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Traveling for Students in F-1 or J-1 Status

It is always a good idea to check in with your immigration advisor prior to any travel outside the United States, but here are a few things to think about before you go.

Please note: Regardless of your visa category or status, you must always make sure your exit from the US is properly recorded by US Customs and Border Protection by removal of your I-94 by an airline agent on your departing flight, by a border officer at a land crossing, or by submitting the documentation on your own after returning home. Failure to have an exit properly recorded may result in denials of future visa applications or entries to the US regardless of visa category.

Things to consider prior to travel:

Is my passport valid? Your passport should be valid through six months into the future of the date you plan to re-enter the USA -- especially important if you may need to apply for a visa renewal. Students who need to get a new visa to return have had to renew passports that are not valid at least six months into the future – better to renew EARLY. Check with your home country embassy to ask whether it is better to renew your passport in the US or to wait until you get home. Only the issuing government can re-issue/renew your passport.

Do I need a visa for my destination? Depending on your country of origin you may need a visa to travel to other countries outside the US. Every country maintains a different set of agreements on who is required to have a visa, so it is important to check with the Embassy or Consulate ( another list is here) of the country you wish to visit to find out the rules governing visitors from your home country. If you do not obtain the visa you need, you may not be allowed to board your plane.

Do I need a transit visa for my trip? Although your final destination might not require a visa, any country you stop in on the way (even if just for a few hours or to change planes) may require you to obtain a transit visa. If you are considering several options for your route, this website from Delta Airlines* can give you a rough idea of which routes might require you to obtain a visa first . If you do not have the proper visa, you may not be able to board your flight!

Is my US visa still valid for my return? Is it the right category of visa for my current circumstances? US visas can only be issued outside the US, if you need a new visa to return, and are only going to Mexico, Canada, or a few islands in the Caribbean for less than 30 days, you may be eligible for a type of temporary extension (see "Automatic Revalidation" below).  If you are going elsewhere or for a longer period and need a new visa, consult with an international student advisor.

Do I have a current travel signature on my I-20 or DS-2019? The travel signature on yourI-20 should be within last 6 months. Exchange students should have valid signatures through the end of their programs.

Do I need to take proof of enrollment or other documents? Take proof of financial support, and other documents you may need to prove that you are maintaining status (transcripts, letter of enrollment, copies of your financial records from the College). Students may request a letter confirming valid F-1 or J-1 status and enrollment for purposes of travel (obtaining a visa and/or re-entry).  Sometimes this assists a smooth re-entry.  Request any documents you need several weeks before you plan to travel. Never pack the originals in your checked luggage -- always hand carry these documents. Carry copies of all documents in a separate bag in case you loose the originals.

What happens if an airline representative or a US Border agent does not take my I-94 departure record card? If you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean for 30 days or less and will be returning to the US to complete your academic program at Muskingum, you do not need to be concerned. However, if you are leaving the US for another destination or for a longer period of time, you are required to make sure that your exit is properly recorded. The US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) website has information on how to properly submit your I-94 card. You may also request assistance in this process from the Office of International Enrollment. If you choose to return your I-94 without assistance from the Office of International Enrollment, please send us a copy of your submission to CBP for your records here.

What can I bring back to the US with me? Check with the Customs office of your home government to find out what you need to to to register important items like laptop computers, so that you avoid paying duty on items you are bringing back and forth from school. This may be particularly important if you have bought a laptop or other computer in the US. See the web site of US Customs and Border Patrol and the Welcome to the United States brochure online for more information on what you may bring with you to the United States on your return.

Automatic Revalidation: Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean

If your visa has expired or will expire soon, but you are only going to Mexico, Canada, or the Caribbean for less than 30 days, you may be eligible for a type of temporary extension called "automatic revalidation."

  • If you will be visiting Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean Islands (except Cuba) and will stay less than 30 days, you will not need to get a new student visa to re-enter the US, even if the one in your passport is expired, as long as you are re-entering in the same visa category (F-1, J-1).
  • If you changed status while in the US (ex. L-2 to F-1), you will need to obtain an F-1 or J-1 visa stamp in your passport while outside of the US. This is can be risky, and you should speak with an Immigration Advisor before making an appointment with a consulate. If you apply for a US visa abroad and are denied, you will not be allowed to re-enter the US, under automatic revalidation, or even if your previous visa has not yet expired (that visa will be canceled).
  • Check with the Embassy or Consulate of the country you intend to visit to find out if you will need a visa to enter.
  • If you are planning on taking advantage of automatic revalidation, do NOT surrender your I-94 card on your departure.

Your I-20 or DS-2019 must have a current endorsement for travel before you go!

*Provided for informational purposes only. Muskingum College does not endorse any airlines or vouch for the information on any website not affiliated with the College.