F-1 Travel Guidance

If you are planning to travel outside of the U.S., this information is for you.

  1. Expect Delays and Inconveniences
    It may not happen, but all international students returning into the U.S. should expect to be stopped by CBP officials. Plan accordingly when you purchase airline tickets, leaving enough time to make sure you can get to your connecting flights.

  2. Updated I-20 Travel Signature
    Before you leave, visit Peter, Kayli, or Anna to get an updated signature on page 2 of your I-20. If you are visiting Peter, please, please make an appointment by email to ensure that he is in the office when you come. 

  3. Documents
    As usual, as you prepare for arrival in the U.S., you should have:
    • Valid passport (required)
    • Valid I-20 (required)
    • Evidence of financial support at Coe (recommended)
    • Paper receipt of your Form I-901 payment (recommended)

  4. More
    1. Proof of Enrollment
      Before you travel, it is good practice to get a copy of your proof of enrollment document from the Registrar's Office. Contact the Registrar’s Office for this.
    2. DIA Letter
      If you are still concerned and want a little more “insurance,” I’d be happy to write and sign a letter on Coe letterhead for you. Please let Peter know if you want this.
    3. Phone Number
      Finally, you may find it helpful to have a 24-hour emergency contact number from Peter, Kayli, or Anna. Please let one of us know if you want this.

  5. DHS Report
    If you have been repeatedly identified for additional screening at airports, you can file an inquiry to have any incorrect information corrected in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) systems. Information about the Department of Homeland Security's Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP) can be found at www.dhs.gov/dhs-trip and you may submit a request for redress at https://trip.dhs.gov/. To speed the processing of the request, it is helpful to provide as much information as possible about where and when you have experienced delays in inspections by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. If you suspect your experiences resulted from an incident for which there are additional circumstances, it is helpful to include as much information as possible with any relevant explanation and evidence along with the request.

Information on Travel for F-1 Students

If you are planning to travel during any school breaks, visit the Director of International Affairs at least ONE week before you plan to leave.

What do I need if I want to leave the U.S. and re-enter as a student?

  1. A valid Form I-20 signed for re-entry by a Designated School Official (DSO) (Peter, Anna, or Kali) within the past year.
    Though the regulations state the I-20 form needs only to be signed each year for valid travel, I suggest to all that the signature be within 6 months of travel. Your I-20 must be endorsed (signed) within the semester you plan to travel. The DSO endorses your current I-20 on page 3. However, if any of the information on page 1 of the I- 20 has changed, you will need a new I-20 before travelling. Travelling with all previous I-20 forms is also recommended to show your history.
  2. A passport that is valid until at least six months into the future.
    Your passport should be current at all times. If an expiration date is imminent it is important to get your passport renewed immediately.
  3. A valid F-1 visa (except Canadian citizens).
    Be sure you have not used up your number of entries – 1, 2 or multiple. As long as the visa is an F type, and is not expired, the student does not need to apply for a new visa, if he/she plans to exit and reenter the U.S. with an I-20 to continue studies. If your visa expires while you are in the U.S., the next time you travel abroad you must obtain a new visa to be readmitted to the U.S.
  4. Proof of financial support.
    Current financial support documentation (bank statement or financial aid documents) that is no more than 6 months old. You will need this information especially if you are applying for a new visa.
  5. If you are on OPT, a valid EAC (Employment Authorization Card).
    Additionally, it is good to carry a letter from your employer stating that you have the job, the job description and dates of employment, which need to match your EAD. If you are near the end of you OPT, it is not likely that you will be allowed to re-enter the U.S. for this purpose. Please think twice about travel!

Why do I need to have my Form I-20 signed for re-entry?

The signature on the Form I-20 verifies that you are a full-time student in valid F-1 non-immigrant status.

How long does it take to get my Form I-20 Form signed for travel?

It takes 24 hours. Signing the Form I-20 involves status and enrollment verification. You should plan to have your Form I-20 signed well in advance of travel outside of the U.S.

What if I want to travel to Canada, Mexico, or an adjacent island for less than 30 days and my F-1 visa is expired?

Check all visa requirements for your country/passport country and the place of travel. You are required to fulfill their visa requirements, as well as keep you US visa current for re-entry. If you have a valid passport, a current F-1 visa, a Form I-20 with and up-to-date re-entry signature, and a Form I-94 indicating you have been admitted for Duration of Status (D/S) you can re-enter the U.S. in valid F-1 status as long as your trip is less than 30 days. You must retain your Form I-94 and tell the border official that you are taking advantage of "automatic visa revalidation." Currently, this benefit does not apply to citizens of Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. In addition, if you decide to renew your visa in Canada, Mexico, or any adjacent island and your visa is denied, you may not re-enter the U.S. on automatic visa revalidation.

