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.
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.
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.