Travel On F-1 Status

F-1 students can travel while pursuing their degree in the United States. The requirements to travel within or outside the U.S. vary: a travel signature is required for any international travel but not required for travel within the U.S.

In the case of an emergency, students can leave the country before their request for a travel signature is processed and submit a request for a travel signature before returning. The Office of Global Engagement will be happy to electronically send a new Form I-20 with a travel signature to students before their return date so they can provide it to immigration officials at the airport.

Note that it is the student’s responsibility to have all the required documents to present to Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the time of arrival in the U.S. Our office can never guarantee re-entry to the U.S. It is exclusively at CBP’s discretion to decide who is admitted into the country.

Travel signature

If you are traveling outside of the United States, you will need a signature from your international student advisor on page 2 of your Form I-20. This signature must be requested through MyGlobal Portal. The travel signature is valid for 12 months while you are pursuing your degree. Travel signatures are only valid for 6 months when on OPT or STEM OPT. Remember, you can leave the U.S. any time without a travel signature. You will need the signature only to return.

Travel before completing your studies

To be eligible for a travel signature, you must be in valid F-1 status (you must be registered for a full-time course load). When traveling abroad during school breaks (summer, spring, or winter breaks) you must bring the following documents with you:

  • A valid passport 
  • Travel signature on the second page of your Form I-20 
  • Valid F-1 visa (except Canadian citizens)
  • Documentation of your financial support (scholarship letter, bank statements, etc.)
  • Academic transcript from Montclair State

Emergencies:  if you depart in the middle of the fall or spring semester, due to an emergency, it is your responsibility to speak with your professors if your travel will cause you to miss class(es). It is up to your professors to decide how any potential absences will be handled.

You must have a valid F-1 visa to return to the U.S. If you changed your status to F-1 while inside the U.S., you will need to apply for an F-1 visa in your home country the first time you depart the U.S.

You must travel outside the U.S. for less than five months. If you are planning to take an academic leave of absence for one or more semesters, please contact the Office of Global Engagement for assistance.

Travel on post-completion/STEM OPT

According to the Code of Federal Regulations [8 C.F.R. § 214.2(f)(13)(ii)], “An F-1 student who has an unexpired EAD issued for post-completion practical training and who is otherwise admissible may return to the United States to resume employment after a period of temporary absence. The EAD must be used in combination with an I-20 ID endorsed for reentry by the DSO within the last six months.” Guidance on OPT travel from Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

To be eligible to return to the U.S.:

  • You must be in valid F-1 status.
  • You must have a valid F-1 visa on your passport to return to the U.S. If you changed your status to F-1 while inside the U.S., you will need to apply for an F-1 visa in your home country the first time you depart the U.S.
  • You must travel outside the U.S. for less than five months. If you are planning to engage in extended business travel overseas, please contact the Office of Global Engagement for assistance.
  • You must have a valid OPT job or have been unemployed for less than the unemployment limit (90 days for post-completion OPT, with an additional 60 days for STEM OPT). It is highly recommended that you do not seek to re-enter the U.S. unless you are employed or have a job offer in hand.

In addition to the documents listed under the “Travel before completing your studies” section above, you will need the following:

  • Travel signature on page 2 of your Form I-20. The signature must be less than six months old.
  • Offer letter/employment letter (this should be on letterhead with your employer’s signature) and other proof of employment, if available (like pay stubs). Information regarding travel on OPT without employment.
  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card. It is advisable not to leave the U.S. until your OPT is approved and you receive the EAD card (unless you are traveling and returning before your Form I-20’s program end date). If you are applying for post-completion OPT, please contact the Office of Global Engagement if you plan to travel during your grace period (after your program of study ends and before post-completion OPT begins). If you are applying for the STEM extension, it is not possible to travel after your post-completion OPT end date with a pending STEM extension application; you must wait until you receive the EAD.

Note: While travel outside the U.S. will not cancel a pending OPT application, unless it is an emergency, we highly recommend that students do not travel while their OPT is pending if their Form I-20 has expired. Students will not be able to re-enter with an expired I-20 until their OPT is approved. Additionally, if a Request for Further Evidence (RFE) is issued by USCIS, it will be sent to the U.S. address provided on the OPT application. RFEs require answering as soon as possible and if the student is abroad it will delay a timely response. 

If the OPT application is approved while the student is outside the U.S., he/she will be required to have their EAD in hand to re-enter the U.S. Note that USCIS cannot mail an EAD outside of the U.S. In this situation, someone will have to mail the EAD to the student’s home country, which may further complicate matters.

Travel signatures while on OPT are valid for only 6 months. CBP can deny re-retry into the county if the student has exceeded their unemployment day allowance.

Renewing your F-1 visa

Only U.S. consulates or embassies abroad can issue an F-1 visa. Consulates and embassies will require other documentation from students, in addition to the ones listed below: 

Current students:

  • Passport valid for at least six months into the future 
  • Form I-20 with a travel signature (travel signatures are valid for one year from the date your I-20 is signed)
  • Official transcript from Montclair State University
  • Class schedule (you can get it from the Registrar’s Office) for the current semester or if you are applying over a break (summer or winter), your class schedule for the following semester
  • Documentation of financial support for your first year of study and proof of renewable funds for the following years.
  • Affidavit of support from each of your financial sponsors. If you are being supported by the government of your home country, you do not need an affidavit. If your support comes entirely from Montclair State (graduate assistantship, stipend, etc.), you do not need an affidavit.
  • Bills from the last year showing that you’ve paid your tuition
  • Proof of permanent residence in your home country
  • SEVIS fee receipt (if you can’t find your original one, you will need to reprint your SEVIS fee receipt using the button “Check I-901 Status / Print Payment Confirmation”)

For students on post-completion or STEM OPT:

  • Valid passport for six months into the future
  • Latest Form I-20 which must include your current employer’s name and address and has a travel signature that will unexpired (less than six months old) when you return to the U.S.
  • Official transcript and copy of your diploma (certifies that you graduated; this document is recommended if you have received the diploma) from Montclair State
  • Your Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  • Proof of employment in the form of both an offer letter/employment verification letter (on company letterhead, signed by your supervisor or HR) and the last two pay stubs from your company (if you have a paid position)
  • Proof of permanent residence in your home country
  • SEVIS fee receipt (if you can’t find your old one, you will need to reprint your SEVIS fee receipt)

Additional resources for students

Travel during cap-gap

If you travel outside the U.S. while your H1B application is still pending, USCIS will consider that you abandoned your petition. Do not travel outside the U.S. before your H1B request is approved unless advised by your attorney to do so. 

You may generally travel overseas and seek readmission to the U.S. in F-1 status during a cap-gap period if:

  • Your H-1B petition and request for change of status have been approved by USCIS.
  • You are re-entering before your H-1B employment begins (before October 1). If you try to enter after October 1st, you will need an H-1B visa stamp in your passport.
  • You are otherwise admissible and have all proper documentation including a valid Form I-20 with a valid travel signature, unexpired passport, valid F-1 visa, letter of employment, and an I-797 Notice of Action as proof that your H1B is still pending.

Remember that it is ultimately up to CBP to determine if you can re-enter. We highly recommend consulting with the attorney before traveling.

When traveling outside the U.S. is not advisable
  • If you are in the process of applying to USCIS for reinstatement to F-1 status.
  • If you have a pending change of status application.
  • If you plan to be absent for five months or longer; F-1 students are not able to maintain F-1 status if they are outside the U.S. for five months or more.
  • If you have a pending post-completion or STEM OPT application and the program end date on your Form I-20 (for post-completion) or your post-completion OPT end date (for STEM OPT) has passed.
  • If your employer has filed an H-1B petition or petition for Lawful Permanent Residence with USCIS on your behalf. Please consult your company’s immigration attorney about travel in this situation.
Reentering the U.S. with automatic visa revalidation

Automatic revalidation allows certain F, J, and H status holders to depart the U.S. and re-enter with an expired nonimmigrant visa stamp in their valid passport after visiting Canada, Mexico, or the “adjacent islands” for less than 30 days. The policies and regulations regarding Automatic Visa Revalidation from the Department of State and should be reviewed carefully before you travel; it is also highly recommended that you print out a copy of the Department of State’s guidance to carry with you when you travel.

According to the Department of State, a nonimmigrant who otherwise meets the requirements is NOT eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation is if s/he:

  • Applied for a new visa which has not yet been issued;
  • Applied for a new visa and was denied;
  • Has been outside of the United States for more than thirty days;
  • Has traveled to a country other than Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island which is not included in the automatic revalidation provisions;
  • Is a national of a State Sponsor of Terrorism designated country, including Iran, Syria, and Sudan. Review more about State Sponsors of Terrorism.
  • Is in possession of an F student visa or J exchange visitor visa and has traveled to Cuba;
  • Is in possession of an M student visa and has traveled to a location outside the United States, other than Canada and Mexico.

You must have the following documents to re-enter the U.S. using Automatic Visa Revalidation:

  • Form I-94 or Print-Out of Electronic I-94. Get the printout of your electronic I-94. If you have a paper I-94 card (the white card in your passport), you must be sure that the Customs officer/airline attendant does not take your I-94 upon your departure from the U.S. If you have an electronic I-94 and plan to depart the U.S. by plane but reenter by land, you should be sure that the Customs officer gives you a new I-94 number when reentering the U.S.
  • Immigration Documents/Other Documentation. You will need all of the documents listed above under the “Travel before completing your studies” or “Travel on post-completion/STEM OPT” sections except the valid visa; however, if you have renewed your passport and the expired visa is in your old passport, you must carry the passport that contains your expired visa.