Your F-1 immigration status makes it easy for you to take vacations and short trips abroad, outside of the US! Make sure to plan ahead for smooth travels. Don’t forget your I-20 travel signature!
- Passport – check your passport to make sure it is valid. You can’t travel at all without a valid passport!
- Visa Stamp – check your F-1 visa stamp in your passport to make sure it will still be valid when you are ready to return to the US. If you need to renew your visa, please read more below.
- I-20: Your I-20 needs to be valid, and have an updated travel signature on it. Look for the travel signature at the bottom of the second page – it’s valid for one year, unless you are working on OPT!
- Optional – some students prefer to carry an unofficial transcript, just in case they are asked to prove their status as a student in the US. This would usually only happen if you had to go through secondary inspection.
- Travelling somewhere that isn’t your home country? Make sure you have any necessary entry documents, such as a visa to that country.
- While it is not required, immigration authorities are recommending that you carry a copy of your SEVIS fee receipt (also called I-901, you can print a copy here); proof of admission to UMBC; and financial documents
Travelling during OPT work authorization? You need these documents, in addition to those listed above, if you are returning to the US AFTER your OPT start date:
- Valid EAD card
- Proof of employment – a job offer letter or letter of employment verification from your employer
- I-20 updated with your employer information on the third page, AND a travel signature that will be valid on your return. Travel signatures during OPT are only valid for 6 months!!
Please see our website specific to travel and visa renewal during OPT here for more information.
I-515 Temporary Entry
If you are missing documents when you try to enter the US, the CBP Officer can choose to refuse you entry to the US, or give you an I-515 document allowing you a temporary stay in the US, during which time you will need to provide the missing documents. The I-515 form will indicate exactly what information you need to provide, what the deadline is to provide it, and how to submit it. You are only allowed in the US for 30 days with an I-515, so will need to address the issue quickly. After you submit the required documents, you will receive a new I–94 that will grant you the typical length of time in the US.
Your visa is what allows you to enter the US, along with your I-20 and passport. If your visa is expired and you are outside of the US, you must visit a US Embassy to get a new F-1 visa before returning to the US.
To renew your visa, you will actually apply for a new one, following the same process as the first time you applied for an F-1 visa – click here for detailed directions. The process to renew a visa is no different than applying for a visa the first time, though the first visa should be the toughest and visa applications after the first one are typically easier since you have already convinced the consular officers of your intentions in the US during your first visa interview.
*Please be sure to carry a transcript from UMBC and any other school you have attended since your last visa application, to show that you have been enrolled as required during your time in the US in F-1 status.
Some countries do have US Embassies that can waive the visa interview if you are a returning student. You still need to apply for a visa stamp, but do not have to sit for another interview. Please check your specific embassy’s website to see if this is an option at the Embassy where you plan to apply for a visa. This is typically called a “Visa Interview Waiver.”
Please remember that you do not need a valid visa to remain the US – your visa only allows you to enter the US. While you are here, your I-20 maintains your immigration status, not your visa.
Where to apply for a new F-1 visa
Most students can apply for a new F-1 visa at any US Embassy around the world, and are not limited to the Embassies in their own country. It’s best to make sure the Embassy you are considering visiting accepts applications of “third party nationals” – individuals whose country of citizenship is not the US, and not the country they are visiting for the visa interview. For example, students will sometimes travel to Canada to apply for a new visa if this fits their situation.
For a complete list of US Embassy locations around the world, click here.
Please note, individuals from countries considered by the US government to be State Sponsors of Terrorism may be limited in where they can apply.
It is not possible to apply for a US visa from within the US.
Short trips to Canada, Mexico or some Caribbean Islands with an expired F-1 visa – “Automatic Visa Revalidation”
Students who have a valid I-20 and are in good F-1 status, but whose visa has expired, are able to take short trips (less than 30 days) to countries neighboring the US – to Canada, Mexico and some Caribbean Islands. Please request a letter from the IES office if you plan to use this method of travel, as sometimes the border guards don’t recall this exception and a letter that cites this regulation will help make sure you have a smooth return to the US.
Please note this option is unfortunately not available for students from countries considered by the US government to be State Sponsors of Terrorism.
Please read more about Automatic Visa Revalidation, and see the list of eligible destinations, here.
Please also note this rule is only for re-entry to the US, and does not play a role in allowing you to enter the country you plan to visit. You will need to make sure you understand and comply with the requirements for a person from your country to enter the country you plan to visit.