Travel and Re-entry: An overview of things F-1/J-1 students need to be mindful of when traveling outside the United States

I-20 / DS-2019 Form 

All F-1 and J-1 students must have a valid travel signature from their DSO/ARO on page 2 of their I-20/page 1 on DS-2019 in order to re-enter the United States. Travel signatures are valid for one calendar year ​during your study with TCSPP or until the completion of your program, whichever comes first. ​ If you are on OPT, the Travel Signature is ONLY VALID FOR 6 MONTHS.  If you need a new signature, please request one via email at least two weeks prior to travel.

Note: You need a si​gnature​ even if you are just traveling across the border to Canada or Mexico.

You need to receive a new I-20 from your DSO if there have been any changes in your situation, for example, your major, degree level, or source(s) of financial support—that are not indicated on your current I-20/DS-2019. In all cases, updated financial documentat​ion will be required to process your new I-20/DS-2019.

Check your Program End Date of your I-20/DS-2019 for the expiration date. If expiring, and you have not yet completed your program, you will need to apply for an extension. You do not need to request a travel signature; when you extension is approved a new I-20/DS-2019 will be printed and signed for travel. Updated financial documentation will be required to process your new I-20/DS-2019.

Passport

You are required to keep your passport valid and you will be out of status if your passport is expired.  When you return from abroad, U.S. Custom and Border Protection (CBP) requires that your passport must be valid for at least 6 months from the date when you return to the U.S. or if you are from one of the countries listed here, a passport that is current through the date of entry.  However, you might pay attention to your passport validity to make sure that it is not expired during your study. Otherwise you will be out of status.

U.S. Visa

Is the U.S. visa stamp in your passport valid beyond the date you plan to re-enter the United States? If not, you must apply for a new visa while you are abroad. We strongly advise you to carry the following documents with you when applying for a new visa at a U.S. Consulate and check the website of U.S. Embassy to your home country for country specific requirement:
- Official Transcript issued by the Registrar at The Chicago School
- Valid I-20/DS-2019 issued and signed by your DSO/ARO
- Current financial documentation: documents indicating the source(s) and amount(s) of financial support for your study in the current academic year. This ​must match the information listed on your I-20/DS-2019.

As U.S. Consulates will not be open on certain days during the Christmas–New Year holiday period, there may be difficult time constraints on obtaining a new visa during winter break.

Note: If you intend to apply for a new U.S. Visa in Canada or Mexico and are not a resident of either country, please contact your DSO/ARO to discuss this option. If you need to apply for a new U.S. Visa, visit the Department of State’s U.S. Embassies and Consulates section for an updated list.

I-901 SEVIS Fee Receipt

Even though the CBP Officer at the Port of Entry might not ask for it every time, but it is stated by the government that you should present this SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt when return from your travel.

A Copy of Most Recent I-94 Print Out 

Some CBP officers will request you to present your most recent I-94 when you re-enter the U.S.  It is highly recommended to print out and bring a copy with you when you travel abroad.  You can print out your I-94 via https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/home​

Visitors’ Visas—for travel to countries other than your home country

If you are traveling to a country other than your home country, you may need a visitor’s or transit visa. To find out, visit that country’s embassy website at Foreign Embassies of Washington, D.C. and search for the Consular Section nearest you

After completing your academic program

If you plan to travel to Canada or anywhere else outside of the U.S. during the grace period following completion of your degree requirements, International Programs and Services will not be able to sign your I-20/DS-2019 for travel. If you travel outside of the U.S., you will not be able to re-enter the U.S. as an F-1/J-1 student at The Chicago School.
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Travel during Optional Practical Training (OPT)-F1 Students

At the present, USCIS processing of applications for Optional Practical Training can take up to 5 months (some might be longer)​, so you will need to plan your travel accordingly. Once you receive your EAD card, you may travel outside of the U.S., but be sure to travel with your signed I-20, job offer letter,  and EAD card. You are still required to have your OPT I-20 signed for Travel in order to return to the U.S.  Please be aware of that the Travel Signature for OPT I-20 is only valid for 6 months!  We strongly advise that you consult with your DSO regarding travel abroad while on OPT prior to making plans.

Relevant articles about traveling for international students
"What you need to know about secondary inspection"​
"General Holiday Travel Tips"
"Preparing for Port of Entry​​"
"Prepare for the Form I-515A"