Travel Out & Reentry: F-1 & J-1 Students

In order to return to the United States after a temporary absence, F-1 and J-1 students must present specific documents to the immigration inspector at the port of entry:

  • Form I-20 (F-1 students) or Form DS-2019 (J-1 students) with a travel signature from an IS Advisor
    • Prior to the program end date on the Form I-20/Form DS-2019, the travel signature must be less than one year old.
    • During F-1 Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), the Form I-20 travel signature must be less than 6 months old.
  • a valid and unexpired passport (valid six months into the future)
  • a valid and unexpired visa stamp (certain exceptions apply)
  • original financial documentation
  • a copy of the academic transcript (only for travel prior to graduation)
  • a copy of SEVIS I-901 Fee Payment
  • an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) Card (during the F-1 Post-Completion OPT period only). Travel is not recommended for students who applied for Post-Completion OPT until after OPT is approved by USCIS and the student has received the EAD card.
  • Employment Letter from the current employer (during the F-1 Post-Completion OPT and J-1 Post-Completion AT period only).

Please review the FAQs for students who plan to travel during Post-Completion OPT and travel during Post-Completion AT.

Prior to the Form I-20/Form DS-2019 end date, travel signatures are valid for one year. During Post-Completion and STEM OPT, travel signatures are valid for 6 months. To obtain a travel signature on your Form I-20 or Form DS-2019, please email your dedicated IS Advisor (new window).

With limited exceptions* students must present a valid, unexpired F-1 or J-1 visa each time they enter the United States. Students who need to renew their visa must do so at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroadVisa stamps are never issued or renewed in the United States. Generally allow 2-8 weeks for processing. Contact the consulate for an appointment prior to finalizing travel plans.

Students engaged in F-1 Post-Completion OPT or J-1 Post-Completion AT should be aware that it can be more difficult to renew a visa during the post-completion period.

Some visa applications may be subject to administrative processing due to the student’s country of national origin, citizenship, field of study, or at the discretion of the Consular Officer. Administrative processing commonly takes one month but may require as long as 4-6 months in rare cases.

Generally, passports must be valid for at least six months into the future at all times while in the United States. Students who must renew their passport may continue to use their visa in the old passport as long as the visa remains valid and has not expired. In this situation, students should travel with both passports: the expired passport containing the valid U.S. visa, and the valid passport, which does not contain a visa stamp.

*Exceptions to the visa requirement: The most common exception to the visa requirement is made for Canadian citizens and certain landed Canadian immigrants. Please see the U.S. Embassy’s website for more information. Other notable exceptions currently include citizens of the Freely Associated States or FAS (Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and the Republic of Palau) who are in direct transit from the FAS to the United States, citizens of Bermuda, citizens of British Overseas Territories, Bahamian nationals, and British subjects residing in the Bahamas who complete immigration inspection at Freeport or Nassau.

For students who hold an expired F-1 or J-1 visa, under certain conditions, travel to Canada, Mexico and Neighboring Islands may not require visa renewal (see section below).

  • The immigration officer should inspect the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 and return it to the student.
  • The immigration officer should inspect the passport with the F-1 or J-1 visa and return the passport to the student.
  • The immigration officer may or may not request to see the other documents listed above.

Review the OGS Know Your Rights at the Airport (PDF) handout prior to reentering the United States.

After each U.S. entry, the student should download the I-94 Record to verify that the entry was properly recorded electronically and to print/save a copy for personal records.

During entry procedures, students should answer all questions clearly. Omission or misrepresentation of information can result in denial of entry. OGS is always available to assist if a student encounters serious difficulty at the U.S. border:

Monday – Friday between 9am – 5pm: Call OGS at (202) 687-5867

After Hours, Weekends, and Holidays: Call the Georgetown University Police Department (GUPD) at (202) 687-4343. GUPD will contact OGS to assist.

During the grace period following program completion, any departure from the United States is treated as final. F-1 or J-1 students and F-2 or J-2 dependents who depart the United States (including cruises) will not be permitted to reenter the United States in F-1/F-2 or J-1/J-2 status. A tourist visa or other valid status will be required to reenter the United States.

Domestic travel within the United States is unrestricted during the grace period.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Biometric Identity Management provides biometric identification services that help federal, state and local government officials accurately identify the people they encounter and determine whether those people pose a risk to the United States. Upon entry to the United States, all visitors are subject to biometric identification through digital photographs and fingerprints.

F and J visa holders: the data collected will be forwarded to SEVIS (Student and Exchange Visitor Information System), confirming that the person has entered or exited the United States. For more information, please see the OBIM website.

Travel to Canada, Mexico and neighboring islands (except Cuba) is handled somewhat differently than travel to other countries.

The automatic visa revalidation provision allows students whose F-1 or J-1 visa has expired to briefly visit Canada, Mexico, 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 the Caribbean Sea, except Cuba and return to the United States without applying for a new visa at a U.S. consulate. The following rules apply to automatic visa revalidation:

  • The visit must not exceed 30 days and may be spent only in Canada and Mexico or adjacent islands – except Cuba.
  • The F-1 or J-1 student must not be a citizen of a country that the Department of State has determined to be a sponsor of terrorism.
  • The student must have a valid Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 with a valid travel signature.
  • The student must have a valid passport (valid six months into the future).
  • The student must have maintained status while in the United States and intend to resume that status upon returning to the United States.
  • The student must present the most recent I-94 record of entry upon reentry to the United States.

Many students will need tourist visas to enter Canada, Mexico*, and neighboring islands. Students should check entry visa requirements with the embassy of the country they intend to visit before making travel arrangements. A valid travel signature on the Form I-20 or Form DS-2019 is required to apply for a visa to enter these countries.

*When traveling to Mexico for stays of less than 30 days on an expired F-1 visa, automatic revalidation still applies for reentry to the United States. However, all students (including OPT/STEM OPT) with an expired F-1 visa (no matter their country of origin) now require a Mexican visa to enter Mexico.

NOTE: Students who apply for a visa at a U.S. consulate in Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands cannot use the automatic visa revalidation to return to the United States if the visa is denied. Federal regulations prohibit those who have been denied a visa at one of the U.S. consulates in Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands from returning to the United States. Those whose visa applications are denied must return to their home country and apply for a new visa at the U.S. consulate in the home country prior to returning to the United States. For more information, please read about applying for a visa and how to make an appointment for a visa interview in Canada or Mexico.

Please visit the U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement Website for additional information on Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs).