Travel Out of the USA and Re-Entry

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Always keep important documents (your valid passport, I-94 and valid I-20 or DS-2019) with you while you are in the U.S. At airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs you will need to present your original documents to establish your identity, so be prepared.

When making travel plans to travel outside of the U.S., we advise you to be prepared. Below we have provided you with some advice about the documentation that you will need to carry with you when you return. For general information, please refer to information provided by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at:

Leaving the U.S. should be quite simple. As you leave, if you were issued an electronic I-94 you do not have to do anything; if you were issued a paper I-94, you must surrender the I-94 card to the U.S. government official or airline representative.

If you are planning to leave your program, please make an appointment with your International Student Advisor so that we can discuss options available to you.

If you are planning on re-entering the United States on an F-1 or J-1 visa as a continuing student, be sure you have a valid travel signature on your Form I-20/DS-2019. You must allow 2 business days to obtain this signature from the International Students & Programs Office.

Traveling by car outside of San Diego?

Some people may be asked to present important documents when passing through checkpoints in San Clemente or near Rainbow on the I-5 freeway as well as East county.

Traveling Abroad?

When traveling to a third country (other than your home country or the U.S.), remember that a new set of laws will be in effect. You are likely to need a visa to enter that country. To learn more about visa requirements, contact the country’s closest consulate in the U.S.

For information on travel to Canada and Mexico, please visit:


Before Departing the USA

Check Documents Required for Re-Entry

Present your current documents at the port-of-entry after a temporary absence from the USA.

F-1 students must have the following:

  • Current passport (valid up to six months or more after reentry date)
  • Valid F-1 visa stamp in the passport
  • Current travel signature on page 3 of the Form I-20 (obtained from International Students & Programs Office); signature valid for one year. NOTE: Students on OPT should be aware that the travel signature on page 3 of the I-20 is valid for only 6 monthsfrom the date that it is signed

J-1 students must have the following:

  • Current passport (valid up to six months or more after reentry date)
  • Valid J-1 visa stamp in the passport
  • Current travel signature on the page 1 of the DS-2019 (obtained from the International Students & Programs Office or from the program sponsor, if not UCSD); signature valid for one year

Although not actually required by regulation, we also recommend that all F-1 and J-1 students take the following items:

  • Verification of enrollment in current quarter (copy of academic history in TritonLink)
  • Proof of financial support less than six months old, such as a bank statement or letter of financial support from department
  • Copy of transcript or academic enrollment history from TritonLink
  • Letter from academic department verifying program start date, good standing, expected program completion and brief description of the nature of your research (especially graduate students)

Students who have completed their program and have received employment authorization for Optional Practical Training or Academic Training purposes should also bring:

  • Employment Authorization Document (EAD) card (F-1 students only)
  • Academic Training Authorization Letter (J-1 students only)
  • Job offer letter or proof of employment
  • NOTE: Students on OPT should be aware that the travel signature on page 3 of the I-20 is valid for only 6 monthsfrom the date that it is signed

A-1, E-2, E-3, H-4, & O-3, R-2 dependents must have the following:

  • Current passport (valid up to six months or more after reentry date)
  • Valid visa stamp in the passport
  • Copy of I-797 approval notice (if applicable)


Important Note:

If you arrive at the U.S. port of entry without all of your required documents or with unsigned or missing documents, you may be denied entry. Alternatively, the Customs and Border Protection officer has the discretion to issue you a form I-515A, which allows you temporary entry into the U.S for 30 days.  If you are issued a form I-515A, you must meet with an international student advisor upon arrival to UC San Diego.

Get a New Travel Signature on Your Form 1-20 or DS-2019

If the signature on your Form I-20/DS-2019 is more than one year old, you must have it signed again by an International Student Advisor. You do not need a new travel signature every time you travel internationally, if your current signature is still valid.

NOTE: Students on OPT should be aware that the travel signature on page 2 of the I-20 is valid for only 6 months from the date that it is signed.


If your travel signature is expired:

  • Come to the International Students & Programs Office (ISPO) during office hours with your Form I-20/DS-2019 and hand it in at the front desk to have it signed
  • If you are on OPT and are not in San Diego, request a new travel signature here
  • If you are on STEM OPT Extension and are not in San Diego, request a new travel signature here
  • Please allow 2 business days for processing


If you have forgotten to obtain a travel signature and are outside the United States:

  1. Fill in a replacement I-20 Request Form (F-1) or DS-2019 Request Form (J-1). Choose "Replacement I-20" or "Replacement DS-2019" from the request list and briefly state that you need a new travel signature.
  2. Set up an Express Mail Services Account (eShipGlobal) so that we can send your I-20 or DS-2019 back to you.
  3. Email with both your I-20 Request Form or DS-2019 Request Form.
  4. Please allow 5 business days for processing.

