The Center for Global Learning

Travel Requirements

As an F-1 student, you are generally allowed to travel outside the United States and re-enter, provided you have the necessary travel documents and maintain your F-1 status. Carry these documents when traveling internationally in order to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status:

  • Valid Passport: Ensure that your passport is valid for at least six months into the future at the time of your planned re-entry to the United States.
  • Valid F-1 Visa: Check the expiration date on your F-1 visa. If your visa has expired, you will need to apply for a new one at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad before re-entering the United States. However, if you are traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the adjacent islands for less than 30 days, and your visa has expired but you still have a valid I-20, you may be eligible for automatic visa revalidation.
  • Valid Form I-20 with Travel Signature: Obtain a travel signature on your Form I-20 from a designated school official (DSO) before you depart the United States. The travel signature is valid for one year for most F-1 students, but it’s always best to confirm the specific requirements with your DSO.
  • SEVIS Fee Payment Confirmation: Keep a copy of your SEVIS fee payment confirmation as proof of payment. (Click on Check I-901 status)

In addition, we strongly recommend carrying proof that you are a current student: 

  • Current Saint Peter’s University ID card.

Printed proof of most current semester of enrollment to verify full-time student status. Per the Enrollment Services website, “An Enrollment Verification statement includes all terms attended, current program, anticipated completion date and degree awarded. There is no fee for this service. To request a statement Login to Spirit Online and use the “Enrollment Verification” link. There is generally a turnaround period of three business days for Enrollment Verifications. During peak registration periods, additional time may be required to process your request.

Things to Keep in Mind Before Traveling

Maintain F-1 Status: Ensure that you continue to meet the requirements for maintaining your F-1 status while traveling. This includes maintaining full-time enrollment, staying enrolled at the designated school, and complying with any employment regulations.

Check Travel Advisories: Before traveling, check for any travel advisories or restrictions that may be in place for your destination or transit countries. Stay informed about any potential travel restrictions or changes to entry requirements.

Re-entry to the United States: Upon your return to the United States, present your passport, Form I-20, and any other required documents to the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry. Be prepared to answer questions about your purpose of travel, studies, and future plans.

It's important to note that individual circumstances can vary, so it's advisable to consult with the CGL before making any travel plans. We can provide specific guidance based on your situation and ensure that you have the necessary documents and information for a smooth re-entry into the United States.

REQUESTING A TRAVEL SIGNATURE

The average processing time is four business days. Plan accordingly.

Step 1. Make sure that your current U.S. address is listed in SPIRIT Online. You are required to update your address within ten days of any change.

Step 2. Log into the International Student Portal

Step 3. Click on the Student Request Center and then Request Travel Signature. To complete the request successfully, you will need:

  • The dates you plan to depart and enter the U.S.
  • Photo, screenshot or pdf of your most recent I-94 record showing F-1 and D/S
  • Post OPT and STEM OPT Extension Students only: Photo or screenshot of the front and back of your Employment Authorization Document (EAD or “OPT card”)

Step 4. Your record is reviewed by the PDSO or DSO.

Step 5. The PDSO or DSO uploads an updated I-20 with the travel signature to the international student portal.

Step 6. You review and print the I-20. Be sure to notify the CGL immediately if there are any errors on the form

Travel While on Post-Completion Practical Training

As an F-1 student on Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), you are generally allowed to travel outside of the United States. Carry these documents when traveling internationally in order to re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status:

  • Valid Visa: You will need a valid F-1 visa stamp in your passport to re-enter the United States, unless you qualify for automatic visa revalidation (which allows for certain travel to neighboring countries).
  • Valid Passport: Ensure that you have a valid passport with at least six months of validity beyond your intended return date.
  • Valid I-20: Carry your current Form I-20 endorsed for travel by your designated school official (DSO). The travel endorsement on your I-20 should be no older than six months at the time of your re-entry into the United States.
  • Valid Employment Authorization Document (EAD): Your EAD card serves as proof of your employment authorization during OPT. It is important to have a valid and unexpired EAD card with you when you travel. If you have applied for the EAD, but it has not arrived prior to reentering the U.S., be sure to carry a copy of the OPT application receipt notice.
  • Job and Re-entry: If you have secured employment related to your field of study, it is advisable to carry documentation related to your job offer or employment, such as an offer letter or employment contract. This documentation can help demonstrate your intention to return to the United States for employment purposes.

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND BEFORE TRAVELING

Maintaining F-1 Status: Ensure that you continue to maintain your F-1 student status while on OPT, even when traveling. This includes maintaining a valid passport, valid visa, maintaining a job or actively seeking employment related to your field of study, and adhering to reporting requirements.

Check Travel Restrictions and Entry Requirements: Stay informed about any travel restrictions, entry requirements, or COVID-19 related guidelines that may be in place. Check the websites of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most up-to-date information.

It's important to consult with the CGL before traveling to ensure that you have all the necessary documents and meet the requirements for travel while on OPT. We can provide specific guidance based on your individual circumstances and help ensure a smooth travel experience.

F-1 Visa Renewal

Renewing an F-1 visa involves applying for a new visa stamp at a U.S. embassy or consulate outside of the United States. Here's an overview of the F-1 visa renewal process:

STEP 1: Check Visa Renewal Eligibility. Determine if you are eligible to renew your F-1 visa. Generally, you are eligible for visa renewal if your previous visa has expired, you have maintained your student status, and you plan to continue your studies in the United States.

STEP 2: Review U.S. Embassy/Consulate Guidelines. Visit the website of the U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply for the visa renewal. Review their specific guidelines, procedures, and requirements for visa renewal applications. Each embassy/consulate may have slightly different processes, so it's important to check their website for accurate information.

STEP 3: Complete the DS-160 Form. The DS-160 is the online Nonimmigrant Visa Application form. Complete this form accurately and truthfully, providing the required information about your personal details, education, and travel plans.

STEP 4: Pay the Visa Application Fee. Pay the visa application fee, which is typically non-refundable and required for visa processing. The fee amount can vary depending on the country and type of visa being applied for. Check the U.S. embassy/consulate website for the exact fee and acceptable payment methods.

STEP 5: Schedule Visa Interview. Once you have completed the DS-160 form and paid the visa application fee, schedule an appointment for a visa interview at the U.S. embassy or consulate. Visa interview wait times can vary, so it's advisable to schedule your appointment well in advance.

STEP 6: Gather Required Documentation. Prepare the necessary documents for your visa renewal application. These typically include:

  • Valid passport: Ensure that your passport has at least six months of validity beyond your intended period of stay in the United States.
  • Form I-20: Have your current and valid Form I-20 issued by SPU and signed by a Designated School Official.
  • SEVIS Fee Payment Receipt: Keep a copy of the receipt showing that you have paid the SEVIS fee.
  • Financial Documentation: Provide evidence of sufficient financial resources to support your education and living expenses in the United States.
  • Academic Documentation: Carry transcripts, diplomas, or other educational records that demonstrate your academic progress and enrollment in a U.S. educational institution.
  • Visa Renewal Appointment Confirmation: Bring a printed copy of the appointment confirmation for your visa interview.

STEP 7: Attend Visa Interview. Attend the visa interview at the scheduled time and date. The consular officer will review your application, ask you questions about your studies and plans, and assess your eligibility for visa renewal. Be prepared to provide clear and concise answers and present your supporting documents, if requested.

STEP 8: Visa Approval or Denial. After the visa interview, the consular officer will determine whether to approve or deny your visa renewal application. If approved, you will receive a new F-1 visa stamp in your passport. If denied, the officer will provide reasons for the denial.

It's important to note that the visa renewal process can vary depending on the specific circumstances and the policies of the U.S. embassy/consulate where you apply. It's recommended to consult the website of the specific embassy/consulate and follow their instructions for accurate and up-to-date information regarding F-1 visa renewal.

Automatic Visa Revalidation

Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR) is a provision that allows certain nonimmigrants, including F-1 students, to re-enter the United States with an expired visa stamp under specific circumstances.

Eligibility

To be eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation, you must meet the following criteria:

  • You are traveling to a contiguous territory, which includes Canada and Mexico, or to adjacent islands, except Cuba. Adjacent islands include Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
  • You possess a valid passport.
  • You have an expired F-1 visa stamp.
  • Your absence from the United States is less than 30 days.
  • You have maintained valid F-1 status and have the required documents, such as a valid Form I-20 and an unexpired Employment Authorization Document (EAD) if applicable.

Re-entry Process

When returning to the United States, present the following documents to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry:

  • Valid passport.
  • Expired F-1 visa stamp
  • Valid Form I-20 endorsed for travel by your designated school official (DSO).
  • Supporting documents such as a valid I-94 record, evidence of maintaining F-1 status, and evidence of your enrollment or employment.

Exceptions and Limitations

It's important to be aware of the following exceptions and limitations:

  • Automatic Visa Revalidation does not apply if you have traveled to a country other than Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands during your trip.
  • Automatic Visa Revalidation does not apply if you applied for a new visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate during your trip.
  • Automatic Visa Revalidation is not available for individuals who fall under certain categories, such as individuals from state sponsors of terrorism or individuals with certain types of visas, such as C, D, K, and S visas.

NOTE: While Automatic Visa Revalidation is generally a convenient option for re-entering the United States with an expired visa, there is still a risk of denial or complications at the port of entry. It is advisable to consult with the CGL before traveling and review the specific requirements and any travel advisories or restrictions that may be in place.

Important Points to Remember

  • Plan ahead when possible. For example, do you know when your entry visa expires? Also, avoid a longer processing time for a travel signature by requesting signatures well before federal/school holidays or university closures.
  • Not planning to enroll at or cannot enroll at Saint Peter’s University next term? Schedule an appointment to discuss your options and required next steps with a Center for Global Learning (CGL) staff member immediately.
  • You may not be allowed to or able to access your mobile device or laptop to access a digital copy of your documents when going through the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) inspection. Paper documents carried in your carry-on luggage or bag are best.
  • Make sure that your name, citizenship country, and date of birth are correct on your current I-20. If you need to update your citizenship country, send a brief explanation and a copy of your updated passport to iss@saintpeters.edu.  Dual-country nationals must use the passport for the country listed on the I-20.
  • Your social media posts and group affiliations matter. Government officials use Google, TikTok, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other things, too. Do not participate in activities that are contrary to what you are permitted to do under current F-1 regulations.
  • Know Your Rights: Enforcement at the Airport [Source: ACLU]
  • The U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are the folks who check your documents when you enter the U.S. The CBP is able to patrol areas that are within 100 miles of the U.S. border. This means you may need your F-1/F-2 travel documents even if you are not planning to cross a U.S. border. [Source: ACLU’s Know Your Rights: 100-Mile Border Zone]

Remember, maintaining your F-1 status, carrying the necessary documents, and adhering to the travel requirements are crucial when utilizing Automatic Visa Revalidation. It's always recommended to consult with the CGL for personalized guidance based on your specific circumstances before making any travel plans.