Travel During F-1 OPT

In this section, we’ll cover the things you need to be aware of and the documents you need to carry if you’re planning to travel abroad after you have applied for post-completion OPT, including STEM OPT extension and the Cap-Gap extension.

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Need to know

Need to Know

Post-Completion OPT is an extension of your F-1 status. If you return to the U.S. in another status, such as tourist, it will invalidate your F-1 status and your OPT authorization.

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Documents Needed to Return to the U.S.

Since you are currently enrolled and will return to the U.S. before the program end date on your I-20, your re-entry will be based on your return as a current student. Your OPT application has no impact on your travel, regardless of whether it’s pending or approved. Check to see which documents you need as an F-1 student.

We recommend that you do not travel internationally before your OPT is approved and you have your EAD card.

If your OPT application is returned, rejected, or denied while you are abroad, you will not be able to re-enter the US in F-1 status to re-apply for OPT. If you need to return to the U.S. to pack up and leave, it may be possible to re-enter the US in another visa category (ESTA or tourist visa, for example) to prepare for departure.

Note that even if you have a friend checking your mail, you may have difficulty responding to any special request(s) from USCIS, such as a request for further information. If your EAD card is received in the U.S. before your return, we do not recommend having someone send the card to you. Instead, your friend should send you a scanned copy via email of the front and back of the EAD card.

If you still decide to travel despite these risks, we recommend entry through JFK or Newark airport, and you will need the following items to request re-entry to the U.S. in F-1 status:

With an approved OPT application and your EAD card, you may travel internationally, and request entry into the U.S in F-1 status when you return, both before or after the start date on your EAD card.

You will need the following items with you when you return:

If you are returning to the U.S. while your OPT EAD is still valid, you will need the following items.

It is permitted to travel internationally while your OPT STEM Extension is pending, however, there are risks involved. We present the following information so that you may make an informed decision. 

  • You must have a trusted individual monitor your U.S. mailbox while you are outside the country. They must inform you if you receive any documents from USCIS.
  • If your OPT STEM Extension request is denied while outside the U.S. after your Post-Completion OPT EAD end date, you cannot re-enter or reapply. Your F-1 status will end.
  • If your OPT STEM request is approved while you are outside the U.S., you will need to arrange for someone to scan and email a copy of your STEM EAD card to you to re-enter the U.S.
  • If your F-1 visa expires before your reentry date, you will need to apply for an F-1 visa renewal using your Post-Completion EAD card, STEM I-797 Receipt Notice, and proof of employment. 

If you choose to travel abroad while your STEM OPT EAD is pending, you must be prepared to present the following documents upon reentry:

With an Approved STEM OPT Extension

It may be possible to travel during a Cap-Gap extension of OPT when certain conditions are met.

Do not leave the US while the H-1B change of status is pending! It will nullify the change of status and make you ineligible for the cap gap extension.

Generally, you may travel abroad and return to the US in F-1 status during a Cap-Gap period if:

We recommend you travel with a printed copy of this USCIS page which addresses F-1 travel during a Cap-Gap extension.

Learn more!

Watch our short overview of travel on OPT from our OPT playlist:

ISSO F-1 Post-Completion OPT, Part 9: Travel Abroad on OPT
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