F-1 Travel

IMPORTANT: The policies and procedures described below are for travel outside of the US.

If you plan to travel to Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or the Northern Mariana Islands, please visit this page, and select the appropriate question.

Required documents for re-entering the United States in F-1 status

Both F-1 students and their F-2 dependents must have the following documents to reenter the United States:

  1. Passport that is valid for six months beyond entry date to the U.S. or valid passport from a country on the passport agreement list
    • NOTE: When you click on the link above, look for and click on the question: "What if I have an expired passport or one that will expire in less than six months?". The list of countries should appear once you click on this question.
  2. Valid F-1 or F-2 entry visa
  3. Properly endorsed and valid SEVIS I-20 (endorsement valid for up to six months for students on F-1 OPT)
  4. Highly recommended: Documents proving your funds as listed on the SEVIS I-20

  5. Additional Documents for Students on OPT/OPT STEM:
  6. Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
    • In certain cases, the Notice of Action may be shown at the Port of Entry (please consult with ISSS)
  7. Highly recommended: Job offer letter/proof of employment, if you are engaged in OPT after completion of studies

Take the above-mentioned documents to International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) at least one full week before you depart Champaign-Urbana, to obtain a travel signature. In some cases, an ISSS advisor will be able to endorse your I-20 to travel; in others it may be necessary to prepare a new I-20 for you.

NOTE: Citizens of Canada do not need a U.S. entry visa.

Travel with an expired US entry visa

In some cases, a new entry visa is required to reenter the U.S.; in other cases it is not.

IMPORTANT: Once the program end date on your I-20/DS-2019 document has passed, you will NOT be able to travel outside of the US and re-enter in your current status during your 60-day grace period.  This includes to automatic revalidation countries. 

Travel of less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, or a Caribbean Island (other than Cuba):You do not need to apply for a new U.S. entry visa if you plan to travel to a contiguous territory for less than 30 days, provided that you have the required documents for re-entry to the United States. This is known as "automatic revalidation". Do not surrender your I-94, before you leave the U.S.; if you do so, you must obtain a new visa to return. If you received an electronic I-94 then prior to your trip print out your electronic admission record from www.cbp.gov/i94 and secure it with your other immigration documents. Citizens of Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Cuba are not eligible for automatic revalidation. People with cancelled visas are not eligible for automatic revalidation and also people with single entry visas may not be eligible for automatic revalidation, as a single entry visa may be presumed cancelled.  Finally, if you apply for a new U.S. entry visa in a contiguous territory, you may not reenter the U.S. using automatic revalidation.

Travel to any other country: You must apply for a new entry visa at a US Embassy or Consulate General. Students will need to present the following documents to the visa officer:

  1. Valid passport
  2. Properly endorsed valid SEVIS I-20
  3. Any previously issued I-797 approval notices for change of status
  4. Documents verifying the financial resources that appear on your I-20 (for example, a letter of financial aid, bank statement, letter verifying employment).

The specific Embassy or Consulate that you will be applying for your US entry visa at may require additional documentation. It is advisable to contact the Embassy or Consulate prior to your interview to obtain a full list of required documents.

F-2 dependents must also show proof of relationship to the F-1 principal (birth or marriage certificate). The documents, procedures, and processing time required to obtain a visa can vary from post to post. Information about many of the U.S. Consulate/Embassies abroad is available online and general information about applying for a US entry visa is also available online.

Special cautions for US entry visa renewal

If you need a new entry visa to return to the U.S., you should be aware that there is never a guarantee that one will be issued. Certain factors may complicate your visa application. Following is a list of some of the more common potential pitfalls:

  • You must have the proper documents with you when you apply for a new visa. It is critical that you stop by International Student and Scholar Services at least one full week prior to your departure from Champaign-Urbana to obtain a travel signature. Bring your passport and I-20(s) with you. You should also check specific requirements for visa issuance in the particular U.S. Embassy or Consulate General where you will apply. 
  • Students whose field of study or research appears on the Department of State Critical Fields List may experience visa issuing delays of at least 30 additional days while a Security Advisory Opinion is sought.  There is no way to expedite this process.  Make your travel plans accordingly.
  • It may be more difficult to obtain a renewal of your entry visa if you are engaged in practical training after completion of studies. You should be prepared to document strong ties to your home country.
  • It can be more challenging to obtain a new U.S. entry visa outside of your country of citizenship or permanent residence. You may be asked to apply for the visa in your home country. If you decide to apply for a U.S. entry visa outside of your home country, you should contact the US Consulate or Embassy where you will be applying to find out if you need to provide any extra documentation.
  • You must have an appointment to make a visa application in an U.S. Consulate in Canada or Mexico. It may take several weeks to get an appointment. Be sure to check with the Canadian or Mexican Consulate to see if you need a visa to enter either country. Keep in mind that it may be difficult to get a U.S. entry visa in either country. If you apply for a U.S. entry visa in Canada, Mexico, or one of the adjacent Caribbean islands, you may not re-enter the United States using the "automatic revalidation" benefit.
  • You may need an entry visa for countries other than your own, even if you are passing through in transit. Please contact the Consulate or Embassy for the country or countries that you will be visiting for more information.

Click here for a list of points to remember when applying for a non-immigrant visa.

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