Each time you travel outside of the U.S., you will need the following documents to re-enter:
- Travel Signature less than one year old on page 3 of your I-20. Obtain this signature from the International Affairs office at least two weeks before you depart the U.S.
- Valid F-1 Visa. If your visa is expired, you will need to apply to renew it at a U.S. embassy or consulate in your country. You should contact your embassy/consulate immediately to learn how long the process may take, and plan your travel dates accordingly. See International Affairs to learn more about visa renewal.
- Passport valid at least six months into the future
- Financial Documents indicating your available funds (recommended)
- Current Transcript or letter confirming continued enrollment (recommended)
- All previous I-20s (recommended)
- Photocopies of documents: Be sure to make at least two copies of all of your important documents (I-20s, visa, I-94 card, and the main page of your passport) so that you can replace them more easily if they are lost or stolen. We recommend that you keep one set of copies in your carry-on luggage and another set at home with someone who can send them to you if needed.
- Students on Optional Practical Training (OPT): If you are currently on OPT, you should travel with the items above PLUS your valid EAD card and a letter from your employer on company letterhead, stating that you have been employed and will return on a specific date to resume employment. (If your employer authorizes your leave, the travel time will not count toward your days of unemployment.) Note that it may be somewhat riskier to travel (particularly if you need to renew your visa) in the last six months, and especially the last three months, of OPT.
What about after Graduation?
Students on an F-1 visa are permitted to remain in the U.S. up to sixty days after the end of their academic program (or, in the case of students on OPT, up to sixty days after their OPT end date). This is called the F-1 "grace period."
In planning your flight home, consider that you will be able to remain within the U.S. and travel during these sixty days, but if you leave the U.S. during this period you will not be able to re-enter in F-1 status.
If you wish to travel to Canada or Mexico, for example, try to do this during a vacation period during the regular semester while your I-20 is still valid for re-entry, or else plan your travel outside of the U.S. after the end of your program so that you can fly directly home afterwards.