U.S. without getting your I-20 signed, you will receive a Form I-515A (see Valid Re-Entry Signature below) and need to contact ISSS to get a new or signed I-20.

If you have dependents, they are allowed to travel with or without you. Learn more about what documents they should carry.

Expand all

Valid Passport

If your passport is expired or close to expiring, you should renew it before you travel. Your passport must be be valid for at least six months into the future. Contact your home country’s embassy in the U.S. for information on renewal.

Valid F-1 Entry Visa

If your F-1 entry visa has expired or if you do not have an F-1 entry visa, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate abroad before you return (except Canadian citizens). It is not possible to renew your visa from within the United States.

To obtain a new F-1 entry visa:

  • Contact the U.S. Consulate and inquire about their visa application procedures. You may need to schedule an appointment and your visa may take more than a few weeks to process. Visit the U.S. State Department website for links to U.S. Consulates around the world. If possible, schedule an appointment before you depart the U.S.
  • Ensure that you have all of the proper documents. You will need to present to the U.S. consulate your valid passport, valid I-20 with a travel signature, evidence of funding, and transcript. You should check the Embassy or consulate website to determine whether an official or unofficial transcript will be required.
  • You need to be aware if a security clearance check will need to be done when you apply for a new entry visa. You may be subject to a security clearance check, and these checks can significantly delay visa processing time. You should read our information provided on the Security Clearance Check page for detailed information.

Visa Denials

It is rare for returning students to be denied a new entry visa. There are no guarantees, however, so there is always some risk that your request for a new visa will be denied. This risk increases under the following situations:

  • You are applying for a visa in a country other than your home country (Third Country National Visa Applications). You have the right to apply for a visa in any country, but it will be less risky to apply in your home country. If you must apply in a third country, be prepared to present additional evidence that documents why you needed to get a visa in the third country.
  • You are pursuing OPT. Students on OPT are eligible for an F-1 visa, but your risk of denial is increased, especially if you do not already have a job. If you must apply for a visa during your OPT period, be prepared to present evidence of employment (a letter from your employer will be best) to the U.S. consulate.
  • You have close family members (spouse, parents, or siblings) who are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. If you have close family members in the U.S., the consular official may question your ties to your home country.

Valid I-20 document

Request a new document if the information on your I-20 is no longer correct, or come to ISSS during Walk-in Hours if your I-20 is about to expire.

Valid Re-Entry Signature

For re-entry to the U.S., your I-20 must a have a valid re-entry (or "travel") signature on page 2 or 3. Your re-entry signature is valid if:

  • You are not pursuing post-completion OPT, and the signature is less than 12 months old.
  • You are pursuing post-completion OPT, and the signature is less than 6 months old.

If your signature is no longer valid, you must request a new signature from ISSS before you travel. You should visit ISSS during Walk In Hours or submit a request for a Travel I-20 through MyISSS.

What if I left the U.S. without getting my I-20 signed, or I forgot to take it with me?

It is important you obtain a re-entry signature from ISSS before leaving the U.S. If you did not (or you forgot your I-20) and your visa is still active, you will be issued a Form I-515A by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer at your arrival port of entry (airport, land border, seaport). With this document, you will be admitted into the U.S. for 30 days.

After receiving this document, you must report to or contact ISSS immediately to get a newly signed I-20, and you will mail this I-20 and your I-515A to the SEVP Office in Washington, D.C. These documents must reach the office before the 30-day expiration date on your Form I-515A. Before mailing, see the instructions and address printed on your I-515A.

PLEASE NOTE: If you realize you forgot your I-20 or it is missing a re-entry signature and you have sufficient time remaining before your return to the U.S., you can request a Travel I-20 through MyISSS.

Documentary Evidence of Funding

You should be able to provide documents that verify the funding information as listed on your I-20. If your current funding does not match the funding listed on your I-20, then you need to get a new I-20 with updated funding information. Examples of funding documents are:

  • Assistantship verification letter (if you have an assistantship)
  • Bank statement (if your I-20 indicates Personal or Family Funds)
  • A letter from your scholarship or sponsoring agency

Evidence of Full-Time Enrollment

When re-entering the U.S., you must be able to provide evidence that you have enrolled full-time during the entirety of your career as an F-1 student.

An unofficial transcript from the University is the best way to verify enrollment. You can obtain an unofficial transcript through MyU or or by visiting a One Stop Student Services center.

Copy of the I-901 SEVIS Fee Receipt

Go to www.fmjfee.com to print a receipt if needed.

EAD Card and Employment Letter (For F-1s on Post-Completion OPT)

Only F-1 students on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) need an EAD card and employment letter when re-entering the U.S. If you are on OPT, you should not experience difficulty re-entering the United States if you bring:

  1. Your EAD for post-completion OPT or I-765 receipt notice AND
  2. A job or job offer letter

There is an additional risk if you do not bring one of these items. Students on STEM OPT should see the third question below.

The following three questions should help clarify further questions you might have regarding travel during post-completion OPT.

Can I re-enter the U.S. if my request for OPT is pending?

Yes, you may re-enter to search for or begin your employment. When you go through Customs and Border Protection, be prepared to show the immigration inspector your I-765 receipt notice (Form I-797) or USCIS email receipt, as proof of eligibility for re-entry. Additionally, if you have been offered a job, carry a copy of the job offer letter.

PLEASE NOTE: If you depart the U.S. without a job offer before the EAD was issued, but then attempt to re-enter the U.S. after the EAD was issued, you might experience difficulty re-entering the U.S. if you cannot present documentation proving that you have a job offer. You are allowed a maximum of 90 days of unemployment during OPT, including time outside the U.S. The total unemployment limit is 150 days for a 24-month STEM OPT extension

Can I re-enter the U.S. if I left while on OPT?

If your OPT has been approved and you 1) depart before you have a job or job offer or 2) no longer have a job, you might experience difficulty re-entering the U.S. If you have a job or job offer, you may travel, apply for a visa (if needed), and re-enter to resume work at the job.

Can I re-enter the U.S. if I am on STEM OPT?

Yes, if you have a valid STEM OPT EAD card. If your STEM OPT EAD card has not arrived, you cannot return on an expired Regular OPT EAD. This will not be allowed even though the OPT EAD is valid for 180 days while your STEM OPT application is pending, if you remain within the U.S.

    Last updated: June 28, 2021