Entering the U.S. (Scholars)

You have your visa, 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 scholar. For travel during your time at Columbia, visit our Documents Needed to Return to the U.S. page.

Come to U.S.

How to Enter the U.S.

How to Enter the U.S.
Step 1.

Present Your Documents

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

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • SEVIS fee receipt
  • DS-2019
  • Letter of Offer (if employed by Columbia)
  • Designation Letter (if you are a visiting scholar)
  • Financial documentation

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

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa (Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • Letter of Offer
  • Original Form I-797 (H-1B/O-1 Approval Notice from the USCIS)
  • Copy of I-129 H-1B/O-1 Petition)

The earliest date you may enter the U.S. is 10 days before the start date on the I-797 approval notice of your petition.

  • Valid Passport
  • Valid Visa (Mexican citizens require entry visa; Canadians are exempt from visa requirement)
  • Job Offer Letter

The earliest date you may enter the U.S. is 10 days in advance of the job start date.

  • Valid passport
  • Valid visa
  • Job offer letter
  • Copy of LCA (Labor Condition Application)
  • I-797 approval notice (if an E-3 petition was filed in the U.S.)

The earliest date you may enter the U.S. is 10 days before the start date on the I-797 approval notice of your petition.

Step 2.

Enter Through the 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. 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. The CBP officer makes the final decision on your admissibility.

1. Get in line

There will be two lines for Customs and Immigration—one for U.S. citizens and the other for international visitors.

2. Meet the Immigration Officer

The immigration 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. in the immigration classification. The officer will stamp your passport with:

  • date and place of arrival
  • immigration status
  • expiration of this status

3. Check carefully that the stamp is correct for your status

J-1 Scholar: Stamp should be for J-1 for “D/S” which reflects Duration of Status (until the end of the program on your DS-2019)

H-1B Scholar: stamp for admission in H-1B status with a specific date which is the expiration of the approved petition

TN Scholar: stamp for admission in TN status with a specific date up to 3 years from the date of entry.

CBP also creates an electronic record of your arrival. Check it a day or two later to make sure it is correct.

4. Gather your things

Make sure you have all your papers and hand luggage with you before you leave the inspection area.

Remember to pick up your luggage at the designated carousel for your flight and exit the airport passing through Customs.

Step 3.

Get to your destination

  • 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 may be dishonest.
  • Keep the paper the taxi dispatcher gives you in case you later need to identify the taxi you were in.
  • 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: