Traveling while in F-1 visa status

Traveling requires very specific documentation for students on F-1 visas. You must take full responsibility for ensuring you have all the documentation necessary to reenter the United States. Remember, Customs and Border Patrol makes the final decision about whether to allow entry to the United States. Reentry is never guaranteed.

If you are traveling within the U.S., you are required to carry your unexpired passport, I-94, and I-20 with you at all times.

F-1 students who leave the United States must show the following documents to re-enter the U.S.:

Students with pending or approved Optional Practical Training have further travel restrictions.

You need to request a new I-20 travel signature at least once per calendar year (365 days). If you attempt to enter the U.S. with a signature that is more than one year old, you will be denied entry to the U.S. by Customs and Border Patrol. You may not travel with a scan or photocopy of an I-20, the signature must be original.

How often do I need a signature? Minot State’s recommendation is to have your I-20 signed at the end of each semester in December and May. In the past, Minot State DSOs have signed below the four lines on page 2 of the I-20 to limit the number of new I-20s that are printed. In recent years, border agents have given students conflicting advice. Some agents claim that the I-20 needs to be signed every time a student exits and enters the U.S., while other agents prefer that students wait until closer to the one-year mark to request an I-20 signature.

We are happy to reprint your I-20 or sign your current I-20 upon your request, based on the preferences of the border agents that you see most frequently. Canadian land border agents seem to prefer more frequent signatures (each semester), while airport agents seem to prefer fewer signatures (one per year).

Please keep in mind that travel for international students is often unexpected. Do not go longer than one year between signatures because you might need to travel for an emergency on short notice. It is your responsibility to be sure you have a valid travel signature at all times.

How do I request a new signature or new I-20? You may drop off your current I-20 for a new signature at least two weeks before you plan to travel. Your I-20 will be ready to pick up from the international office two business days after you drop it off. You must pick up your own I-20, a friend cannot pick it up for you.

If you would like to request that a new I-20 be printed, please email the International Student Coordinator to request a new I-20. Keep all past I-20s for your records. Elizabeth will email when your new I-20 is ready to pick up. Please request your new I-20 at least two weeks before you plan to travel.

What if I left the U.S. with a signature that is more than one year old? If you exit the U.S. with a travel signature that is more than one year old, you will need to request that a new I-20 be sent to you in your home country. Email the International Student Coordinator right away. You will need to pay for express shipping, and you may need to delay your flight back into the U.S. while you wait for your new I-20 to arrive.

A visa does not guarantee entry: Remember, a visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. A visa only allows you to travel to a U.S. port-of-entry (generally an airport) and request permission to enter the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials at the port-of-entry have authority to permit or deny admission to the United States. 

Expired visa: Non-Canadian F-1 students have a visa in their passport that is used to enter the United States. Your visa can expire while you are in the U.S. studying, as long as your I-20 remains active and you continue to maintain F-1 status. However, if you leave the U.S. with an expired visa, you will need to apply for a new visa to reenter the U.S. legally. It may be helpful to think of your visa as your key to a house. You need your key to enter the house. But if you leave the house without your key and the door locks behind you, you cannot reenter the house until you have a new key. Your visa can expire while you are in the U.S. studying and maintaining F-1 status, but if you exit, you can't reenter without a new visa.

Renewing your visa: The Office of International Programs is not able to assist you when renewing your visa. You are responsible for researching the visa renewal process on your own because every country has different requirements.  

Connecting Flights: Be aware that some countries will require you to apply for a visitor or transit visa even if you are only making a connecting flight in that country. Be sure to visit the embassy website of every country that you will visit or make a connection to ensure that you have all the correct visas. Without the correct visas, you will not be allowed to board your flight.

Canadian Visas: If you are non-Canadian and hope to travel to Canada or make a connecting flight or to visit, be sure to make proper arrangements. Check the Government of Canada website to see if you need to apply for a special visa. You are responsible for every aspect of applying for the visa and planning your trip to Canada.

Returning to the U.S.: Remember that if you enter Canada, you are exiting the United States. You must have all the documents necessary to enter the U.S. with you. See the above section on international travel for information on required travel documentation.

Automatic Visa Revalidation: Although there is a process called "Automatic Visa Revalidation", it is NOT automatic and does NOT grant you a new visa. If you are traveling to Canada or Mexico for less than 30 days, you might be eligible to reenter the U.S. without obtaining a visa stamp. Automatic visa revalidation does NOT constitute a visa to enter Canada and it there is no guarantee that you will be allowed re-entry to the U.S. Any student who leaves the U.S. without a visa valid for reentry risks being denied entry to the U.S. even if they meet the criteria for visa revalidation. We recommend that you contact CBP to ask about requirements before attempting to use visa revalidation. Remember that you can be denied entry even if you follow CBP guidelines. The Office of International Programs is not able to help you with automatic visa revalidation, and students attempt the process at their own risk. 

The International Student Coordinator is able to write letters of invitation for immediate family to attend your graduation ceremony. However, please be aware that invitation letters from U.S. universities are not required for visa applications, and often do not help the application. Please limit your requests to 2 or 3 invitations letters.

You can read more at the U.S. Department of State website, including the following important quotation

"Visa applicants must qualify on the basis of the applicant's residence and ties abroad, rather than assurances from U.S. family and friends. A letter of invitation or Affidavit of Support is not needed to apply for a visitor visa. If you choose to bring a letter of invitation or Affidavit of Support to your interview, please remember it is not one of the factors used in determining whether to issue or deny the visa."

To request a letter of invitation, please provide the following information by email for each person you are inviting. Also provide a copy of their passport.

  • Full name as it appears on their passport:
  • Passport number:
  • Country of citizenship:
  • Date of birth written out (ex. January 1, 1976):
  • Dates of travel:
  • Address in home country:
  • Reason for trip:
  • Relationship to you (ex. Father, sister, cousin, etc.):

The letters will normally be ready in about 48 hours for pick up from the Office of International Programs student worker. The International Student Coordinator will email you when the letters are ready.

If you have experienced issues when crossing the U.S. border, please report those issues to Department of Homeland Security directly using DHS TRIP. The Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP) is a single point of contact for individuals who have inquiries or seek resolution regarding difficulties they experienced during their travel screening at airports or crossing U.S. borders.

Students commonly use DHS TRIP to report the following issues:

  • You were held at a point of entry for an extended period of time.
  • You are always pulled aside at the border but you are not told why.
  • A border agent claims there is a "red flag" on your SEVIS record.
  • A border agent claims that you have two active SEVIS records.
  • A border agent claims that a past SEVIS record was not closed out correctly, even years after your stopped attending Minot State.

Minot State carefully monitors your SEVIS record and ensures that ever record is closed out properly. However, Minot State does not have access to the red flag screens that border patrol can access. DHS TRIP will bring your issue to a higher level official at the Department of Homeland Security who can fix your record and remove red flags. 

Please follow these links to submit your information to DHS TRIP: 

Other Travel Notes

  • J-1 students: You must have your DS-2019 signed each semester. If your DS-2019 was not issued by Minot State University (i.e. ISEP), you need to contact your program sponsor for this signature.
  • For students under NSEERS Special Registration, please remember to leave enough time for your exit interview at your last port of departure. If you are unsure where to find the immigration office, please ask airport authorities at your designated port of departure.
  • F-2 or J-2 spouses and minor children who are not accompanied by student or visiting scholar must have:
    • Valid passport
    • Valid U.S. visa stamp (except for Canadian citizens)
    • Valid separate I-20 or DS-2019
 
Last Updated September 2019