While studying in the United States, you, as an international student holding F-1 visa, are allowed to travel internationally outside the U.S. and domestically within the U.S. It is important for you to acknowledge and comply to the U.S. immigration regulations, especially for traveling outside the country, in order to maintain your student status.
This section provides basic information on immigration regulations for international students who seek to reenter to the U.S. after traveling internationally. This information applies for international students who hold F-1 visas. If you have F-2 visas or J visas, please consult with ISS.
Please note that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer at the port of entry (airport) has the authority to decide whether or not you are admissible to the U.S. This decision is based upon facts and circumstances presented at the time you apply to enter. Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) cannot guarantee that you will be admitted or readmitted to the United States.
Use the following information to prepare yourself before seeking admission to the U.S. Always consult with International Student Services (ISS) if you have any questions.
For any questions or concerns regarding traveling for international students (F-1 and other visa types), please contact Heather Jacobson, Coordinator of International Student Services.
Consulate General of Mexico
3123 3rd Ave, Seattle, WA 98121
Saint Pierre, Miquelon, The Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, The Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French, and Netherlands territory or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
If you have been out of the U.S. for less than 5 months, you will be asked to present the following documents to the CBP officer at the port of entry.
1. Passport valid for at least 6 months into the future: A current passport valid for at least six months after the date of your re-entry. If your country is listed on this list, your passport will be valid until the date of expiration.
2. Valid F-1 visa: You should know the expiration date and the number of allowed entries on your visa. Most visas have “M” (multiple) written under entries. This means that there is no limit on the number of entries for which you can use your visa. If your visa is expired or you have already used the number of entries you are allowed, you will need to renew your F-1 visa at the U.S. Consulate/Embassy Office in your home country in order to re-enter the U.S. See the How to renew F-1 visa section for more details. If you are seeking entry to U.S. after traveling back from a contiguous country (Canada, Mexico) or adjacent islands for less than 30 days, you may be permitted to re-enter with an expired F-1 visa. See the Automatic Visa Revalidation section for more details.
3. SEVIS Form I-20, endorsed for travel by DSO: Your I-20 needs to be authorized for travel by the signature on the back page by a Designated School Official. You must plan ahead to get your I-20 signed before leaving the U.S. Each signature authorizes travel for one year following the signature date. For students on Optional Practical Training (OPT), it is valid for 6 months. To receive a signature, please complete “Travel Authorization Signature” request form and turn your current I-20 in to the International Student Center front desk. It may take up to 5 business days for ISS to process your request, especially toward the end of semester, school break, and holiday.
4. Evidence of Financial Resources (optional but recommended): A bank statement, a letter from your sponsor or a scholarship award letter. The amount should cover one year of expenses that you are responsible as indicated on the first page of your I-20.
5. Evidence of Student Status (optional but recommended): Recent tuition receipts, transcripts or class schedules.
You should have contact information of the PLU International Student Services available for emergency situation in case the CBP officer needs to contact PLU to verify your student status. In that case, please contact:
Coordinator of International Student Services, PDSO/ARO
International Student Center | Harstad 112
PLU Campus Safety at 253-535-7441 is open 24 hours 7 days a week and can help you reach ISS staff.
- If you have been out of U.S. for more than 5 months, please see the Extended Stays Outside the U.S. section.
- If you have applied to Post-Completion Optional Practical Training (OPT), please be sure to read Traveling while on Post-Completion OPT section.
If your F-1 student visa is expired while you are outside the U.S., and your travel does not qualify for Automatic Visa Revalidation, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. Consulate/ Embassy Office before re-entering the U.S. Entry visas can only be issued outside the U.S. We recommend that you apply for renewal in your home country. If you are unable to return to your home country and need to travel to a third country, you may apply for renewal here. However, it is extremely risky as if you are denied, you need to go directly back to your home country.
The visa renewal process varies for different countries. To learn about the application process of renewing your visa, please visit the website of your local U.S. Embassies, Consulates and Diplomatic Missions. The renewal process may take a long time so plan ahead and make sure you have enough time to return to the U.S.
If you do not have plans to travel outside of the U.S., you are not required to renew your visa. F-1 visa has privilege of Duration of Status (D/S). As long as you maintain good F-1 student status, you may remain in the U.S. without renewing your visa after it expires.
