While studying at U.N.C.G. on an F-1 or J-1 student visa, you may desire to travel to other parts of the U.S., return to your home country to visit family, or vacation to another country altogether. The I.S.S.S. team is here to guide you through the process of traveling during your time on a student visa.
Traveling Within the U.S.
Traveling within the U.S.’s 50 states and territories is generally unrestricted, meaning that no prior approval or special documentation is required. When travelling within the U.S., you should always carry a government-issued form of identification (N.C. driver’s license or I.D. card, or passport).
To be prepared for the possibility of an immigration check by U.S. officials, we recommend that you always carry copies of the following documents in addition to your official identification:
- Passport (photo, signature, and expiration date pages).
- I-94 record. To obtain your I-94 record, please go to this website, select “Get Most Recent I-94” and enter the information requested as it appears on the passport you used to enter the U.S.
- Most current form I-20 (for F-1 students) or form DS-2019 (for J-1 students).
Traveling Outside of the U.S.
When preparing to travel outside of the U.S. while on an F-1 or J-1 visa, be sure to keep the following in mind:
- F-1 and J-1 visa holders must obtain a travel signature from an International Student Advisor before leaving the U.S. Travel signature requests should be submitted via the I.S.S.S. Portal at least one week prior to travel. Delaying this step may impact travel plans.
- Before traveling to a country outside the U.S. that is not your country of citizenship, nonimmigrant visa holders should contact that country’s embassy in the U.S. to request information and visa application materials for travel in that country. Travel may not be allowed depending on political relations and treaty agreements between a foreign national’s home country and the desired destination country. Travel to countries outside the U.S. is not a U.S. Immigration issue.
- Students must recognize that being permitted into any country other than your country of citizenship or lawful permanent residence is a privilege, not a right. Thus, any time a foreign national chooses to travel abroad knowing they will need a new visa stamp to reenter, there is no guarantee that 1) the new visa stamp will be issued, or 2) that you will be readmitted at the port of entry. Traveling abroad always carries some degree of risk, and the best thing you can do to ensure that you encounter no problems is to carry valid documents with you at all times (including proof of funding) and to abide by the laws and regulations governing your non-immigrant status.
Reentry into the U.S. after Travel
Reentry to Resume Studies
To be eligible for reentry to the U.S., you must have maintained your legal full-time student status in the U.S. and be returning to resume studies at the school and for the degree for which your I-20 was issued.
If you do not meet these conditions, please contact your International Student Advisor to obtain a new I-20/DS-2019 for a legal admission.
If you will have been out of the U.S. for less than 5 months, plan to bring the following items to the U.S. Port of Entry:
- Valid F-1 or J-1 visa. If you need to apply for a visa while overseas, plan ahead and follow all instructions for renewing your visa.
- Most recent Form I-20 signed by an International Student Advisor for travel within the last five months, or Form DS-2019 signed by your program sponsor within the last five months.
- A passport valid for at least another six months past the date of reentry.
- Documents proving financial support for the next 12 months.
- Transcripts showing full-time enrollment every term of the academic year (and less than full-time approval forms, if any).
Continuing students who have spent more than five months outside the U.S. cannot reenter on their former Form I-20. This means that students must request a new Form I-20 to be issued, and must reapply for their visa and repay the SEVIS fee. In this case, your immigration “time clock” begins again as if you were entering the U.S. for the first time. No off-campus employment will be allowed until you re-accumulate the required nine months of full-time student status (one full academic year).
Reentry to Resume O.P.T. (Optional Practical Training)
Documents Required for Reentry the United States:
- Valid F-1 visa. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., your status in the U.S. will not be affected. The visa is an entry document only. However, if your visa has expired and you are seeking to enter the U.S., you must renew your visa before attempting to reenter the U.S.
- Valid passport with at least six months validity beyond the date of reentry.
- Form I-20 showing O.P.T. authorization with travel signature from an International Student Advisor. Please contact an International Student Advisor at least two weeks before you plan to travel.
- Employment Authorization Document (EAD Card).
- Proof of employment:
- Written job offer, or
- A letter from your employer stating that you are returning to resume work.
Returning from U.S.-Adjacent Countries and Islands
Many international students will be eligible for a provision called “Automatic Revalidation” when returning to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico, or certain Caribbean islands. This exception allows for those in a nonimmigrant visa status (such as F-1 and J-1) to reenter the U.S. from a “contiguous territory” (Canada, Mexico, and adjacent islands) without a currently valid visa stamp in the passport. To learn more about the Automatic Revalidation exception, visit this Travel.State.Gov webpage, and always check on the current status of these provisions before you travel.
Obtaining your I-94 Record after Travel
Students should retrieve their I-94 record each time they reenter the U.S. As of April 2013, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) no longer provides I-94 cards for entry into the United States. Furthermore, the I-20 form for F-1 students and DS-2019 form for J-1 students and scholars is no longer stamped for entry into the United States. Instead, you will receive an entry stamp on your passport, including the date of admission (entry) to the United States, class of admission—(F-1) or (J-1)—and D/S (Duration of Status).
To obtain the I-94 record, go to https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov, select “Get Most Recent I-94” and enter the information requested as it appears on the passport used to enter the United States.