Check if You Need a New Visa Stamp

  • If your visa stamp has expired you will need to renew it; see applying for a visa.
  • If you are traveling to adjacent countries, you may not need to apply for a new visa stamp; see Automatic Visa Renewal below.
  • Any time an individual applies for a US Visa, there is a possibility of denial; therefore, it is advised that an individual be prepared in the case that this may happen.  
    • A denial may be for a number of reasons, and the likelihood will vary (there is never a guarantee of a US Visa or a Visa Renewal)
    • Some of the reasons could be due to 221g (Incomplete Application or Supporting Documentation) or 214b (Visa Qualifications and Immigrant Intent), for more information:
    • It is important that you bring all of your suporting documents

Review Automatic Visa Revalidation Eligibility


Your expired U.S. entry visa is considered to be automatically extended to the date of reentry provided that the visa has not been canceled, and that you have not applied for a new visa. To take advantage of AVR your travel must be to contiguous/adjacent entities for less than 30 days. Rules governing AVR can be found on the U.S. State Department's Travel Information website.

  • Contiguous countries are: Canada, Mexico, and the adjacent islands: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Lee Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and the British, French and Netherlands territories or possessions in or bordering the Caribbean Sea. Cuba is excluded.
  • AVR is not available to individuals from Cuba, Syria, Sudan or Iran.
  • Do not surrender your I-94 card when departing the U.S.
  • If the flight attendant or officer asks for your I-94, politely inform them that you are taking advantage of the AVR provision.
  • AVR is only for business/leisure travel for fewer than 30 days.
  • AVR is not valid for people who travel from a contiguous/adjacent entity, such as Canada, to a non-contiguous country, such as Germany, and then return to the U.S. via a contiguous/adjacent entity.
  • If you have changed your status while in the U.S. and hold a visa for the previous status, you may still take advantage of AVR, as long as you bring the supporting documents for your new status. For example, if you changed your status from E-2 to F-1, but still only have an expired E-2 visa, you may still use AVR.


Important note:

You may require a visa to enter Canada/Mexico or Caribbean countries. For more information consult the following sources:


After Arriving in the USA

Complete the Document Self-Check on Arrival to the USA

Within 15 days after arrival into the USA, complete the International Student Document Self-Check. It is important for you to verify that your documents were processed correctly at the port of entry.  

You should fulfill the document self-check requirement every time that you reenter the USA.

Check Your Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record

When and how to get your I-94:

Effective April 30, 2013, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), began automating the Form I-94 process at air and sea ports by eliminating the paper Form I-94.  With the automated Form I-94 process, the U.S. Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) Officer will create an electronic automated arrival Form I-94 record during the admissions process for nonimmigrants entering the United States at an air or sea port. A paper Form I-94 may still be issued at the land border ports of entry. Upon entry, retrieve your admission (I-94) number and print a copy of the I-94 for your record from the Form I-94 website. Paper I-94 cards will still be issued in certain circumstances, the most common being for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders.

If your electronic I-94 record is NOT FOUND, please contact the International Students & Programs Office and go to the CBP Deferred Inspections office in downtown San Diego.


Importance of your I-94:

Your electronic I-94 may be needed for the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, or for local, state or federal agencies such as the Social Security Administration or Department of Motor Vehicles, which require a Form I-94 for granting benefits.


Paper I-94 Requirements:

If your I-94 is paper (and not issued electronically), upon leaving, surrender the I-94 to the U.S. government official or airline representative. Exception: keep I-94 when traveling on Automatic Visa Revalidation. If for some reason your physical I-94 is not collected, you may submit it upon your return to the U.S.; see:

If you were issued an I-94 electronically, you do not need to surrender an I-94 upon departing the U.S. The federal government will record your departure based on the carrier's flight manifest.

Utilize the DHS Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP)

What you can do if experiencing difficulties during your return to the USA:

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 transportation hubs—like airports and train stations—or crossing U.S. borders, including:

  • watch list issues
  • screening problems at ports of entry
  • situations where travelers believe they have been unfairly or incorrectly delayed, denied boarding or identified for additional screening at our nation’s transportation hubs

DHS TRIP is part of an effort by the departments of State and Homeland Security to welcome legitimate travelers while still securing our country from those who want to do us harm.


Visiting Other Countries (Not Your Home Country)

Short Trips to Mexico or Canada

For trips longer than 72 hours to Mexico or Canada, contact the Canadian or Mexican consulates to find out about their entry requirements and restrictions.

Requirements and restrictions are determined by your country of citizenship and by how far you will travel from the US border.

Entry Visas to Other Countries

To travel outside the USA to a country other than your home country, an entry visa may be required. Contact that country's embassy or consulate in the USA or visit their website for more information.

The International Students & Programs Office cannot advise on other countries' entry-visa requirements.

See lists of embassies and consulates in the USA.


Departing the USA After the I-20 or DS-2019 Program Completion Date

Travel After Program Completion

If you plan to travel outside the U.S. after your program completion date and do not intend to apply for OPT, you cannot re-enter the U.S. on your student visa (F-1 or J-1).

To re-enter the U.S. after the completion of studies, you will need to re-enter the U.S. in another visa category such as a visitor visa. Students from countries participating in the Visa Waiver Program may re-enter the U.S. without first obtaining a visitor visa. 


Additional Web Resources

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