F1 Visa: Traveling Abroad for F1 Holders

Students who pick the U.S for their perfect destination for their education and are staying on an F-1 visa, quite often have to travel. They are traveling to their home country as well as visiting other countries during university breaks or in case of emergencies.

Before booking their flight, every student must follow some instructions. This instruction will make sure that they are going to be able to enter the U.S again. In this article, we will cover all the necessary steps you need to take if you are a student on an F-1 visa who wants to travel.

What to Do Before You Travel?

You must verify some documents, in order to start making your plans for traveling. Talking to your Designated School Official (DSO) is the first step to take. Every university that has an International Office will also have a DSO. All the necessary policies and rules that might apply to you will be presented by the DSO.

The DSO will verify your Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. In order to be eligible to travel, you must sign the Form I-20. It is important to know that the signature is valid for 1 year, so once you have it, there is no need for another one on your next travel within that year.

Your SERVIS records will be updated by the DSO for the time you will be traveling. You must be sure that your Form I-20 is valid for the time you are going to be traveling. Keep in mind that with an expired Form I-20 you will not be able to enter the U.S. You should apply for a new one if your current is close to expiring and wait for processing until you travel.

With the possession of an F-1 visa, you can be out of the U.S for up to 5 months. During those 5 months, your SEVIS record will reflect your absence. The DSO will activate it as soon as you return.

The terminated status will be given to you if you are out of the U.S for more than 5 months. This means that you will have to get a new Form I-20 once you return. With the new form, you will get a reset and the time you spend in the U.S until will not count towards your Optional Practical Training (OPT).

The second step is for you to make sure that you possess a valid passport. Of course, you will need your passport in order to return to the U.S. Make sure you send your passport to a consulate in the U.S and renew it before you travel if your passport is close to expiry. The other option is to renew it while you are in your home country and then return to the U.S.

After these steps, check your U.S F-1 visa validity. Your visa must be valid during your traveling. Be advised to apply for a new visa before traveling if it is close to expiring. You will not be able to enter the U.S with an expired visa.

Make sure you bring your old passport with you when entering the U.S if you decided to renew it in your home country. If your new passport does not have a valid U.S visa, you will not be allowed to go through the Customs and Border Protection (CPB).

Make Sure You Possess These Documents Before You Go to Travel:
  • A valid passport for at least 6 months after you return to the U.S;
  • A valid F-1 visa;
  • A valid Form I-20;
  • Documents to prove your financial position such as:
      • bank statements;
      • scholarship award letters;
      • sponsor letters, etc.;
  • Documents to prove your enrollment in a U.S university such as:
      • admission letters;
      • unofficial transcripts;
      • university ID card, etc.;
  • Form I-901, SEVIS fee receipt;
  • An optional letter from the university stating that you are a student at the institution and explaining the nature of your enrollment such as your major, research activities, etc.

What if You are Travelling Somewhere Different From Your Home Country?

Traveling to your home country will always be an easier option just because you already have a passport and they will allow you to enter the country. It is important to know that you must meet the requirements of the country that you want to travel to.

Many countries request valid visas or transit visas for entry. If you decided to travel within the European Union, you might also need a Schengen Visa. It is important to check with the country’s Embassy to learn all the necessary requirements as well as documents.

What if You are a Canadian Student?

There is no required visa for Canadian citizens to enter the U.S. However, they must have a student status if they are studying at a U.S university. If you are a Canadian citizen, you must have a valid Form I-20 as well as a valid Form I-94. The Form I-94, Arrival/Departure Record must state that you are on a student status in the U.S. If that requirement is fulfilled, the CPB officials will allow you to enter the U.S after traveling.

What if Your Passport Expires Less Than 6 Months After You Enter the U.S?

It is important to know that the CPB officials might not let you in the U.S if your passport is not valid for at least 6 months after you return from your travel. However, there are few countries that have an agreement with the U.S. This agreement allows citizens of foreign countries to enter the U.S until their passports have expired.

If you are one of the countries mentioned below, then even if your passport expires in 10 days, for example, CPB cannot deny your entry for that reason. The list of countries with this agreement is below.

Algeria Antigua and Barbuda Argentina
Australia Austria Bahamas
Bangladesh Barbados Belgium
Bolivia Bosnia and Herzegovina Brazil
Canada Chile Colombia
Costa Rica Cote D’Ivoire Cuba
Cyprus Czech Republic Denmark
Dominica Dominican Republic Ecuador
Egypt El Salvador Ethiopia
Finland France Germany
Greece Grenada Guatemala
Guinea Guyana Hong Kong
Hungary Iceland India
Ireland Israel Italy
Jamaica Japan Jordan
Korea Kuwait Laos
Latvia Lebanon Liechtenstein
Luxembourg Madagascar Malaysia
Malta Mauritius Mexico
Monaco Netherlands New Zealand
Nicaragua Nigeria Norway
Oman Pakistan Panama
Paraguay Peru Philippines
Poland Portugal Qatar
Romania Russia Senegal
St. Kitts and Nevis St. Lucia St. Vincent and the Grenadines
Singapore Slovakia Slovenia
South Africa Spain Sri Lanka
Sudan Suriname Sweden
Switzerland Syria Taiwan
Thailand Togo Trinidad and Tobago
Tunisia Turkey United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom Uruguay Venezuela


What if You Are Traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the U.S Adjacents Islands?

If your travels include traveling to these countries, you will be allowed to return back to the U.S even with an expired visa. The valid Form I-20 and Form I-94 are necessary though. When you return to the U.S again, your visa will become valid. This thing is also known as an automatic visa revalidation.

If you are not sure which countries are U.S adjacent islands, there is a complete list below.

Saint Pierre Miquelon The Dominican Republic
Haiti Bermuda The Bahamas
Barbados Jamaica The Windward and Leeward Islands
Trinidad Martinique Other French, British, or Dutch territories or possessions in or bordering the Caribbean Sea


Can You Travel if Your Program or OPT Has Finished?

After your program or OPT is over, you will be granted a grace period by the U.S to leave the country. The grace period is usually 60 days. You are given this grace period in order to prepare and pack to leave the U.S. If you travel outside of the U.S during this period, you will not be allowed to enter the country on your return.

How to Enter the U.S Again After Traveling?

When you are returning to the U.S, you must make sure that all your documents are valid. An officer of the CPB will stop you, no matter if you arrive by sea, air or land. They will ask you questions about your entry in the country.

The questioning is a routine for the CPB officers and they must ask everyone even other visa holders besides the F-1 visa. They are also questioning U.S citizens when they return. The CPB officer will ask about your status as well as reasons for entering the U.S. You must answer truthfully and correctly in order to be allowed to enter.

Further questioning might take action if the CPB officer suspects that you are giving untruthful answers or hiding something. Their job is to determine whether you are fit to enter the U.S, and they hold the right to detain you as long as it is needed.

You must not panic if something like this occurs. The secondary inspection is quite normal. You will be taken to a room by the CPB officer where a senior CPB officer will ask you for more detailed questions.

Be aware that you will not be able to make any phone calls during that time without permission. Furthermore, the officers hold the right to inspect your mobile phone, laptop, social media accounts. Depending on the officers and the situation, the questioning can last for one hour or more. You are allowed to use the toilet and drink water.

After the primary or secondary inspection is done, the CPB officers will make their final decision whether you can enter the U.S or not. Even if all your documentation is valid, the CPB officer can decide that you didn’t meet the necessary requirements and send you back to your home country. So keep in mind that you must be polite and answer the questions that they have truthfully.