Whether you are taking a weekend trip to New York City, crossing the Canadian border into Montreal, or preparing for a flight to your home abroad for a family event, OISA is here to help make certain your travel documents are in order for your return to Emerson.

Please pay careful attention to the documents you are carrying as you prepare for travel.

Make Certain Your Immigration Documents are in Hand and Up-to-Date

As you pack your bags for travel, make certain you have the immigration documents required for you to enter the U.S. in F-1 student status.

  1. Valid Passport – with an expiration date at least 6 months into the future
  2. Valid F-1 visa (Canadian citizens are visa exempt)
  3. Emerson Form I-20* printed out in paper copy
  4. Also suggested: I-901 SEVIS Fee Receipt

*Returning students: Your Form I-20 must be signed (on page 2) within 12 months of the date you intend to enter the U.S. If you need an updated I-20 Travel Signature, please submit an OISA Request Form. Allow 48 hours for Travel Signature requests. 

New first time students: No page 2 signature is required until after you have arrived in the U.S.

Admission to the U.S. through U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP)

As you request admission to the U.S. in F-1 status, be well prepared for immigration and customs inspection by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP):

  • Print out a paper copy of your electronic I-20. While you may have received your Form I-20 electronically via email attachment, you must print a hard copy (paper copy) to carry with you and present to CBP.
  • Carry your immigration documents in your hand luggage. You will pass immigration inspection before retrieving your checked bags. Be sure you have your Form I-20 and other support documents with you in your hand luggage.
  • Complete your Form I-94 in flight. You will need to complete a Form I-94 Arrival Form on the airplane prior to your U.S. landing.
  • Carry proof of Emerson’s hybrid learning plan. Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) Guidance prohibits new students from entering the U.S. for study that is 100% online. Consider carrying proof of your course registration and of Emerson’s hybrid study plan.
  • Pay attention to customs restrictions. In addition to immigration requirements, pay attention to U.S. customs restrictions, including banned substances and currency reporting. See: https://www.cbp.gov/travel/clearing-cbp 

New Student SEVIS Check-In

All new international students arriving on campus must complete a New Student SEVIS Check-In. The Office of International Student Affairs (OISA) will email you information about the SEVIS Check-In process. You will need to present copies of your U.S. immigration documents in order for OISA to verify your lawful status and “activate” your SEVIS immigration record. 

Complete the New Student SEVIS Check-In

Travel Within the U.S.

You may travel within the U.S. provided you are maintaining your lawful status. Make certain to carry your original immigration documents with you (including your passport, I-20, visa, and passport stamp or I-94 reflecting admission in F-1 status.)

Travel Outside the U.S. During Program of Study

If you leave the U.S. during your program of study, you will need the following documents to return to the U.S. in F-1 status:

  1. A valid passport
  2. A valid F-1 visa stamp
  3. Current form I-20 that has been signed for travel on page 2 by an authorized OISA staff member. Only a Designated School Official (DSO) at OISA is authorized to sign a Form I-20.

A “travel signature” is generally valid for one year. You may request a more updated travel signature (six months prior to your expected date of return) if you intend to apply for a new visa during your trip abroad. 

Travel Outside the U.S. After Completion of Studies

If you are traveling out of the U.S. after the date you official complete your program of studies, you may not be eligible to return in F-1 status unless you have applied for an been approved for Optional Practical Training (OPT) or have a new I-20 to attend a new program of study. 

To return to the U.S. during OPT, you will need to present:

  1. A valid passport
  2. A valid F-1 visa stamp
  3. Current form I-20 that has been signed for travel on page 2 by an authorized OISA staff member within six months of your expected date of reentry.

In addition, OISA advises that you also carry:

  1. Your approved Employment Authorization Document (EAD)
  2. Proof of a job offer in your major field of study.

Frequency Asked Questions

How do I know if my visa is valid for my reentry to the US?

The F-1 visa stamp in your passport must be valid on the day you will reenter the U.S. in order for you to be eligible to return in student immigration status. If your visa will expire before the date of your return, you must apply for a new visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy while you are out of the U.S.

If your visa has expired and you are planning a short trip to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands, you may be eligible to travel with automatic visa revalidation.

If you will be applying for a new nonimmigrant visa while abroad, please be aware that the U.S Department of State has introduced a new Form DS-5535, Supplemental Questions for Visa Applicants, which may be required at the point of visa renewal. This supplemental form is not required for all visa applicants, but may be requested at the discretion of a consular officer. If you are asked to complete this form, you will need to disclose your travel, address, and employment history, family information, and social media handles.

What should I keep in mind if I’m graduating or my I-20 is expiring?

If you are planning to graduate at the end of the current term or if your I-20 is expiring, then you may need to take steps with OISA before you depart the U.S. You may have difficulty returning to the U.S. in F-1 status if your classes are done and you have no further academic activities to complete at Emerson. If you plan to request an I-20 extension, transfer to another school, or apply for post-completion OPT, you should do this before you leave so that your I-20 correctly reflects your future academic intentions upon your return.

See: OISA Request Form (Extension, Transfer)

See: OPT Application Checklist

What is a travel signature?

• A travel signature is a signature from an OISA official on page 2 of your I-20.

• A signature is generally valid for one year, and can be used for multiple trips abroad. (A signature is valid for six months only for F-1 students on approved F-1 Optional Practical Training.)

• You need to have a valid travel signature on the date you reenter the U.S. after international travel.

Do I need a travel signature?

Check to see if there is a valid travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 (within one year for continuing F-1 students, or within six months for F-1 students on OPT).

If you already have a valid travel signature, then you do not need a new one! A travel signature is considered valid if it is dated no more than one year before the date you expect to return to the U.S. A more recent travel signature is recommended if you will renew your visa on this trip abroad.

How can I request a travel signature?

You can request an I-20 travel signature using our OISA Request Form.

See: OISA Request Form (Travel Signatures)

Please allow 2-3 business days for OISA processing of travel signature requests. Remember: you do not need a travel signature to depart the U.S. but will need one on the day you reenter the U.S. 

Travel signatures may also be completed the same day if you come during OISA walk-in hours (Mon/Wed/Thurs 1:00 to 2:00 p.m.). Please come prepared to wait a few minutes for this expedited service.

While the travel signature is given electronically, please make sure to print this new I-20 so you have a physical copy when you enter the U.S. and keep it for your records along with any past I-20 copies you may have.

What should I do after I return to the U.S.?

When you arrive in the U.S. by air or sea, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will electronically update your I-94 entry record to reflect the immigration status in which you were admitted and the length of lawful stay that you have been granted. For F-1 students and your F-2 dependents, your electronic record should reflect your correct status for “D/S” (duration of status). 

Each time you reenter the U.S. it is important to check your electronic I-94 record to make certain it is correct. Errors to your admission status or length of stay can jeopardize your ability to study, work and remain lawfully in the U.S. 

If you discover an error to your passport stamp or your electronic I-94 record, come to OISA immediately during an appointment or walk-in hours to discuss how this can be corrected.

See: Correcting my I–94

Note: Some CBP Ports of Entry may also stamp your passport with a notation that reflects your status and authorized length of stay. The practice of routinely stamping passports has been discontinued at many Ports of Entry, so it is important to verify that your entry has been correctly notated on your I-94.

Questions? As always, please contact your OISA staff for questions about travel, visa renewal, and reentry to the U.S.