Suggested Additional documentation during travel:

  1. Official transcripts from Coe or other schools if you are a transfer student to show your full-time status.
  2. A letter verifying your attendance at Coe: A letter will be written for you verifying your full-time status at the college in case you are asked to provide verification of enrollment status. Request this from the International Student Coordinator/DSO at least 10 days prior to travel.
  3. Proof of course registration for the upcoming semester (shows the purpose of your return to the U.S.). You can print out your registration from the web or request an official letter from the Registrar.

Travelling within the U.S.:

Though all your documents are not required for domestic travel, we suggest that you travel with all your documents as you would when travelling internationally. If you have a U.S. driver’s license you can bring that as an ID, but do not count this as your official identification. You still should travel with your passport and other legal documents. Also, make sure all travel documents and/or tickets have your name on it as it appears on your passport. If the names are different you will experience problems and may not be able to use your ticket.

Official documents:

It is the student’s responsibility to keep all the legal documentation. That means you should keep all I-20s and copies of all documents you are issued during your time in the U.S. It is recommended that you make a copy of all your documents before you travel (if you need help, please contact the Director of International Affairs) and keep them separately from your originals here at school. Although the Director of International Affairs has these copies, you should store a copy yourself away from the original documents.


Arriving in the U.S. at the Airport or the Port of Entry

When to Arrive

You may enter the U.S. in initial F-1 status (meaning you are a new international student, not a SEVIS transfer student) up to 30 days before the program start date on your I-20.

Your I-20 should indicate the earliest date you can enter the U.S.:

Entry date image

While you may be aware of students successfully entering the U.S. more than 30 days in advance, we urge you not to attempt this. The inspectors at U.S. ports of entry have the authority to refuse you entry to the U.S., which means you would not be able to leave the airport and would have to return to your home country at your own expense.

Entry Before the 30-day Grace Period

If you find it necessary to visit the U.S. between now and your earliest possible F-1 entry date, you may do so with a tourist visa or under the Visa Waiver Program, depending on your home country. This allows you to visit, then return home, and re-enter the U.S. in F-1 status within the proper time frame. Please note that if you plan to enter under the Visa Waiver Program, you will be required to register and obtain travel clearance through the online Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) before boarding a carrier bound for the United States.

To comply with federal immigration regulations, you must be in a status that legally allows study before your program begins.

Start and Entry Dates

The start date listed on your I-20 is based on the requirements of your academic unit. Start dates take into account required orientation and other preparatory programs that all students must attend. Start dates cannot be customized for the circumstances of individual students.

Finding Your Program Start Date

F-1: If you received an I-20, your start date can be found under “Program of Study” on page one:

Start date image

Visit the Coe College academic calendar to find the first day of classes.

Port of Entry Inspection

The next step in the visa-related process will be entering the U.S. which involves an inspection at the port of entry.  Most often, this is the airport where you first land in the U.S., but it could also be a sea port or a land port of entry, depending on your mode of travel.

If you will initially land in the U.S. and will then connect to Cedar Rapids from there, you should allow plenty of time between your arrival and connecting flight, as you have to go through immigration and customs inspection at the first point of entry to the country.

Regardless of where you enter the U.S., be prepared to provide the following documents at the port of entry to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer. NOTE: CBP inspection takes place before you collect your luggage, so you must have these documents on your person. Do not put your travel documents in your checked luggage.

  • Passport (valid for at least 6 months into the future)
  • Visa stamp (does not apply to Canadian citizens)
  • SEVIS Form I-20 for Coe College
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • Supporting financial documentation

If you were given a brown envelope at your visa interview, it will contain several of the above documents.

Secondary Inspection

Upon inspection of your documents, you may be sent to “secondary inspection” which means an additional inspection of your documents is required. Often this is done on a random basis and may have nothing to do with your specific circumstances.

Although secondary inspection can be intimidating and cause anxiety, there is usually little cause for alarm.  Waiting in secondary can take up to a few hours, but almost always results in successful admissions afterwards.

If there is a question regarding your documents, inspectors at the port of entry will attempt to contact Coe’s DIA to verify that you should be admitted. It is important that you remain calm during the process. Even if there are delays and your patience is tested, it will ease the process to be cooperative.  It will also help to have the DIA’s office telephone number with you (in a place such as your wallet).  It is 319.399.8843.

We recommend you review the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) travel FAQs before coming into the U.S.

Admission Stamp & Electronic I-94

When you are at the port of entry, the officer will place an admission stamp in your passport and then write the visa status you are being given (F-1) and the expiration date.  For F-1 students, the expiration is noted with “D/S” which stands for ‘duration of status.’  If your stamp shows the incorrect status or a specific date instead of D/S, RETURN to the inspection area and request your stamp be corrected.  In the event this is not possible, please contact the ISA the next business day.  When you enter the country, an electronic record of your admission, known as the I-94, will also be created. You can retrieve a copy of your I-94 by visiting the CBP website.

It is recommended that you carry the contact information of the ISA’s office with you, so that if you encounter any difficulties, the ISA can assist you.  The telephone number is (+1) 319.3998843.