Entering the U.S. (F & J Students)

You have your visa in your passport, your bags are packed and you’re ready to go! Learn about documents needed to enter the U.S. for the first time as a Columbia student. For travel during your time at Columbia, visit our Documents Needed to Travel page.

Come to U.S.

How to Enter the U.S.

Steps for Entering the U.S.
Step 1.

Organize your Documents

Have these documents in your hand (and not packed in a suitcase) for the officer to review:

​​​​​​The earliest date you may enter the U.S. is 30 days before the program start date on your I-20.

The earliest date you may enter the U.S. is 30 days before the program start date in item 3 on your DS-2019.

Step 2.

Enter through a U.S. Port of Entry

Your visa and other immigration documents are evidence of your eligibility to apply for admission in a particular visa status at a U.S. Port of Entry.

CBP (Customs and Border Protection) is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and is the government agency that controls admission to the United States. The CBP officer makes the final decision on your admission to the U.S. in a particular status and determines how long you may stay based on your documents.

What to expect at a U.S. Port of Entry

The officer will review your documents and ask you a few questions about the purpose of your travel to the U.S.

If all is in order, the officer will admit you to the U.S. and will stamp your passport with:

  • date and place of arrival
  • immigration status
  • expiration of your stay in status

Learn what to expect if the officer has additional questions.

Stamp should be for F-1 or J-1 for “D/S” which reflects Duration of Status (until the end of the program on the I-20 or DS-2019 plus a grace period)

CBP also creates an electronic record of your arrival (I-94 Arrival/Departure Record).  Check it a day or two later to make sure it is correct.

Sometimes students are sent to secondary inspection for additional questioning by a port of entry officer to verify their status. If you are sent to secondary inspection on multiple occasions, it may be helpful to file a report through DHS Trip.

Step 3.

Get to your destination in NYC

  • Use only an official yellow or green cab from the taxi line with a dispatcher outside arrivals.  
  • Do not accept offers of rides from anyone else! They are unregulated and have been known to overcharge new arrivals. The dispatcher will give you a paper that identifies the taxi you're riding in and the rates.
  • You can pay with credit card or cash. It is customary to tip 10 - 20% on top of the fare. In addition, you will be charged for the toll of the bridge or tunnel used to enter Manhattan.

Click one of the three airports serving NYC (below) to get Ground Transportation information: