Travel on an F-1

While you are in F-1 status, you are permitted to leave the U.S. and re-enter in F-1 status provided you present the required documentation. If you intend to re-enter the U.S. and continue your full-time course of study, you must always be admitted to the U.S. in F-1 status. This section provides detailed information on the requirements for traveling outside the United States and re-entering in F-1 status. The following topics are addressed:

Documents Required for Re-entry in F-1 Status
Travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean

Travel for Canadian Students

Travel while on Post-Completion OPT

Extended Stays Outside the U.S.

Travel within the United States

Travel to a Third Country

Documents Required for Re-entry in F-1 Status

You are required to carry the following documents with you to re-enter the U.S. as an F-1 student. We encourage you to use this section as a checklist to ensure that you have everything you need to successfully re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status.

  • Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future: Some countries have the expiration dates of the passports automatically extended for 6 months based on an agreement with the U.S. If your country of citizenship is on this list, you may enter the U.S. using your passport until its actual expiration date. Check here to see if your country is on the list. If your passport will expire, contact your consulate.
  • Canadian citizens do not require an entry visa to enter the U.S. from Canada, but DO require an I-20. All Canadian citizens entering the U.S. are required to show a passport.
  • Unexpired F-1 visa valid for further entries: You should always be aware of the expiration date and the number of entries allowed on your visa. Most visas have "M" written under entries. This means that there is no limit on the number of entries for which you can use your visa. If your visa is expired or you have already used the number of entries you are allowed, you will need to apply for a new F-1 visa in order to re-enter the U.S. An exception to this requirement exists for travel to certain countries.
  • Valid I-20 recertified within 6 months of the date on which you will return to the U.S. Recertification (travel signature) is on page 3 of the I-20. It indicates that you are maintaining valid F-1 status. Only staff at the OIIS is authorized by the Department of Homeland Security to sign your I-20. Each signature is valid for 6 months, although you may have the I-20 signed more frequently if you wish.

The OIIS can only sign your I-20 for travel if you are maintaining valid F-1 status. You must plan ahead to get your I- 20 signed before you leave the country.        

If you will be outside the U.S. for more than 5 months, please see Extended Stays Outside the U.S.

We also recommend that you carry the following documents with you. It is possible that an immigration officer could ask you for these documents.

  • Receipt of SEVIS I-901 Fee (if applicable). For information on who is required to pay this fee, go to www.fmjfee.com
  • Current financial documentation issued within the last 3 months.
  • Proof of full-time enrollment. You can request an enrollment verification from the Registrar.

Travel to Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean

If you are traveling only to Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean (except Cuba and Bermuda) for fewer than thirty days, you may return to the U.S. with an expired F-1 entry visa in your passport. To qualify for this privilege, you must:

  1. Be in lawful F-1 status.
  2. Have an unexpired I-94 card indicating your F-1 status in your passport when you enter the U.S. Do not surrender the I-94 card when you leave the U.S. If you do, you will not be eligible for visa revalidation.
  3. Have a current, recertified I-20 in your possession.
  4. Have a passport valid at least six months into the future on the day you return to the U.S.
  5. Travel only to one of the destinations named above and for fewer than thirty days. For example, you cannot use automatic revalidation to enter Canada, depart to another country, return to Canada, and then return to the U.S. within 30 days.
  6. Not apply for a U.S. visa while in Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean. If you apply for a U.S. entry visa during your visit to one of these destinations, you must wait for it to be issued before you return. If your visa application is denied by the American consulate, you are not allowed to use automatic revalidation to return to the U.S. You will be required to travel to your country of citizenship to apply for a new visa.
  7. Have an F-1 visa (expired or valid) in your passport or an approval notice for change of status to F-1 and the invalid visa of your previous non-immigrant status in your passport.
  8. Be a citizen of a country other than Syria, Iran, Sudan or Cuba. Nationals of these countries are not eligible for visa revalidation. If you are a national of one of the above countries, you must always have a valid visa in your passport to enter the United States.

Travel for Canadian Students

Canadian citizens do not require an entry visa to enter the U.S. from Canada, but DO require an I-20. All Canadian citizens are required to show a passport to enter the United States.

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 immigration inspector at the port of entry. Be sure to check your I-94 card before you leave the inspection area to ensure that the I-94 card was properly notated with F-1, D/S. Often, your I-94 card will not be removed from your passport when you leave the U.S., and you will not receive a new one when you re-enter. This is not a problem. Just be aware that if the I-94 card is removed, you must get a new one with the F-1 notation when you re-enter.

Travel while on Post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT)

The entry requirements while you are on OPT are similar to the requirements while you are a student; however, you will need to show some additional documentation. The Department of Homeland Security allows for re-entry while on OPT "to resume employment after a temporary absence."

All individuals who have applied for post-completion OPT must carry the following documents:

  • Passport valid for 6 months into the future
  • Valid F-1 entry visa, unless using visa revalidation
  • I-20 recertified within the past 6 months. Please note that this is a change in the length of validity of recertification. Recertification is generally valid for one year, but once you are on OPT, it is valid for only 6 months.
  • If you have applied for OPT, but not yet received the EAD, you must also carry the following:
    • Original receipt notice issued by the Vermont Service Center confirming your request for OPT.
  • If your OPT has been approved, you must also carry the following:
    • EAD card
    • Letter from employer confirming that you are employed or have been offered employment. Please note: this letter must be for the duration of your OPT and not for a permanent position.

The guidance from DHS states that if an individual has been approved for OPT and leaves the U.S. prior to receiving a job offer, the OPT authorization ends. If you are planning to leave the U.S. and do not have all of the required documentation, please speak with an advisor at the OIIS.

If you require a new entry visa while on OPT, be aware that there is no guarantee that you are eligible for one. You are required to establish non-immigrant intent every time you apply for a non-immigrant visa. This may be harder to establish when you are working rather than studying. If you have an expired F-1 entry visa, speak with an OIIS advisor before planning a trip abroad.

Extended Stays Outside the U.S.

If you leave the U.S. and do not register during the normal academic year for your program, your record in the SEVIS database will be terminated. If you are registered full-time while outside the U.S., contact the OIIS to verify that your F-1 status will remain valid.

Travel within the United States

In general, special permission is not required to travel within the U.S. We recommend that you carry your passport, I-94 card, and I-20 with you whenever you travel outside the New York metropolitan area.

Travel to a Third Country

When traveling to a third country (a country other than the U.S. or your home country), you are responsible for knowing whether you need an entry visa for that country. Travel to Canada and Mexico is common from the U.S.

Canadian visas
Persons from many countries are required to obtain a Canadian entry visa when entering Canada from the U.S. Visas may be obtained from the Canadian Consulate General at 1251 Avenue of the Americas (at 50th Street, telephone (212-596-1600). Consult the Canadian Consulate General for visa regulations concerning your country before making travel arrangements.

Mexican visas
Tourist cards or visas may be required for travel to Mexico. Information is available from the New York Consulate General of Mexico, 27 East 39 Street, telephone (212) 217-4600.