International Students and Scholars Office


Travel Within the United States

You and your dependents may be surprised to learn that federal law requires that you carry “registration” documentation at all times. This includes a basic identity document such as a passport, plus your current I-20 and I-94. For day-to-day purposes, we suggest you keep these documents in a secure location, such as a bank safe deposit box. However, if you are traveling within the U.S. you should carry these documents with you. If you are traveling by air, train, bus, or ship, you may be required to produce these documents before boarding. Keep photocopies of all your documents in a separate location, in the event your documents are lost or stolen.

Entry into Another Country

Before you leave the United States, contact the consulate of the country to be visited to inquire about visa and travel procedures.

Reentry into the U.S.

Be prepared to present the following items at the port of entry into the U.S.:

Be sure you have your most recent I-20

  • Your I-20 must be signed by an International Student Advisor before you leave the U.S. All students are required to obtain a travel signature that allows you to return to the U.S.
  • This signature is valid for one year (12 months) after the signature date and can be used for multiple entries.
  • If you are on OPT, you must obtain a travel signature every 6 months.
Request a travel signature 

The DS-2019 must be signed by an International Student Advisor (not an academic advisor, not a soccer coach, not the football coach) before you leave the U.S. All students are required to obtain a travel signature that allows you to return to the U.S. This signature will be valid for one year (12 months) and can be used for multiple entries.

Carry all DS-2019s you have ever been issued, not just the most recent one.

Request a travel signature

Your passport must be valid for at least six months when seeking admission or readmission to the United States, unless your country has an agreement with the United States. For a list of countries under this agreement, see the list on the Immigration Customs Enforcement website.

Your passport should remain valid throughout your stay in the U.S.

You must present a valid, unexpired visa in the category for which admission is being sought each time you enter the U.S. (Canadian citizens are exempt from the visa requirement; however, landed immigrants of Canada are generally required to obtain a visa.) If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must obtain a new visa in the proper category in order to be readmitted to the United States. Apply for the visa in your home country, unless circumstances or travel plans make this impossible. If you apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate in another country, your application may be reviewed more critically than if you applied at home. In-person interviews are required for most visa applicants. You are encouraged to contact the U.S. consulate as early as possible to schedule the visa interview appointment. Anticipate delays in visa issuance due to enhanced security reviews.

An exception to the rule requiring a valid, unexpired visa exists for students in F-1 and J-1 status who travel for less than 30 days solely to Canada or Mexico or islands in the Caribbean except Cuba. Your visa will be considered to be “extended” (and “converted” to the proper visa category if you had changed status while in the U.S.) to the date of re-entry, eliminating the need to obtain a new visa at a U.S. consulate before that particular re-entry. This procedure is known as “automatic visa revalidation.” Note that if you apply for a new visa while in Canada, Mexico and islands in the Caribbean, you will not be able to return to the U.S. unless the visa is granted. Also, citizens of Iran, Syria, and Sudan are not eligible for automatic visa revalidation.

You must carry evidence detailing the source and amount of your funding. Consular and immigration officers exercise considerable discretion in determining whether your financial support is sufficient to cover all academic and living expenses.

You can print your current class schedule from your MyCPP

Initial entry: new students must bring proof of admission to CPP.

If you cannot find your SEVIS fee receipt, visit the Student and Exchange Visitor Program SEVIS I-901 fee processing website to request a copy of your receipt.

Travel After Completion of Studies (F-1 students)

If you do not apply for OPT, you have a 60-day grace period after the last day of your final term. Once you leave the U.S. (including short trips to Canada and Mexico) after completing your studies you cannot reenter the U.S. with your current I-20. The grace period is for travel within the U.S. and preparation for departure.

Travel and OPT

Students have many questions about whether or not it is okay to travel while OPT is processing and/or during the OPT period. Here are the rules about travel and OPT, depending on your situation.

You can travel and reenter the U.S. as a student during your final registration term. You will use the new I-20 with the OPT recommendation printed on page 2, along with the other regular travel documents. If you plan to return to the U.S. before the expiration date of the new I-20 (your program completion date), it does not matter whether your OPT application is still processing or is approved, and whether or not you have a job offer yet.

After your final term ends, you can travel and reenter the U.S. while your post-completion OPT application is processing, with or without a job offer. You must carry your OPT receipt notice from USCIS, your OPT I-20, and the other regular travel documents.

Be aware of these risks:

  • USCIS sometimes sends a request to OPT applicants asking for more information or for you to correct a problem with your documentation. These requests are sent by postal mail, so it might be difficult for you to respond if you are not inside the U.S. It is your application, so ISSO does not have the authority to respond for you.
  • After your OPT application is approved, you must also have proof of employment and your EAD in order to reenter the U.S. If the OPT application is approved while you are abroad, and if you do not yet have proof of employment or your EAD, this could jeopardize your return to the U.S.
  • You must have a valid F-1 visa to travel during the OPT year (except for short trips to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean). It is risky to apply for an F-1 visa while your OPT application is pending. If your current F-1 visa is expired, we recommend waiting until your OPT application is approved, and you have a job offer before applying for a new F-1 visa.

After graduation, if your post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you can travel and reenter the U.S. only if you have proof of employment. If you are still looking for practical training opportunities, you should not travel internationally.

For travel, carry the following documents with you:

  • Proof of employment in your field of study (letter of employment, written job offer)
  • EAD card (on the EAD card, there is a statement “Not Valid For Reentry.” This means the EAD card cannot be used by itself for reentry to the U.S.)
  • Valid passport
  • Unexpired F-1 visa
  • OPT I-20 signed for travel by an international student advisor within the last 6 months

If you have dependents in F-2 status who will travel without you, be sure they carry a photocopy of your EAD card and proof of your employment along with their updated F-2 I-20 that is properly signed for travel.

After the OPT approval start date, time spent outside the U.S. will count as unemployment against the 90-day limit. However, travel while employed either during a vacation authorized by an employer or as part of your employment will not count as unemployment. Please keep your primary international student advisor informed of any travel plans while on OPT that may affect your status.
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