Whenever you travel, whether it’s within the U.S. or abroad, you must always carry your:
- Passport: To travel, your passport must be valid at least six months into the future, according to U.S. immigration law. Passports may be renewed at your country’s embassy or consulate in the U.S.
- U.S. Visa: Make sure your visa is valid and has not expired. Check your visa stamp to be sure it is the category for the status you currently hold. For example, if your visa is for F-2, are you still F-2, or have you changed your status to F-1 since the visa was issued? Also check your visa stamp for the number of entries permitted.
- I-20/DS-2019: Make sure your I-20/DS-2019 has not expired and that it has a valid travel signature.
- I-94: Visit the Customs and Border Protection website to access your electronic I-94 record. Print a copy for your records and email a copy to the Center for International Services so we can update your file. You should access your I-94 after every new entry into the U.S.
Non-immigrant students entering the U.S. through a land border will continue to receive a paper I-94 card. If you have a paper I-94 card stapled in your passport, you will need to surrender the I-94 card upon your next departure from the U.S.
Special Note: F-1 and J-1 students with expired U.S. visas who are traveling to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands for up to 30 days who will be resuming their studies upon their return should NEVER surrender their paper I-94 card. Canadian or Mexican nationals returning to their home country should surrender their paper I-94 card the next time they leave the U.S.
- Financial Documentation
- Proof of Identity
- Letter of Registration from Registrar’s Office
Additional Travel Information
If you will be traveling outside the U.S., you must have a valid travel signature on your I-20 or DS-2019 form to reenter the U.S. A travel signature from the Center for International Services advisor is valid for 12 months, or six months if on post-completion Optional Practical Training (OPT) or STEM Extension OPT.
To request a travel signature:
- Log in to the ISSS Portal with your NetID and password.
- If you are having trouble accessing the portal, please email Annie Dievendorf with a detailed description of the issue, including screenshots if possible.
- Go to the Student Request Center.
- Find the Travel Signature Request.
- Complete the Questionnaire.
- Submit Request.
Within 3-5 business days you should receive an email that your travel signature request has been processed and a new I-20 (F-1 Students) is available in the ISSS portal or that your DS-2019 (J-1 Students) is available for pick-up or to be shipped.
If you prefer, you may instead come to the Center for International Services during drop-in advising (Monday–Friday, between 11 a.m.-3 p.m.) with your most recent I-20/DS-2019 and we will sign it for travel.
- Visa Forms: To apply for a new visa, you will need to complete DS-160 application form. The electronic form is available on the State Department website. You will also need one photograph that is a 1.5 inch square, showing full face, without a head covering, against a light background.
- Visa and SEVIS Fees: You will need to have sufficient currency to pay the required visa fees, or a receipt showing that you have paid the visa fees. New F-1 and J-1 students and J-1 scholars must pay the SEVIS fee for their initial visa prior to their visa appointment. The SEVIS fee for F-1 students is $350; the SEVIS fee for J-1 students and scholars is $220. You can pay the fee online at www.FMJfee.com. Dependents do not have to pay the fee. Continuing students do not have to pay the fee unless they have fallen out of status and wish to reenter the U.S. in valid status with a new initial I-20 or DS-2019.
- Immigration Documents: You will need your valid I-20 or DS-2019 form. If you are a continuing student, you must have a valid travel signature on page 2 of your I-20 or on page 1 of your DS-2019. If there has been a change in your program of study, level of program or source of funding, you must obtain an updated I-20 or DS-2019 from the Center for International Services.
- Transcripts: It is highly recommended that F-1 and J-1 students who will need new U.S. visas carry copies of their transcripts with them to show the consular officials that you have been making satisfactory progress towards your degree. An increasing number of consulates are asking for transcripts when students come to renew F-1 visas. Plan to have copies with you, but do not present it to a consular officer unless specifically asked to do so. For instructions on how to request a transcript, visit the Syracuse University Registrar’s website.
- Proof of Financial Support: You will need to show proof of financial support to cover your tuition, fees and living expenses for 12 months or the length of your program, whichever is shorter.
- Non-Immigrant Intent: All non-immigrant student visa applicants must demonstrate that they have binding ties to their home country. Therefore, you must be prepared to show that you have no intention of abandoning your country, and that you plan to return to your home country upon the completion of your studies. Some U.S. consulates will ask you how you plan to use your U.S. education in your home country, so be ready to clearly explain your plans to return home. If you have any documents establishing your ties, such as home country bank statements or titles to your own personal property (e.g., a house or land), bring them with you to your visa interview.
For additional information regarding the visa process, please visit the Student Visas page at travel.state.gov.
Where and When to Apply
To locate the nearest embassy or consulate, please visit http://www.usembassy.gov/. If you are visiting your home country, you should apply at the U.S. consulate that has jurisdiction over your place of residence. If you will be traveling to a third country, you will need to apply for your visa at the U.S. consulate there. A consulate not in your home country will only issue you a visa if you can prove that you have been maintaining valid status while in the U.S.
It is possible that some U.S. consulates may choose not to accept visa applications except from residents of that country. Therefore, you may wish to contact the specific consulate you plan to visit prior to your departure from the U.S. to ensure they will accept an application from you.
Consulates in certain countries have instituted new procedures for visa renewal, as opposed to first-time visa applications. At some consulates and embassies, an interview is not required for a visa renewal. Instead, visa applications can be submitted at designated "drop-off" locations, or they can be mailed. At others, visa interviews are still required.
In all cases, apply for your visa AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE! Consult the appropriate consulate/embassy for visa application procedures, requirements and approximate processing time. You can also visit the Visa Wait Times page at travel.state.gov to view the typical wait times for visa interviews and processing at the specific consulate/embassy where you plan to apply. Do not wait until the last minute, or you might have to delay your travel back to the U.S.
Transit Visas: Effective as of March 19, 2002, European Community countries began requiring “airport transit visas” from nationals of certain countries. Other countries may also require transit visas. It is crucial that you check the relevant website of the embassy for each country that you are traveling through BEFORE YOU DEPART the U.S. Please note that you may need to obtain this visa transit BEFORE you travel.
Security Clearances and Delays
Please note that when you apply for a student visa, you may be subject to a security clearance that can cause delays of weeks or even months in the issuance of your visa and your travel to the U.S.
The following are two common types of security clearances that you might encounter:
Field of Study: If a visa applicant's area of study is on the U.S. federal government’s “technology alert list,” which includes many of the science and technology fields, the U.S. consulate may seek a security clearance prior to granting the visa. This process may delay your visa application by anywhere from one to three months. There is no way to know for certain ahead of time whether you will be subject to this type of clearance. If you work in one of the science or technology fields and are returning to the U.S. to resume your studies or research, we advise you to ask your supervisor or chair to write a letter that briefly describes the specific area of your research in layperson’s terms. We also recommend that you carry with you a copy of your CV and one or two of your publications, if you have any. These materials will not necessarily deter a security clearance, but they may expedite the clearance.
Country of Citizenship, Nationality or Birth: A security clearance may also be required by the U.S. consulate if a visa applicant was born in, or is a citizen or national of certain countries. The list of countries is not published, but seems to include the following: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Cuba, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen, and the territories of Gaza and West Bank.
If you have applied for a visa and believe that a security advisory opinion will delay your travel to the U.S., please contact your degree program or department immediately so that they can arrange to defer your degree program start date and/or to cover your teaching or research duties. If you have been waiting for more than one month for the results of a security advisory opinion, please contact the Center for International Services to inform us of the delay.
Contacting a U.S. Consulate
If you have questions about visa application procedures or required documents, please contact the particular U.S. embassy or consulate where you plan to apply.
The State Department's Visa Office and many of the U.S. consular posts overseas have their own websites that provide information on visa application procedures specific to the individual posts. Information on consular post policies, procedures and documentary requirements can be obtained via the State Department's main web page or websites of Foreign Embassies in the U.S. One feature that a number of the consulates have is an e-mail option that may be used to ask specific questions of the consulate.
When planning a trip to Canada, you should first check whether you will need to obtain a visa to enter Canada.
Returning from Canada, Mexico or Adjacent Islands:
Automatic Visa Revalidation: You must have a valid, unexpired visa to reenter the U.S. after traveling abroad. If your visa expires, or if you change status while in the U.S., you must obtain a new visa at a U.S. consulate abroad. After short visits to Canada or Mexico, however, your expired non-immigrant visa (e.g., F-1, F-2, J-1, J-2, H-1 and H-4) may be considered automatically revalidated for reentry on that particular date. Those in F or J status may additionally qualify for automatic revalidation after travel from some of the adjacent islands. If you have changed status within the U.S., automatic revalidation would also convert your visa to the appropriate category for that entry date.
You are eligible for Automatic Visa Revalidation only if you meet ALL of the following criteria:
- You have only visited Canada or Mexico (or, for those in F or J status, the adjacent islands*) for less than 30 days;
- You are carrying a current I-94 card stating your valid non-immigrant status;
- You are carrying your expired non-immigrant visa in your passport;
- You did not apply for a U.S. visa while in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands;
- You are not from one of the countries the U.S. government considers to be "state sponsors of terrorism" (currently Iran, Sudan, Syria and Democratic People's Republic of Korea, specifically North Korea). Nationals of these four countries MUST have an unexpired visa if they seek to reenter the U.S.
Tips for Using Automatic Revalidation:
- I-94 Card: Be careful to keep your I-94 card when leaving the U.S. When you reenter the U.S., you must present this I-94 card, your passport, expired visa and your valid immigration document (I-20, DS-2019, or I-797 H-1 or O-1 approval notice).
- Changes of Status: If you have been approved for a change of status within the U.S., be sure to carry with you documents showing your former status, the I-797 change of status approval notice and your current immigration documents.
- Do not apply for a U.S. Visa at a U.S. consulate: Do not plan to use automatic revalidation if you apply for a visa in Canada, Mexico or the adjacent islands. If you do apply, but are denied a visa, then you cannot use automatic revalidation. Of course, if you apply and are granted a visa, then you can use that new visa to reenter the U.S.
- Uncertain about whether you qualify for automatic revalidation? If so, stop by the Center for International Services with your documents so an advisor can review and help determine your eligibility.
*Adjacent Islands: For those in F or J status (but NOT any other status), the automatic revalidation also works for visits of less than 30 days to the adjacent islands, excluding Cuba. Adjacent Islands include: Saint Pierre, Miquelon, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Bermuda, the Bahamas, Barbados, Jamaica, the Windward and Leeward Islands, Trinidad, Martinique, and other British, French and Netherlands territories or possessions in or bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
Read U.S. Customs and Border Protection's Pages: