International Travel in F-1 Status
Students in F-1 status need these documents to re-enter the U.S.:
- valid passport
- valid F-1 visa
- I-20 with a current travel signature (i.e., page 2 or 3 must have been signed by the Reves Center within the last 12 months)
- Current Students are recommended to have an unofficial transcript copy. Unofficial transcripts can be accessed via Banner Self-Service.
- 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.
- See the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for health-related entry requirements.
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., to return you need a travel signature on your I-20 from ISSP signed in the last 12 months. Travel signatures are on page 2 of the I-20.
Note: Travel signatures for students on OPT are valid for 6 months only.
To get a travel signature:
- Complete a Travel Signature Request
- An I-20 with a travel signature will be emailed to you (Note: SEVP is currently allowing schools to email I-20s to students).
If you have a problem at the U.S. border during regular office hours, call ISSP at (757) 221-3590. 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
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 ISSP that explains your eligibility to re-enter under this provision.
International Cruise Travel
When you travel on a "closed loop" cruise (beginning and ending the cruise at the same port in the U.S.), your I-94 record will not show your entry date after returning from the cruise. The lack of an entry date in this situation is not an I-94 error. Once you reenter the U.S. after the cruise, your I-94 will be revalidated with no change to your status or previous date of entry.
Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
These are U.S. territories and thus 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.