Travel and Re-Entry to the U.S.

The U.S. government uses the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to manage information about international students in the United States. All international students must have a SEVIS-generated, valid Form I-20 to apply for an F-1 visa, to enter the U.S. to attend school, or to remain in the U.S. as an F-1 student.

If you travel out of the U.S. while you are in F-1 status, you will need the following documents to re-enter the United States.

  • SEVIS Form I-20 with a valid travel signature on page 2 of the Form I-20.
    • Degree-seeking students: Travel signatures are valid for 12 months from the date of issue. The travel signature must be valid when you re-enter the U.S. Request a travel signature through iDartmouth
    • Students on approved post-completion OPT/STEM OPT: Travel signatures are valid for 6 months from the date of issue. The travel signature must be valid when you re-enter the U.S. - Request a travel signature through iDartmouth
  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp (unless you are re-entering from Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands after a trip of less than 30 days).
  • If you are a student in a period of post-completion OPT or STEM OPT, you will also need to have:
    • Employment Authorization Document (ie. "EAD card")
    • Evidence of employment in your field of study

Automatic Revalidation

After initial entry to the U.S., nonimmigrants who have an expired visa in their passport may re-enter the U.S. without obtaining a new visa if their travel was solely to the contiguous countries of Canada and Mexico.  F and J visa holders may also be able to benefit from Automatic Revalidation after travel to the Caribbean Islands (excluding Cuba).  Travel must be for a period of fewer than 30 days. This procedure is known as Automatic Revalidation of the U.S. visa.

To take advantage of Automatic Revalidation, travelers must have, in addition to the documents for re-entry stated above, a copy of their electronic I-94 record (or white I-94 card, if you have one).

  • If you are a citizen of Cuba, Iran, Sudan, or Syria, you are not eligible for automatic revalidation of your expired non-immigrant visa.
  • If you have applied for a new visa while out of the country, you may not re-enter the U.S. until the new visa is issued, even if your old visa is still valid.
  • Is in possession of an F student visa or J exchange visitor visa and has traveled to Cuba
  • Depending on your country of citizenship, you may be required to have an entry visa for Canada, Mexico or any of the other Caribbean nations in order to enter those countries. Your U.S. visa does not automatically grant entry into these other contiguous countries. 

You can find more information on Automatic Revalidation on the U.S. Department of State website.

Non-Immigrant Intent

In all cases, F visa applicants must be able to prove non-immigrant intent to the U.S. consular officer. This means you need to be able to convince the consular officer that you will be returning to your home country at the end of your F academic program. You can do this by showing evidence of strong family and economic ties to your home country. This is even more important if you are applying for a visa after you have graduated, and are working in the U.S. on post-graduation OPT or STEM OPT.

Documents for Visa Application

Please double-check with the consulate where you will be applying to verify the required application documents and procedures.

Non-immigrant visa applicants are normally required to submit the following documentation to the U.S. consulate abroad:

  • Valid passport
  • Current passport-size photographs
  • Valid SEVIS Form I-20 for F-1 visa applicants
  • Proof of payment of SEVIS fee: This is required if it is a first time F-1 visa application, or the application is based on a new Form I-20 following termination of visa and SEVIS record. F-1 visa renewal applications do not require repayment of the SEVIS fee.
  • Proof of financial support
  • Proof of admission to program of study
  • Proof of non-immigrant intent (evidenced by strong ties to home country)
  • Non-immigrant visa application forms, available from the U.S. consulate

It is sometimes also advisable for continuing students to submit copies of transcripts.