International Travel in F-1 Status

To travel outside the U.S. students in F-1 status need these documents to re-enter the U.S.:

  • valid passport
  • valid F-1 visa
  • copy of your unofficial transcript (recommended)
  • I-20 with a current travel signature (i.e. must have been signed within the last 12 months)
  • Students on OPT must also carry their EAD (OPT card), and the I-20 must be signed for travel every 6 months. Read more about traveling abroad while on OPT.

Note: This list only applies to return travel to the U.S.; you must check and see if you need a visa to enter the country (including transit visas) where you are going. Check on the website of the embassy of the country you want to visit.

Getting a Travel Signature

Travel signatures cover all return travel to the U.S. for 12 months from the signature date (i.e. you do not need to get a new signature each time you travel). If you travel outside the U.S., in order to re-enter your I-20 must have been signed for travel by the Reves Center in the last 12 months. Travel signatures are on page 3 of the I-20.

Note: Students on OPT must have their I-20 signed every 6 months.

If you need a travel signature, complete a Travel Signature Request Form (pdf) and drop it off with your I-20 at the Reves Center. Your I-20 will be signed and ready for pick-up in 2 business days.

If you have a problem at the U.S. border during regular office hours, call the Reves Center at (757) 221-3594. Outside of regular office hours, contact the W&M Police at (757) 221-4596, and they will contact an International Student Advisor.

Automatic Visa Re-Validation

Returning from Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean Islands
You usually must have a valid visa to return to the U.S. from abroad. However, there is a special provision called Automatic Visa Revalidation that applies to some travel. If you are in F-1 status and your F-1 visa is expired, you may still return to the U.S. from a trip to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean Islands even with an expired visa, if you meet all of these conditions:

  • your passport is valid
  • you have a valid I-20 with a valid travel signature (if you are on OPT, the signature must be signed within the last six months)
  • you have your EAD (OPT) card (if you have graduated and have applied for OPT)
  • you have an expired F-1 visa
  • you only go to Canada, Mexico, and/or the Caribbean islands (except Cuba) and do not stay outside the U.S. for more than 30 days
  • you do not apply for a new U.S. visa while abroad (otherwise you have to wait for it to be approved and use it to reenter)
  • you keep your I-94 card or record (print this at the Customs & Border Protection website) when you depart the U.S. (i.e., don’t give it up)
  • you are not a citizen of Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Sudan, North Korea, or Cuba
International Cruise Travel

Please read the following instructions if you are planning to go on an international cruise:

  • When you get off the cruise ship, approach a Customs and Border Patrol officer and request an “inspection.” Tell the officer you are an F-1/J-1 student or scholar and you need a new I-94 record created. This also applies to your dependents travelling on the cruise.
  • Upon 48 hours of returning to the US, look up your I-94 record at www.cbp.gov/I94.
  • Contact the Reves Center if you cannot locate your I-94 record.

Note: Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. territories and so an F-1 student does not need a visa to travel to those locations from within the U.S., or to return to the U.S. from those locations.

Important: If you changed status while in the U.S. (e.g. H-4 to F-1) using Form I-539 and thus never had an F-1 visa, you can use automatic visa revalidation provision, provided the same conditions above apply. You would need to carry the documents listed above and also your previous visa and a Change of Status Approval Notice (Form I-797). You should also request a letter from the Reves Center that explains your eligibility to re-enter under this provision.