Travel within the United States
Travel within the 48 contiguous states does not require any special permit or documentation. You should, however, take your original travel documents (passport, visa, I-94, and I-20) and a separate photocopy (in case the originals are lost). You should also make sure that someone has access to another photocopy of those documents. Lost or damaged documents can be difficult and costly to replace.
If you travel to Hawaii, Alaska, or any of the U. S. territories, and pass through any other countries en route, you will need to comply with the requirements for travel abroad (see below). Direct flights to and from these states and territories should not require anything other than your regular travel documents.
- Keep immigration documents in a safe place – including passport, I-20, and I-94.
- If possible, carry electronic copies or hard copies.
- When you leave town, carry your immigration documents with you. You will not need to show them when you cross borders between states, but you may have to show them to police at other times.
Travel Outside the U.S.
- Make sure you have the appropriate documents to enter the country to which you are traveling. If you need a visa for that country, find out how to get one on that country’s embassy website.
- To return to the U.S. after travel abroad, you will need a valid U.S. visa, a passport valid for at least 6 months into the future, and a valid I-20 with a signature on page 2 that is less than 1 year old. If your visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new one while you are outside the U.S.
- Students traveling to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands excluding Cuba for a period of less than 30 days, can re-enter the U.S. with an expired U.S. visa as long as their passport and I-20 are OK. This is called automatic visa revalidation.
Travel Abroad and Re-entry to the U. S.
Whenever you wish to leave the United States temporarily and return to continue studies you must secure:
- A permit to enter another country
- A permit to re-enter the United States
All countries have rules and restrictions on who can enter. Students who wish to visit their own country of citizenship or permanent residence will be allowed to do so if they hold a valid passport or other travel document issued by that country. For travel to any country (including Canada and Mexico) other than their own home country, students should check with the Embassy of the country that they would like to visit to inquire about specific entry procedures.
Contact information for these embassies can be found at:
In order to reenter the United States after a temporary absence of 5 months or less, an F-1 student must have the following documents:
- A valid passport or travel document
- A valid F-1 visa. This handout has information regarding Visa Renewal (pdf).
- Either a properly endorsed Form I-20, if there has been no substantive change in the information on the form) other than the date the student is expected to report to the school) OR a new Form I-20, if there has been such a change.
Travel on OPT
If on OPT, a student who has both an EAD for post-completion OPT and a job should not experience difficulty reentering the United States. If either of these two conditions is missing, then the student is assuming risk. This does not apply to pre-completion OPT. There are no restrictions upon travel while on pre-completion OPT other than those applicable to all F-1 students. Students participating in the “cap-gap” extension may not travel and re-enter, since their EAD cards will have necessarily expired. Students participating in the STEM extension may travel even if they have not yet received their new EAD cards, but they must carry the receipt notice. Before traveling while on OPT, please contact the ISS Office to ensure that your address and employer details are updated in SEVIS.
When traveling on OPT, you must carry the following documents along with your normal travel documents:
- Form I-20 with travel endorsement less than 6 months prior to the date of return into the U.S.
- valid Employment Authorization Document
- Letter from your employer stating the date the student is expected to return to work
- Form I-94 can be reprinted at https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94
- If you lose a passport, contact the local police to make an official police report. Then contact your nearest consulate or embassy to inquire about replacement procedures.
- Lost I-20s can be replaced by contacting International Student Services. Caution should be taken to not lose this document more than once.
- Do not be outside your country if your passport has expired.
- Six months before your passport will expire, contact your nearest consulate or embassy to inquire about extension procedures.
- Active visas that are in expired passports are often a concern for students. Students who get a new passport will be given their old passports back that contain active visas. This is a normal process and should not be a concern.
Always keep all I-20s – even old and expired ones. Sometimes students need to show their document history when applying for various benefits, so it is important to keep old documents.
Temporary Absence of Longer than Five Months
Students who wish to return to UIS to resume their studies following an absence of more than five months will need a new initial-status I-20, even if they still have a valid visa. The only exception to this is for students who have been participating in a pre-approved and official study abroad program and have been duly registered in the SEVIS system every semester that they have been absent. These students will need a DSO signature on page 2 of the Form I-20 within 12 months of the date that they will re-enter the U. S.