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 Travel 

Since you are currently enrolled and will return to the U.S. before the program end date of your program, 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.

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

If your OPT application is denied while you are abroad, you cannot re-enter the US in F-1 status to re-apply for OPT. 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 your application is in care of a friend, you may have difficulty responding to any special request(s) from USCIS, such as an Intent to Deny.

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 can 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 your current EAD has expired, don’t travel while your STEM OPT extension is pending. You will not be able to return in F-1 status to resume employment.

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

On May 10, 2016, DHS implemented new rules regarding OPT. One of the changes is the possibility of traveling 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:

Because this is fairly new guidance, 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