If you are returning from Canada, Mexico or one of the adjacent islands to the U.S. for fewer than 30 days, you may enter the U.S. with an expired F-1 visa. However, if you meet any one of following criteria, you will not be able to automatically revalidate your visa.
- You applied for a new visa and it has not been issued
- You applied for a new visa and were denied
- You have a terminated SEVIS record indicating that you are out of status
- You have been out the United States for more than thirty days
- You are a citizen of one of the following countries: Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria.
If you wish to travel using Automatic Visa Revalidation benefit, please make sure to review this fact sheet by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
When traveling to a third country (a country other than the U.S. or your home country), you are responsible for knowing whether or not you need an entry visa for that country. If you are going to study away through programs offered by Wang Center for Global Education, please consult with your Study Away Advisor. The following brief information is about traveling to Canada and Mexico:
- Travel to Canada: Please refer to this list of countries to determine if you will need a temporary resident visa or Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA) to enter Canada. Visit Government of Canada’s page regarding How to Apply for Your Temporary Resident Visa. Here are some important reminders:
- Applications and forms must be completed electronically, or submitted in-person at a visa application centre.
- Applications will be returned to you by USPS mail only, not by courier.
- Application will take at least 30 business days, so apply well in advance! To check on application processing times, visit this page.
- ISS recommends students to get WA ID card first before applying for Canadian visa. This is because during the application process, students will not have access to passports for ID purpose. To apply for WA ID card, please fill out, “Support Document for WA ID and Driver’s License Application.”
- Multiple entry temporary resident visa may be valid for up to 10 years, or one month before your passport expires, whichever comes first. The fee is $100 in Canadian dollars. (The cost for the Electronic Travel Authorization, if you are eligible, is $7.)
- Pay close attention to all the requirements, such as requirements for those with a U.S. mailing address (refer to the How to…Temporary Resident Visa link above).
- Travel to Mexico: Tourist cards or visas may be required for travel to Mexico. For more details, contact the Consulate General of Mexico in Seattle at 2132 Third Ave., Seattle, WA 98121 – Phone: (206) 448-3526 Fax: (206) 448-4771. firstname.lastname@example.org
Canadian citizens do not require an entry visa to enter the U.S. from Canada, but you are required to have an I-20 from PLU. All Canadian citizens are required to show a passport to enter the United States. Canadian citizens entering the U.S. to study should request F-1 status at the border and must always show the Form I-20 and supporting financial documentation to the immigration inspector at the port of entry. Be sure to check your I-20 before you leave the inspection area to ensure that it was properly annotated with F-1, D/S.
In order to re-enter the U.S. after traveling internationally while you are on OPT, you need to present the same documents as current students to CBP officer at the port of entry. In addition, the following documentation will also be required.
- If your OPT application is pending, you may return to the U.S. to do job search in the U.S. You should bring original Notice of Action (receipt notice) issued by the United States Citizenship and Immigration office.
- If your OPT application has been approved, you must bring your Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card and the Letter from Employer confirming that you are employed or have been offered employment. This letter should be printed on employer’s letterhead, includes contact information of a supervisor, brief job description that is related to your field of study and commensurate with your level of education and the duration of employment should be within your OPT authorization period.
If you need to renew your visa please read How to renew F-1 Visa section. In addition to all documentation required by the U.S. Consulate/Embassy to renew F-1 visa, you will need to provide the EAD Card and a Letter from Employer as described above.
If you will be outside of the U.S. for more than 5 months, you will be required to get a new I-20 prior to returning to the U.S.
Immigration regulations state that a stay outside of U.S. within 5 months is considered a break in F-1 status. After an absence of more than five months, an F-1 student is no longer admissible to the U.S. as a “continuing student”. The State Department has decreed that with a 5 month absence, the F-1 visa that the student holds is considered invalid and the student must apply for a new visa. A new visa application must be accompanied by a new “initial” I-20 and a newly paid SEVIS fee with receipt. Please contact ISS for additional questions.
In general, special permission is not required for F-1 students to travel within the U.S. from state to state, even to Alaska and Hawaii. We recommend that you carry your Washington ID card, passport, I-94 card, and I-20 with you whenever you travel outside Washington State.
References: FAQ for F-Nonimmigrants: Entry and Exit By Student and Exchange Visitor Program, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, U.S. Department of Homeland Security.3.N Travel and Reentry Section, 3- F-1 Students Section, NAFSA Advisor’s Manual.