Travel Outside the U.S. while in F-1 or J-1 Status

The ability to re-enter the U.S. following travel abroad is considered a benefit of F-1 or J-1 status. It is important that you comply with all immigration regulations and requirements. Failure to comply may lead to a loss of travel benefits. 

NOTE: Students currently working on post-completion OPT have different rules regarding travel and should visit the OPT section of the website for more information.

Travel requirements

Before you leave the United States, certain documents need to be checked to verify eligibility to re-enter the U.S.:

  1. Valid form I-20 or DS-2019 with a signature that will be less than 12 months old when you re-enter the U.S.
  2. Valid visa for re-entry

Be sure to come to CIE before you leave if:

  1. You need a signature on your I-20 or DS-2019
  2. You need a new visa. F and J visas may only be obtained outside the U.S. All nonimmigrants (including F and J applicants) are required to have an in-person interview in order to apply for a visa...LEARN MORE.
  3. Your I-20 or DS-2019 has expired or is about to expire or if any information on the form has changed (such as your major, source of funding, or degree level).
  4. Your passport has expired or is about to expire (passports must always be valid at least six months into the future).

Dependent Travel

If your F-2 or J-2 dependent(s) will be traveling with or without you, be sure to check with CIE before they leave to check on the requirements for re-entry.

Dependent Travel Requirements

Dependents with a valid F-2 or J-2 visa stamp returning to the U.S. after a temporary absence (i.e., less than 5 months) must present the following documents to the immigration inspector at the port of entry:

  1. Original dependent Form I-20 or DS-2019 signed by CIE prior to travel (less than 12 months old upon re-entry)
  2. Passport (valid 6 months into the future)
  3. Valid F-2 or J-2 visa stamp (unless exempt from visa requirements)
  4. Evidence of financial support (e.g. affidavits of support/bank statements)
  5. Evidence of F-1 or J-1 principal having maintained status since entry into the U.S. (e.g. letter from CIE, etc.)
  6. Evidence of relationship to F-1 or J-1 principal

NOTE: If F-2 or J-2 dependent will be traveling and will require a new F-2 or J-2 visa stamp to re-enter the U.S., he or she must present the documents listed above to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate when applying. It is advisable to allow sufficient travel time to obtain the visa from the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

Automatic Visa Revalidation

If your visa is expired and you will be traveling to Canada, Mexico or the "adjacent" Caribbean islands for less than 30 days, you may not need to renew your visa.

Based on the following criteria, you may be eligible for automatic revalidation:

  • You are applying for readmission after an absence not exceeding 30 days solely in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent Caribbean islands (revalidation after travel to the Caribbean islands is only allowed for holders of F & J visas).
  • You have a form I-94 valid for an unexpired period of admission or extension of stay, or for duration of status (D/S).
  • You have a current endorsed I-20 or DS-2019 (or current I-797 approval notice if in a petition-based status).
  • You have maintained your legal immigration status.
  • You have not applied for a new visa during your trip.
  • You have a current passport that will expire at least 6 months after your re-entry to the U.S. (if your expired visa is in an old passport, you must have that passport as well).
  • You have never had a visa canceled under INA § 222(g).

Process of Revalidation

  1. Keep I-94 when you leave the U.S.
  2. Present I-94 upon re-entering the U.S. (this may not be necessary) 

Visa Waiver Program

The VWP enables citizens of participating countries to travel to the U.S. without obtaining a U.S. visa. Some international students use the Visa Waiver Program if they decide to travel outside the U.S. at the end of their program and need to re-enter the U.S. for a short time to prepare to return home.

NOTE: DO NOT TRAVEL TO THE U.S. ON THE VISA WAIVER PROGRAM IF YOU WILL BE ATTENDING SCHOOL.

Persons eligible to enter the U.S. on the visa waiver program do not require visas and do not have to visit the U.S. Consulate or Embassy. However, they do need to get pre-authorization using the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA).

After submitting an ESTA application, three responses are possible:

  • “Authorization Approved”
  • “Travel Not Authorized” (A response of "Travel Not Authorized" means that the traveler cannot enter the U.S. under the VWP. To enter as a visitor, he or she would then have to apply for a B visa at a U.S. consulate)
  • “Authorization Pending” 

DHS recommends that travelers with approved authorization print out the ESTA application response to serve as confirmation of their ESTA registration to present upon boarding their air carrier.

For more information about the ESTA program and to apply for pre-approval visit: http://www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/business_pleasure/vwp/.