Travel Guidance for F-1 and J-1 Students

1. TRAVEL DOCUMENTS

Always hand-carry your documents. Make certain that you have all the required documents: 

A. Passport that is valid for at least 6 months in the future:
NOTE for Dual or Multiple Passports Travelers
: Please only use the passport listed on your I-20 or DS-2019 for entry to the U.S. The I-20/DS-2019 can only list one country of citizenship and it is the same passport which will hold the F-1 or J-1 student visa. Booking travel should also be done using the same passport. Presenting or using a different passport can cause issues with your U.S. immigration & other U.S. government records.

B. Unexpired F-1/J-1 visa stamp in your passport (Canadian citizens are exempt):
NOTE: If your passport has expired, but your F-1/J-1 visa is still valid, you can travel to the U.S. with two passports as long as the visa stamp is not damaged. Both passports (the valid and the expired one with the visa) must be from the same country. When you arrive at the U.S. port-of-entry, the immigration officers will check your visa in the old passport and will stamp your new passport with an I-94 admission stamp along with the annotation "VIOPP" (visa in other passport).  

C. Valid I-20/DS-2019 with a current travel signature:
Travel signatures are valid for reentry to the U.S. for one year from the date of the last signature. You may stop by the Davis IC during business hours to obtain a travel signature on the spot. In instances when it is necessary to print a new I-20 or DS-2019, the process requires one (1) business day.

D. Evidence of Financial Resources:
Graduate Students — Depending on what your source of funding is, you should have one, or the combination, of a following documents: Princeton Re-enrollment Reply (or, if you are a first year student, Princeton Admission Reply, a letter from your department outlining support, outside fellowship or scholarship letter, bank statement, etc.

Undergraduate Students — Depending on what your source of funding is, you should have one, or a combination, of the following documents: Princeton Financial Award letter, outside scholarship letter, bank statement, etc.

E. Evidence of student status, such as your current transcript;

2. APPLYING FOR A NEW F-1 OR J-1 VISA

Students with expired F-1/J-1 visas stamps need to apply for a new visa before returning to the U.S. Canadian citizens are exempt from the U.S. visa stamp requirement. Exact procedures at U.S. Embassies/Consulates vary.   Information about individual Embassies/Consulates (processing times, fees, requirements, etc.) can be found at the U.S. Department of State website. We don't recommend that students apply for new visas during the academic year.

For your visa application, at the minimum, you will need: 
1. Valid SEVIS I-20/DS-2019 with a current travel signature;   
2. Evidence of Financial Resources (see above);
3. Evidence of student status, such as your current transcript; 
4. Valid Passport.

NOTE: An F-1/J-1 visa stamp cannot be obtained from within the United States. Often the terms "status" and "visa" are misused and misunderstood. The U.S. entry visa is the permission to enter the country. It is issued by a U.S. Embassy/Consulate abroad. The visa must only be valid for an F-1/J-1 student to enter the U.S. What defines a student's legal presence in the U.S. is the "status" conferred on him/her at the time of immigration inspection at the port of entry. Therefore, it is possible (and quite common) to be legally in the U.S. in F-1/J-1 status and to have an expired visa F-1/J-1 stamp in the passport. 

3. IMPORTANT VISA APPLICATION TIPS:

  • Allow time for visa processing. Check with the U.S. Embassy/Consulate about their visa application procedures. The procedures may have changed from the last time you applied for a visa.
  • Have all the proper documentation the first time.
  • It’s best to apply for the visa in your home country. You should plan for visa application processing delays if applying in another country.
  • Be ready to show ties to your home country. Visa officers need to see that your intent is to return to your home country at the end of your studies. F and J visas are non-immigrant visas.
  • Be prepared for delays due to security clearance processing by the Department of State. If subject to a security clearance, visa issuance may be delayed indefinitely. Please consult with your international student advisor about additional documentation you may need to take with you.  

