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Travel Within / Outside the United States


If you are planning to travel within the United States, you should carry your passport (valid for at least six (6) months into the future) and your immigration status documents such as Form I-20, printed copy of I-94 and EAD (if applicable).


If you are a planning to travel abroad or to your home country, in order to be readmitted to the U.S. you need to present to the Immigration Officer, at the port of entry, the following documents:

  • Passport, valid for at least six months into the future

  • Valid F-1 U.S. Entry Visa

  • Form I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 2

  • Valid EAD card, proof of employment (highly recommended) if on post-completion OPT,

  • Evidence of financial support (recommended)

  • Unofficial transcript, student class schedules, or letter of enrollment (optional)

In case you do not have all the necessary documentation at a U.S. port of entry, or if there is an issue with your SEVIS (immigration) record, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official may deny your entry or issue you a Form I-515A, which grants you temporary entry into the U.S. for 30 days. During the 30 days, you must contact the International Students Office (ISO) immediately.


For more information please refer to SEVP website.


Travel Signatures

International students are required to have a valid travel signature on their Form I-20 in order to re-enter the United States.


You must get a travel signature from the ISO prior to international travel.

  • You must have a valid travel signature on your Form I-20 to return to the U.S. after travel abroad

  • Each signature is valid for one year. (students on OPT: the travel signature is valid for six months)

  • A travel signature is issued by the DSO to confirm you are maintaining your F1 student status

  • If your current travel signature expires before you return to the U.S., you must request an updated travel signature

  • The travel signature is on page 2 of your Form I-20

How to obtain a travel signature:

  • Submit your Form I-20 along with a copy of your travel tickets to the ISO

  • Plan to leave your Form I-20 overnight. DSO requires one (1) business day to issue a new travel signature

  • You can pick up your signed document the next business day after 10 am

  • Same-day travel signatures are not issued except for emergency travel

How to obtain a travel signature if you are outside the State or USA:

  • Mail your Form I-20 to the ISO

  • Include a note about how you would like your I-20 returned to you. If there is no time for standard mail, you must arrange for express mail.

  • If you are returning to the U.S. so soon that there is no time to mail an original I-20 to you, contact the DSO and review the emergency travel information below

If you are outside of the U.S. for longer than a temporary absence:
After a period of more than five (5) months outside the U.S., you are considered gone for longer than a temporary absence. Your current Form I-20 will be invalid and you must request a new Form I-20 to return to CalUMS-VA.

Emergency Travel  
If you have an emergency travel when the ISO is closed (weekends and federal holidays), go ahead and depart the U.S. The travel signature is required for returning to the U.S. It is not required for leaving the U.S. Follow the instructions above for obtaining a travel signature from outside of the State or USA.

What if you do not have enough time to receive a new I-20 with a valid travel signature before returning to the U.S.
If your travel plans do not allow enough time for us to ship a new document to you before you return to the U.S., then you must either change your anticipated return date or travel without a valid travel signature on your Form I-20.

If you choose the latter option, it is most likely the Customs and Border Protection officer at the U.S. Port of Entry will issue you an Form I-515A. This form would allow you temporary admission to the U.S. for thirty (30) days. During the thirty (30) days, you must visit the ISO for drop-in advising, receive an updated travel signature, then submit the Form I-515A to the address provided on the Form I-515A. You would then be allowed to remain in the U.S. as normal.

Please note, however, that temporary admission with a Form I-515A is at the discretion of the CBP officer and cannot be guaranteed by the ISO. On rare occasions, you may be denied entry to the U.S., and you should be aware of this risk before traveling.


For more information please refer to the SEVP website.


I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

The I-94 Arrival/Departure record is proof of legal visitor status  issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Office after you enter the U.S. This important record lists your entry date, port of entry, and visa status in which you were admitted to the U.S. and the duration of time you can legally remain in the U.S. As an international student, you will most likely have duration of status (D/S) listed on your admission stamp. D/S means you can legally stay in the U.S. for the duration of your study program.

After your arrival in the U.S., print out a copy of your I-94 card record from the CBP website. It’s important to review all information on it and ensure that it is correct. If you see an error on your electronic I-94 record (visa type or date of expiration), please contact the nearest U.S. Customs and Border Protection Deferred Inspection Site and a CBP Officer will be able to assist you.

Keep your I-94 record safe with your other immigration documents.


Travel to Canada, Mexico, and Adjacent Islands

International students may travel to Canada, Mexico, or Adjacent Islands without obtaining a new visa to re-enter the U.S. as long as they have the following documents:

  • U.S Entry visa expired or valid. Re-entry on an expired F-1 visa is allowed if traveling for less than thirty (30) days. If the student is from a visa exempt country, then a visa is not needed for re-entry. However, this currently applies only to Canadian citizens. Currently, citizens of all other countries that will pursue study in the U.S. under the F-1 status, require an F-1 visa for entry into the U.S.

  • Valid Form I-20 with a travel signature

  • Unexpired passport which is valid at least six (6) months into the future

  • A copy of an unexpired I-94 record

  • SEVIS fee receipt

Students must check whether they need a visa to visit Canada, Mexico, or Adjacent Islands. The U.S. government is the one who determines international students eligible to enter the U.S. Always be prepared and have the needed travel documents with you.


For more information please refer to the SEVP website.


Travel during OPT

After graduation, if your post-completion OPT has been approved and your EAD issued, you can travel and re-enter the U.S. only if you have proof of employment. If you are still looking for practical training opportunities, you should not travel internationally. Of course, re-entry to the U.S. is never guaranteed.


After USCIS has issued an EAD card for post-completion OPT, in order to have the best chance of re-entering the U.S. without problems, you should be sure you have the following documents:

  • Passport valid for six (6) months after you plan to re-enter the U.S.

  • Valid F-1 visa stamp on your passport (this requirement does not apply to Canadian citizens)

  • Valid Form I-20 with a valid travel signature on the second page of Form I-20 no older than six (6) months

  • EAD card

  • Evidence that you already have a job in the U.S. or that you have a job offer

  • Evidence of an emergency to travel

If you need to apply for a new F-1 visa, you should also be sure to have your EAD card and evidence that you already have a job in the U.S. or that you have a job offer in addition to the usual documents required for a visa application.


International students may travel and re-enter the U.S. while their 12-month post-completion OPT application is pending, with or without a job offer, however, the traveling during this time should be undertaken with caution.


The 24-month STEM OPT rule [81 FR 13103 par. 774] states:

“Students on STEM OPT extensions (including those whose application for a STEM OPT extension is pending) may travel abroad and seek re-entry to the United States in F-1 status during the STEM OPT extension period if they have a valid F-1 visa that permits multiple entries and a current Form I-20 Certificate of Eligibility endorsed for re-entry by the DSO within the last six months. The student’s status is determined by CBP upon admission to the United States or through a USCIS adjudication of a change-of-status petition.”


Additional Resources

For more information and frequently asked questions regarding international students travel and re-entry please refer to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) website and to U.S. Department of State (DOS) website.



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