Travel Out of the USA and Re-Entry


If traveling within the USA, including Hawaii and Alaska, a travel signature is not required. However, always keep your important documents with you which include: valid passport and valid I-20.

You should not need to use these documents except at airports, train stations, and other transportation hubs, where you will need to show them to establish your identity. Transportation hubs are places where you may be asked to present your original documents. Be prepared.

Leaving the USA should be quite simple. As you leave, if you were issued anelectronic 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 US 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.

Returning to the USA: 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 the International Center); 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 months from 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 Center or from the program sponsor, if not UCSD); signature valid for one year

Although not actually required by regulation, we also recommend thatall 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 months from 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)

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.

How to Obtain a Travel Signature on Your Form I-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.

  • Come to the International Students & Programs Office during business hours with your Form I-20/DS-2019 and hand it in at the front desk to have it signed
  • Please allow 2 business days for processing

What to do 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 10 business days for processing.

Returning to the USA: Visa Stamp Renewal

  • 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

Returning to the USA: Automatic Visa Revalidation (AVR)

Definition: 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.

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

Arriving in the USA: Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record


On April 30, 2013, the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, a component of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), beganautomating the Form I-94 process at air and sea ports by eliminating the paper Form I-94.  Once fully implemented, the majority of nonimmigrants will only receive an entry (or admission) stamp in their passport, which will include their date of entry, class of admission, port of entry, and their status expiration date (or “D/S” for F, M and Js).  Paper I-94 cards will still be issued in certain circumstances, the most common being for land crossings at the Canadian and Mexican borders.

For re-entry and clearing U.S. Customs Ports of Entry please have the following documents available: original passport, financial statement or support letter, and Form I-20 / DS-2019


Your electronic I-94 may be needed for the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, or for 3rd parties, such as the Social Security Administration or Department of Motor Vehicles, which require a Form I-94 for granting benefits.

If you are admitted with an electronic Form I-94 and upon checking the database returns “Record Not Found”, and there is no obvious data entry mistake, then immediately visit the ISPO office and meet with an advisor to inquire about the problem.

Departing the USA: 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.

Departing the USA: 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 Center cannot advise on other countries' entry-visa requirements.

See lists of embassies and consulates in the USA.

Departing the USA: Travel After Program Completion

If you plan to travel outside the United States after your program completion date, you cannot re-enter on your student visa (F-1 or J-1).  

If you would like to re-enter the United States after your program completion date, you will need to apply for a visitor visa.

Be sure to plan ahead when making international travel and re-entry arrangements after you finish your program of study. If you plan on re-entering the U.S. after short-term travel abroad following the completion of your program, DO NOT book tickets until you have:

  • Checked the last day of your program of study (normally the last day of the quarter)
  • Spoken to an international student advisor about your plans
  • Verified that you have the correct visa to re-enter the United States

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