4. ADMINISTRATIVE PROCESSING DELAYS (SECURITY CLEARANCE)

Some visa applications require further administrative processing, which takes additional time after the visa applicant's interview by a consular officer. Administrative processing may be applied to students for any of the following reasons:

  • Due to the country of origin;
  • Due to the applicant's name being on a U.S. Government watch list or sharing the same name with someone who is on that list;
  • Doing research in a field of study that is considered "sensitive" by the U.S. Government;
  • Concerns about technology transfer, especially for students from countries considered to possess nuclear capability, etc.

All students who need to apply for a new visa should discuss their travel plans with their Davis IC advisor. The advisor will determine if any additional documentation (for example, a letter from an academic advisor describing the nature of research) is needed, and whether the timing for travel is right.

You will be informed by the consular officer if further administrative processing is necessary for your application. The time required for security clearances can vary from one week to several weeks or even longer.   The amount of processing time depends on individual circumstances. Your visa will not be issued until the clearance is received. Once a visa application is subjected to security clearance, there is not much you can do, except to inform the Davis IC at puvisa@princeton.edu and wait. Security clearances cannot  be expedited by Princeton University nor by U.S. Congressional intervention.

5. VISA APPLICATIONS BASED ON SAME-SEX MARRIAGE

U.S. Embassies/Consulates adjudicate visa applications that are based on a same-sex marriage in the same way that they adjudicate applications for opposite gender spouses. Please reference the specific guidance on the visa category for which you are applying for more details on documentation required for derivative spouses. For more information, please see the Department of State U.S. Visas for Same-Sex Spouses FAQ's.  

6. RETURNING TO THE U.S. FROM CANADA, MEXICO, OR THE ADJACENT ISLANDS (EXCEPT CUBA)

Most F-1/J-1 students traveling to Canada, Mexico and islands adjacent to the United States for a visit of  30 days or less do not need to obtain a new F-1/J-1 entry visa to re-enter the U.S. This process is known as Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR). NOTE: Students from Cuba, Iran, Syria, and Sudan, are NOT eligible for AVR and require a valid visa stamp with each re-entry into the U.S.   

You can benefit from AVR provided that: 

  • You are not a national of the country from which you are re-entering the U.S.
  • You are currently in F-1/J-1 student status.
  • You have been in lawful immigration status while in the U.S.
  • You have been in Canada, Mexico, or the Adjacent Islands for 30 days or less.
  • If you still have the I-94 paper card,  you should NOT surrender the I-94 when leaving the U.S. for a trip to Canada, Mexico, and the Adjacent Islands.
  • You present a valid I-20/DS-2019 with a current travel signature.
  • You present an unexpired passport with a U.S. nonimmigrant visa stamp (valid or expired).

NOTE: If you apply for a visa at a U.S. Embassy/ Consulate while in Canada, Mexico or an adjacent island, you must wait until the visa is granted to be readmitted to the U.S. If the visa is not granted, you will not be readmitted to the U.S. from Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands until you have secured a new visa. 
IMPORTANT:  Be sure to check whether you need an entry visa to travel to one of these countries. Also check if you need a transit visa if you will be stopping in one of these countries for airline transit purposes only.

7. TRAVELING DOMESTICALLY (INCLUDING PUERTO RICO AND THE U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS)

You must carry your passport and your I-20/DS-2019 for all domestic travel, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 

Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands are U.S. territories and you do not need to obtain a visa if you plan to travel there. You also don't need to have a valid F-1/J-1 visa to return to the continental U.S. from either territory.

8. TRAVEL INSTRUCTIONS FOR CANADIAN CITIZENS

Canadian citizens are exempt from visa requirements, but are required to present a valid passport, valid I-20/DS-2019 with a current travel signature, financial documents, and proof of student status. Canadian landed immigrants are NOT exempt from visa requirements.

