Travel While in F-1 Status
The following information will help you plan your trips within the U.S. and outside of the U.S.
Traveling in the U.S.
As an F-1 student it is important to have your immigration documents with you while you travel. Your immigration documents include your passport, visa, I-94 card, visa document (I-20), EAD card [if applicable], as well as any other information that can verify your status in the U.S. When traveling within the U.S. a travel signature is not required on your documents from the Office of International Center.
Traveling Outside of the U.S.
Completing a Leave of Absence Form (LOA Form)
Each time you travel out of the U.S., you will need to complete the Leave of Absence form. This form requires you to provide information about your visa document, passport, I-94 card, and specific travel plans [location and dates of your travel]. Providing this form to our office helps us to monitor the length of time you will travel as well as have detailed information on file should it be needed.
Receiving a Travel Signature
A travel signature is valid for 1 year or only 6 months if you are on post-completion F-1 OPT. To request a travel signature, you must visit the Office of International Center with a completed LOA Form, your passport, visa, visa document [I-20], and I-94 card. Please call 949-214-3473 to schedule an appointment to meet with a PDSO/DSO.
Applying for a Visa
If your visa has expired or you have changed visa status while in the U.S., you must obtain a new visa before your re-entry to the U.S. It is recommended that you apply for a visa in your country of permanent residence. Contact the U.S. Embassy where you will apply for a visa for information about visa appointments, document requirements, and application processing times.
If you are applying for a new visa, it is important to be prepared for possible delays due to security clearance. A special clearance is mandatory in cases of name-check based-hits, nationality-based requirements, or an individual's background and/or purpose for being in the United States. There are several layers of security clearances and several agencies involved. The International Center cannot assist with this process.
Automatic Visa Re-validation
For travel to Mexico, Canada, or adjacent islands*, you may be eligible to travel and re-enter even if your visa has expired or if your visa category has changed. Your visa will be considered valid and in current status for re-entry to the U.S.
- Valid I-94 Card [front and back]. Do not give this up when leaving the U.S.
- Endorsed I-20 for travel, or H-1B Approval Notice
- Travel is less than 30 days to Canada, Mexico, or adjacent islands*
- Have maintained and intend to maintain non-immigrant status
- Has not applied for a new visa during trip
- Has never had a visa cancelled under INA 222[g]
- You are not an inadmissible as non-immigrant under INA 212
- Not a citizen of a state sponsor of terrorism**
* Adjacent Islands: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, 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 [Cuba is not included].
**State Sponsor of Terrorism currently includes: North Korea, Cuba, Iran, Sudan, and Syria
Traveling While on OPT
Under certain conditions, it is permissible to travel while on OPT.
If you have applied for OPT and your application is still pending, you may leave and re-enter the U.S. with a valid passport, visa, I-797 receipt notice, and I-20.
Once your OPT is approved, you must have a job in order to re-enter the United States. In addition to a valid passport, visa, I-20, and EAD (Employment Authorization Document), please have a letter from your employer verifying that you will resume employment upon your return, as well as your dates of employment and salary.
If you have been approved for OPT but are not employed, it is not advisable that you travel. News releases from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) indicate that if an F-1 student on OPT leaves the U.S. and is not employed, the OPT automatically ends and the student may not re-enter. Please see the link below for more information.