F-1 Travel & Re-entry

General information

Before leaving the United States to travel abroad, you should check your immigration documents. To reenter the U.S., all students in F-1 status will need to show the following documents to a Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official at the port of entry:

  • Valid Passport – valid at least 6 months from reentry date
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp – If F-1 visa is expired, you will need to renew it at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in your home country before returning to the U.S.
  • SEVIS I-20 endorsed for travel by an ISSS advisor (signature must be obtained within the last 12 months for currently enrolled students and within the last 6 months for post-completion)

Additional documentation that is not required but recommended:

  • Evidence of financial support
  • Proof of student status (transcript or full-time enrollment letter, etc.)

Additional documentation required if traveling abroad while on Post-Completion OPT:

  • Unexpired EAD
  • Job offer letter/Proof of employment

Your passport should be valid at least six months beyond the date you plan to reenter the U.S. If you are from a country with a passport validity agreement you may be able to enter the U.S. as long as the passport is valid at least until the date of reentry.

Your F-1 visa must be valid at the time of reentry (there is no requirement that visa validity extend beyond this date). An exception to this, known as automatic visa revalidation, allows a student in F-1 status with an expired visa to travel to Canada, Mexico and most Caribbean nations, if for a period of less than 30 days, and to reenter the U.S. without having to renew the F-1 visa. Before making a trip to one of these locations with an expired visa, however, it is recommended that you contact ISSS for more information and advising in relation to your specific travel plans.

Your I-20 must bear a valid DSO signature (i.e. it must be signed by an ISSS advisor) on page 3. The signature must be less than 12 months old at the time of reentry; if traveling while on Post-Completion OPT, however, the signature must be less than six months old. Make sure that your I-20 reflects the academic plan (major/program of study) that you are pursuing. If you officially change your academic plan, you will need to be issued a new I-20 stating the new academic plan.

Always check the program completion date on your I-20 (under item 5). If the completion date is approaching and you do not expect to complete your program by that date, visit ISSS for information on requesting a program extension.

Visa renewal

If your F-1 visa stamp has expired and you are traveling to obtain a new visa from a U.S. consulate in your home country, you must request a new I-20 from ISSS.To request a new I-20:

  • Complete an ISSS Document Request Form.
  • Attach proof of current funding sources meeting the annual estimated costs of your program.

Acceptable financial documents include:

  • Official personal or sponsor’s bank letter (if using a sponsor, the sponsorship and/or relationship with you must be indicated in the bank letter) OR
  • If funded by a graduate assistantship or fellowship, an ISSS Scholarship/ Graduate Stipend Form completed and signed by the Dean of the School or College offering the award
  • Current scholarship or educational loan certification (from an international organization or home government)
  • If requesting a program extension, attach also an ISSS Academic Certification Form completed by your academic advisor.

All required forms and financial documents MUST be submitted at the time of request. A completed ISSS Document Request Form without required supporting documents will not be accepted. If all documentation is in order, the new I-20 will be processed in 4-5 business days. Please be advised to plan ahead and request your I-20 in a timely manner.

At the time of application for visa renewal, an F-1 student should have with him or her a valid passport, a recently issued I-20, proof of funding, current school transcripts (you may or may not be asked to present these) and any required forms, fees and photographs. Be advised that fees and procedures for visa renewal may vary by consulate and by country of citizenship of the applicant. Be sure to check for specific requirements with the embassy or local consulate at which you plan to apply. You can also visit the U.S. Department of State website for more information.

Students traveling abroad to restart F-1 Status

If you are currently out of status and plan to travel abroad, you are strongly urged to meet with an ISSS advisor for appropriate immigration advising. To reenter the U.S. in F-1 status, you will need a new I-20 issued for “Initial Attendance” under a new SEVIS ID number even if you may have a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport. Follow the procedures detailed earlier in this section to request your new I-20. Once you receive the new I-20 you will have to pay the SEVIS (I-901) fee before using the I-20 for reentry. The new I-20 will have a program start date in the future; you will be required to reenter the U.S. within the 30 days before that program start date.

If you are restarting F-1 status in the summer semester (i.e. your I-20 is issued with a summer term program start date), you are required to enroll full-time for the summer term. For undergraduate students, this means enrollment in at least 12 credit hours and for graduate students, this means enrollment in at least 6 graduate-level credit hours.

Upon reentry, you must report to ISSS with your passport, I-20, and I-94 in order for ISSS to document and confirm restart of your F-1 status. After arrival in the U.S. you must retrieve your I-94 admission record and print a copy for yourself and for ISSS.

Students approved a change of status to F-1 in the U.S.

If you have changed your status to F-1 in the U.S. since your initial entry and now wish to travel abroad to apply for an initial F-1 visa stamp, you will need to request a new I-20.Please be reminded that a change of status approval does NOT guarantee an approval of a visa application at a U.S. consulate. Certain factors (e.g. length of stay in the U.S. from the date of change of status approval, ties to your home country, any family members living in the U.S.) will affect your visa application. It is recommended that you meet with an ISSS advisor before traveling abroad.

For additional important travel and reentry information visit the ISSS Travel Information.