9. OBIM PROGRAM - DHS BIOMETRICS INDENTIFICATION SERVICES

The Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) provides identification services that involve the collections of biometrics - digital fingerprints and a photograph - from international travelers, including F-1 students, at U.S. visa-issuing posts and ports of entry. When you arrive at the port of entry the immigration officer will use an inkless digital scanner to scan your fingerprints. The officer will also take your digital photograph. More information about the OBIM program procedures can be found at  the DHS website.

10. TRAVEL FOR F-1 STUDENTS ON OPTIONAL PRACTICAL TRAINING (OPT) AND J-1 STUDENTS ON ACADEMIC TRAINING (AT)

F-1 students on Optional Practical Training (OPT) and J-1 students on Academic Training (AT) need the following documents to re-enter the U.S.:

  • Valid I-20/DS-2019 with a travel signature.
    NOTE: For F-1 students, travel signatures should not be older than 6 months from the date you intend to travel.
  • Valid F-1/J-1 visa (except for travels to Canada, Mexico, and the Adjacent Islands. Please see item 6 for more information).
  • Proof of work authorization (EAD: Employment Authorization Document for F-1 students or an Academic Training letter issued by the Davis International Center for J-1 students).
  • Employment letter stating the job title, job description, beginning/end dates, and salary. 

We strongly recommend that you do not travel until you have the approved EAD card in hand.  If you must travel while your EAD card is pending, be advised that you do so at your own risk.  If you don't have one or more documents from the list above, please do not make any arrangements to travel abroad before you discuss your plans and options with your international student advisor in the Davis IC.

11. TRAVELING OUTSIDE THE U.S. DURING OPT CAP-GAP EMPLOYMENT

F-1 students must have a valid EAD card, along with a valid passport, F-1 visa, signed I-20 with Cap-Gap notation and employment letter, to re-enter the U.S. during the OPT Cap-Gap extension. If your OPT EAD card has expired, you will not be eligible to re-enter the U.S. during the cap-gap extension period.

Traveling abroad during this time, even if your EAD card is still valid, may interfere with the processing of your H1B petition. Make sure that you consult with your employer and/or immigration attorney regarding any travel abroad during this time.  More information regarding travel on Cap-Gap is available here.

12. FORM I-515A - ENTERING THE U.S. WITHOUT REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION

If you arrive at the U.S. port of entry without all of your required documents or with an unsigned I-20/DS-2019, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer may deny your entry into the U.S. As an alternative, the officer has discretion to issue you a Form I-515A, which allows you temporary entry into the U.S. for 30 days. The I-515A form is a checklist that describes exactly what is missing or incomplete and tells you what you must do. You have 30 days from the date of entry into the U.S. to submit your correct paperwork to the SEVP I-515A processing team. If you receive this form, report to the Davis IC immediately so that we can issue a new I-20 or sign your existing I-20 and mail it to SEVP in Washington, D.C. SEVP will process your documents and return them to Davis IC.

To avoid getting the I-515A, make sure to hand-carry the required paperwork when you arrive at the U.S. port of entry. Do not put them in your checked baggage because you will not receive your baggage until you are admitted into the U.S. by a port of entry officer.

13. TRAVELING TO OTHER COUNTRIES

Before traveling to any country other than your home country, you must check with an Embassy/Consulate of the country you plan to visit to inquire about specific visa and entry procedures. Be sure to check whether you will need a transit visa even if you are only stopping in another country for airline transit purposes.

14. FAILURE TO TURN IN I-94 CARD UPON DEPARTURE FROM U.S. (For those who still have I-94 cards)

If you returned home without surrendering your paper I-94 Arrival-Departure card (small white card stamped into your passport), it is possible that your departure from the U.S. was not recorded properly. For more information on how to handle this, please consult the  U.S. Customs and Border Protection website.
Exceptions Include:

1. You no longer have a paper I-94 form because you re-entered the U.S. after April 2013;
2. You still have a paper I-94 card but you travelled to Canada, Mexico or the Adjacent Islands.

If you have an emergency and need immediate assistance outside of regular office hours, Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., please call Public Safety at:
Non-emergencies (609) 258-1000
Emergencies (609) 258-3333