Visits Abroad and Re-entry in F-1 Status

 

Whenever F-1 students wish to leave the United States temporarily and return to continue studies at the institution in which they are enrolled, they must secure the necessary documents to:
  • Permit entry to another country: and
  • Permit re-entry to the United States.

Entry into another country

Like the United States, other countries have rules and restrictions on who can enter their country, and how. F-1 students who wish to visit their country of citizenship or permanent residence generally will be allowed to enter that country. For travel into any country other than the home country, students must check with the Embassy of the country they would like to visit to inquire about specific entry procedures.
The U.S. State Department publishes Publication, "Foreign Consular Offices in the United States," which contains a complete list of foreign consular offices, their addresses, and telephone numbers.

Entry into Canada and Mexico

Since Mexico and Canada share land borders with the United States, many students and advisers may not think of inquiring about entry requirements far in advance. Mexico and Canada have distinct entry requirements, which must be investigated by F-1 students and their families just like any other country.
The lack of a valid Form I-20 will not prevent the student's departure from the United States; it may, however, prevent the student from entering Canada or Mexico. Moreover, even a duplicate Form I-20, which lacks the expected admission stamps may be insufficient for the student to obtain entry to Canada or Mexico.

Re-entry to the United States

Discussion of Temporary Absence
A "temporary" absence for the purpose of readmission with an endorsed Form I-20 is defined as an absence of 5 months or less. A student must be reentering the United States to resume his or her program of study.
If a student has completed his or her program of study, he or she has no basis for reentry to the United States as an F-1 student unless he or she has either been admitted to a new program of study and has been issued the corresponding Form I-20 or USCIS has authorized optional practical training after completion of studies. In the latter case, a returning student is required to present both an endorsed Form I-20 and an EAD at the port of entry to qualify for readmission to the United States. If an EAD has not been issued and the student has exceeded the "expected date of completion" (Form I-20, item 5), the student has no basis for being readmitted in F-1 status.
List of documents for reentry
In order to reenter the United States after a temporary absence of 5 months or less, an F-1 student must have a following documents:
  • A valid passport or travel document
  • A valid F-1 visa (unless exempt from passport and visa requirements)
  • Either a properly endorsed Form I-20, if there has been no substantive change in the information contained in items 4,5,7, and 8 other than the date the student is expected to report to the school (the student has presumably reported and begun his or her program) OR a new Form I-20, if there has been such a change.
As a matter of practice, immigration officials at ports of entry often require that the Form I-20 bear a DSO certification for reentry executed in the current term (if a student is re-entering during the academic year) or, if a student is returning from his or her annual vacation, executed in the term preceding the vacation. If a student loses the Form I-20, a DSO may issue a replacement Form I-20.

Discussion of re-entry documents

  • Valid passport or travel document
    F-1 students seeking reentry to the United States must have a valid passport or travel document.
  • Valid F-1 visa
    With the exception of Automatic Extension of Validity of Visa beneficiaries, a student subject to the visa requirement must have a valid F-1 visa in his or her passport in order to re-enter the United States. Consequently, a student who entered the United States in another nonimmigrant classification and has changed his or her status to that of an F-1 student must obtain an F-1 visa in his or her passport before reentering the country. It is not possible to obtain an F-1 visa inside the United States. An F-1 student who needs to obtain a visa in order to enter the United States after a temporary absence must apply for the visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad.

    Although it is possible for an alien to obtain an F-1 visa in a country other than his or her own, the student may face more stringent requirements than in the home country. In addition to proving eligibility for an F-1 visa, he or she may have to convince the consular officer that there is a legitimate reason for making the application outside the home country. In some instances, the consular officer in the third country will find it necessary to check with the consular office in the student's place of residence. This can be time-consuming and result in a charge to the student if information is requested by cable rather than diplomatic mail. Returning student should be advised to make travel plans to allow for such delays.
    *See "Student Visa Validity Following a Break in Studies" for detailed information.
  • Different school name on visa
    If an F-1 student has lawfully transferred schools while in the United States, the visa will specify the school for which it was initially issued. In these instances a student may re-enter with an unexpired F-1 visa and Form I-20 from the new school without having the new school's name annotated on the visa.
  • Properly Endorsed Form I-20 or new Form I-20
    For reentry, a student must have Form I-20, endorsed for travel by the DSO within the preceding twelve months.

    Although Form I-20 indicates a validity period of one year for travel signatures, a validity period of 6months is set for travel signatures on I-20s used by students on post-completion OPT. (See "Travel and reentry while engaging in practical training" page)
FAQ for F-Nonimmigrants: Entry and Exit