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.

All F-1 students must bring their I-20 to the Office of International Programs so the International Student Coordinator can sign it in December and May, regardless of whether they plan to travel. 

F-1 and J-1 students and visiting scholars who leave the United States must have the following documents with them to ensure their re-entry:

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

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.

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