Travel and Reentry
Whenever F-1 students wish to leave the United States temporarily and return to continue studies at the institution in which they are enrolled, they must secure the necessary documents to:
- Permit entry to another country; and
- Permit re-entry to the United States
Like the United States, other countries have rules and restrictions on who can enter their country, and how. F-1 students who wish to visit their country of citizenship or permanent residence generally will be allowed to enter that country if they hold a valid passport or other travel document issued by that country. For travel into any country other than the home country, students must check with the Embassy of the country they would like to visit to inquire about specific entry procedures.
In order to reenter the United States after a temporary absence of 5 months or less, an F-1 student should have the following documents:
- A valid passport or travel document, unless exempt from the passport requirement,
- A valid F-1 visa stamp (unless exempt from the visa requirement), and
- A form I-20 properly endorsed for travel by the international student advisor.
Additional travel issues:
- I-94 not collected upon departure
- Travel to Canada and Mexico
- Travel for Canadian citizens
- Reentry after an absence of more than 5 months
- Temporary 30-day admission with Form I-515A
- Travel and reentry while engaging in OPT
If you left the United States and your Arrival/Departure Card (Form I-94 or I-94W) was not collected by the airline or border control, you need to return it to the United States government. Please keep in mind that as of May 1, 2013 U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin a nes system for issuing I-94. Please see the following link for additional information: Arrival/Departure Record Process Changes for Foreign Visitors Arriving Via Air or Sea.
Important: If you lose your departure record or forget to turn it in when departing the United States, your file will remain open with USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and CBP (Customs and Border Protection). Once you have exceeded the amount of days you were legally admitted to stay in the United States, you will be classified as an “overstay”. This may lead to a serious problem next time you try to enter the United States including denial of entry and/or cancellation of any United States visa you may have. If you were to be deported, the cost of obtaining a return ticket must be paid by the individual.
It is the visitor’s responsibility to proof that he or she departed the United States within the amount of days indicated he or she was admitted to stay. There are specific procedures to follow whether you lost or misplaced your Form I-94/I-94W departure record while in the United States, or you forgot to turn it in before departing the United States.
For more information, please view Customs and Border Protection website.
Since Mexico and Canada share land borders with the United States, many students and advisers may not think of inquiring about entry requirements far in advance. Mexico and Canada have distinct entry requirements, which must be investigated by F-1 students and their families just like any other country.
The lack of a valid Form I-20 will not prevent the student's departure from the United States; it may, however, prevent the student from entering Canada or Mexico. Moreover, even a duplicate Form I-20, which lacks the expected admission stamps, may be insufficient for the student to obtain entry to Canada or Mexico.
Under certain circumstances, an F nonimmigrant with an expired visa may re-enter the United States as though the visa were still valid, provided that the student traveled only to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent Caribbean islands for 30 days or less. This benefit also extends to F nonimmigrants who have changed their status to F in the United States, and whose visa is in the category in which they entered the United States.
Canadian citizens do not need a passport or entry visa to enter the U.S. from Canada. Those entering the U.S. to study should request F-1 status at the border and must always show the Form I-20 and supporting financial documentation to the immigrations inspector. Otherwise, the student will be in Tourist (B-2) status and will not be able to pursue full time study. Canadian students must have an I-94 card to confirm current F-1 status. Canadian citizens not entering the U.S. directly from Canada need a valid passport but no entry visa.
An absence from the United States of 5 months or more, where the student was not participating full-time in study abroad or graduate research abroad, is considered a non-temporary absence. If a student wishes to return to the United States to resume studies or begin new studies, a new SEVIS record will have to be created, a new I-20 would have to be issued from the new SEVIS record, and the SEVIS I-901 fee would have to be paid. In this case, the student is considered an initial student, and the clock for eligibility for F-1 benefits such as practical training and off-campus work authorization is reset.
Occasionally a student will leave the United States temporarily and seek to return to this country without his or her Form I-20. If while abroad the student discovers the absence of the Form I-20, and time permits, the DSO should issue and send the student a duplicate Form I-20 for use upon reentry.
Students who do not have all the required documentation may be denied entry to the United States. However, immigration inspectors do have the authority to admit F-1 students (and accompanying dependents, if applicable) for 30 days on Form I-515A, if they are otherwise eligible for readmission after a temporary absence, but have some documentary deficiency. This is a highly discretionary action, however, and there is no guarantee that the immigration inspector will issue an I-515A.
An F-1 student engaged in pre-completion OPT follows the same procedure for visits abroad and re-entry as all F-1 students. An F-1 student who is engaged in post-completion OPT who travels outside the United States temporarily (i.e., less than 5 months) can be readmitted to resume employment for the remainder of the period authorized on his or her EAD card, provided:
- The student presents a Form I-20 endorsed by the DSO within the preceding 6 months
- The student presents an unexpired EAD, and
- The student is returning to resume employment.
Students approved for post-completion OPT continue to be in F-1 status. They are therefore subject not only to the requirements that they have an I-20 endorsed for travel and an EAD, but to the requirement that they have a valid F-1 visa to re-enter the United States, unless they are exempt from the visa requirement.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Q: Can I reenter if my request for OPT is pending?
A: Yes, you may reenter to search for employment.
Q: Can I reenter if I left while on OPT?
A: If your OPT has been approved and you depart before you get a job, your OPT ends and you cannot reenter unless you have a written job offer.
If you have a job, you may travel and reenter to resume work at the same job or you have a written offer for another job.