Documents Needed to Travel (Student)

Traveling soon? Learn what documents you will need to bring and show immigration when you return.

Illustration of documents needed for travel
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Before You Travel

Columbia’s Global Travel website centralizes information and tools for all members of the Columbia community whose study, research, or teaching involves international travel.

In this recent time of uncertainty and concern over travel, their list of best practices for nonimmigrant visa holders traveling abroad is especially useful.

If you are entering the U.S. for the first time as a Columbia student, visit our Entering the U.S. page for students.

If you're traveling to a country other than your home, check the website of your destination's embassy to see their visa requirements for visitors.

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F and J Students: Documents Needed to Re-enter the U.S.

  • Unexpired passport
  • Unexpired F-1 visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • Unexpired I-20 with travel signature (signature on page 2 is valid for 12 months ). After July 1, 2016 you must use the new format I-20 which has F-1 in large letters on top right corner.
  • SEVIS Fee Receipt
  • Academic Certification from the Registrar's office. This is an official document verifying dates of attendance, award of degree, and/or student status (full-time or part-time) by semester and can be requested through SSOL.

F-1 Students with Post-Completion OPT (including STEM OPT and Cap-Gap Extensions)
See our Travel During F-1 OPT Page

  • Unexpired passport
  • Unexpired J-1 visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • Unexpired DS-2019 with travel signature (signature is valid for 12 months)
  • SEVIS Fee Receipt
  • Academic Certification from the Registrar's office. This is an official document verifying dates of attendance, award of degree, and/or student status (full-time or part-time) by semester and can be requested through SSOL.
  • Unexpired passport
  • Unexpired visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • Unexpired DS-2019 with travel signature (valid for 12 months)
  • SEVIS Fee Receipt
  • Letter from Employer
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When your return to the U.S.

If this will be your first time leaving the U.S. since you arrived, be aware that you will have to present your I-20 or DS-2019, passport and visa at the U.S. port of entry when you return.  Remember to have your documents with you and not in your luggage. Be mindful that your passport is stamped correctly for your admission as “F-1 until D/S” or” J-1 until D/S”.  It is recommended practice after each arrival in the U.S. to check your electronic I-94 arrival/departure record for accuracy. 

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Dependents of Students: Documents Needed to Return from a Trip Abroad

Look at the dropdown menus below to see what documents your dependent(s) must have in order to re-enter the U.S. Each visa dependent (spouse and children) must carry his/her original documents

  • Dependent's unexpired passport
  • Dependent's unexpired F-2 visa
  • Unexpired F-2 I-20 with a valid travel signature. A travel signature is valid for 12 months if the principal is a currently-enrolled student, 6 months if the principal is on OPT

If dependent is traveling without principal:

  • Copy of principal's F-1 visa
  • Copy of principal's most recent I-94 arrival/departure record as evidence of F-1 status in the U.S.
  • Copy of principal's I-20
  • Dependent's unexpired passport
  • Dependent's unexpired J-2 visa
  • Unexpired J-2 DS-2019 with a valid travel signature. The signature is valid for 12 months

If dependent is traveling without principal:

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Documents Recommended for Travel Within the U.S.

Domestic travel includes travel to any of the 50 states or travel to the U.S. territories (Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Northern Mariana Islands).

When traveling within the U.S. (even if you’re not crossing any borders or traveling by air), we recommend that you have your passport and other immigration status-related documents with you. This will be helpful in the unlikely event that you need to show evidence of your immigration status, such as bus or train stations near the Canadian border.

Are you traveling to Canada, Mexico, or the Caribbean Islands? Go to Exceptions to the Valid Visa Requirement.

Do you need a new visa or is your visa expired? Read our page on how to apply for a visa.

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Travel FAQs

You have 2 options.

Option 1: If you arrive without your document or a current travel signature, you will most likely be subject to additional screening by an immigration officer to verify your student status in SEVIS. If you have an unexpired entry visa and a copy of your registration status printed from SSOL, they may admit you:

  • as usual for “D/S” (duration of status: the length of your program plus a grace period) with a warning to get a travel signature or a reminder to carry your I-20/DS-2019 with you next time you travel or
     
  • for 30 days and give you form I-515A . Be sure you have your passport stamped F-1 or J-1 and that your electronic I-94 arrival record shows your admission in student status.

Visit us as soon as possible with an I-515. We will assist you in providing the required signature or document you need to send to a government office to have your legal status extended to D/S. This must be done before the expiration date on the I-94.

Option 2: If you wish we can send you a new I-20 or DS-2019 but there is no guarantee that it will arrive before your flight. Please allow 10 business days for us to process and ship your new form.

Please follow the directions for How to Get a Travel Signature if You Can't come in Person

Sometimes students or scholars are sent to secondary inspection for additional questioning by a port of entry officer to verify your status.

If you are sent to secondary inspection on multiple occasions, it may be helpful to file a report through DHS Trip.

Yes, this would be a problem. Your dependents won't be able to obtain a dependent F-1/J-2 visa until after you have obtained an F-1/J-1 visa.

1. Always carry original your valid travel documents as listed above.

2. Keep the following information in mind:

If you are leaving from and returning to the same port within the U.S. your I-94 record will not be updated, therefore your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record to the U.S. will not change.

If you’re traveling domestically (this includes U.S. territories such as the U.S. Virgin Islands), don’t worry if your visa is expired—this will not be a problem.

If your cruise will cross international borders and your visa is expired, you may face a problem. Enrolled students in F or J status may be eligible for automatic revalidation (re-enter the U.S. with an expired visa) if your cruise goes to the adjacent islandsRead about Exceptions to the Valid Visa Requirement.

Graduating students

Once your program is over you have a “grace period” (60 days for F, 30 days for J). The grace period allows you to remain in the United States before departure, but does not allow you to leave and return in student status. If your cruise does not cross international borders, there is no problem if you travel during your grace period.

If the cruise has international destinations,

  • you will not be able to re-enter in F or J status during the grace period.
  • you may be able to return in B-1/B-2 visitor status if you have a visitor visa or with ESTA if you're from a visa waiver country.