Travel for International Students
Within the United States
Travel within the 48 contiguous states does not require any special permit or documentation; however, you should 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 these documents. Lost or damaged documents can be difficult and costly to replace.
If you travel to Hawaii, Alaska, or any of the US 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 and 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.
Outside the United States
As a first step in planning any trip abroad, check the Travel Advisories for your intended destination.
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. 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:
Read NAFSA’s COVID-19 Restrictions on U.S. Visas and Entry page for the most up to date US entry restrictions related to COVID-19.
Special instructions during COVID 19 Pandemic: All students requesting a travel signature will need to submit the “Travel Signature Request E-Form” via iStart. Once we have verified that your SEVIS record is up-to-date, we will print or email you a new Form I-20 with a travel signature. We will then notify you and your form I-20 will be delivered to you via the method that you choose when you submit the e-form request. Your options will be to receive it in a pdf file transmitted electronically, to arrange an express mail shipment of the paper document, or to pick up the paper document in the ISS office.
The travel signature for currently enrolled students is good for one year. Please remember to request a signature at least 2 weeks prior to your planned travel. While currently enrolled at UIS, travel is only recommended during authorized breaks (summer, winter, and spring break). Customs and Border Protection can deny entry to a student arriving after the semester start date OR attempting to travel during various times outside of scheduled breaks in the academic year. To return to the United States after travel abroad, you must carry the following documents:
- Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future
- Valid US visa
- Form I-20 with travel endorsement less than 1 year prior to the date of return into the US
- You may wish to have copies of financial documentation and your student transcript as an additional precaution when traveling
Travel Signature and Students on OPT
If on OPT, a student who has both an EAD for post-completion OPT and a job should not experience difficulty re-entering 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 card, but they must carry the receipt notice.
Before traveling while on OPT, please check your SEVP Portal and ensure that your address and employer details are up-to-date and accurate. If you require a travel endorsement on your Form I-20, you will need to complete the “Travel Signature Request for Students on OPT E-Form” via iStart. Once we have verified that your SEVIS record is up-to-date, we will print you a new Form I-20 with a travel signature. We will then notify you and you must request express shipping for the shipment of your new Form I-20.
When traveling on OPT, you must carry the following documents along with your normal travel documents (visa, passport, etc.):
- Form I-20 with travel endorsement less than 6 months prior to the date of return into the US
- Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
- Letter from your employer stating the date the student is expected to return to work
- Reprint form I-94
- 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.
Passport and Visa Expiration
- 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.
- Students traveling to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands excluding Cuba for a period of less than 30 days, can re-enter the US with an expired US visa as long as their passport and I-20 are valid. This is called automatic visa revalidation.
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 US.
Upon Return to the United States
Make sure to access your Form I-94 and ensure that your name, most recent date of entry, and class of admission (visa type) are correct. Print a copy for your records. You will also need to upload a copy of this via iStart.