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Travel Check List for International Students in F or J Status

This check list is designed for international students in F or J status who are traveling within the United States or abroad. If you will be applying for a new U.S. visa, be sure to review the handout titled “Applying for a New Visa at a U.S. Consulate Abroad” on the ISSS website at:

SEVIS I-20 OR DS-2019
Check the travel signature on your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019. You must have your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019 with you when you travel, even for travel within the United States. Be sure that your current I-20 or DS-2019 has an authorizing signature for travel that will be less than one year old from the date you will return to Binghamton.  Note: You should travel using your most recently issued I-20 or DS-2019. However, be sure to save all of your previously issued I-20s or DS-2019s as they represent immigration “history” in the United States.

Check the expiration date of your passport. You must have your passport with you for all travel, including travel within the United States. If traveling abroad, your passport MUST be valid at least six months into the future upon your return to the United States. Passports may be renewed at your country's embassy or consulate in the United States. If you have access to the world wide web, you can obtain up-to-date information on passport renewal. Point your web browser to:

Check your U.S. visa stamp inside your passport. Has your visa stamp expired? If it is still valid, is it for multiple entry, or has the entry been used up? Finally, is the category for which the visa was issued the status you currently hold (for example, if your visa is F-2, are you currently in F-2 status or did that status change after you entered the United States).  An expired U.S. visa need only be renewed if you will be traveling outside the United States. The exception is travel to Canada or Mexico or adjacent islands of North America (except Cuba). Provided that your travel to those countries is for less than thirty days and you are not applying for a U.S. visa there, you may return to the United States on an expired F or J visa. There is a special rule for citizens of Iran, Syria, Sudan, or Cuba currently in the United States. Such individuals can only enter Canada or Mexico and return to the United States IF they have an unexpired multiple-entry U.S. visa in the passport for their current status. Be sure to read the handout titled “Applying for a New Visa at a U.S. Consulate Abroad.”

Check your travel itinerary. If you are traveling to a country that is not your country of citizenship, find out if you need an entry visa to visit that country. The following web link will take you to a listing of all foreign embassies in the United States and their individual web sites:
From there, you can link to visa information for any country you may visit. If you are “transiting” into that country, meaning that your flight home requires an intermediate stop in a third country, find out if a transit visa is required, and if so, if it needs to be obtained in advance. This is most common for students with flights stopping in the United Kingdom. For information on the requirements for “Visitor in Transit” visas in the UK, visit the following web link:

You must have your white, I-94 card with you for all travel, even travel within the United States if you still have a paper copy in your passport. You will need to surrender your I-94 card if you are departing from the United States.

If you were not issued a paper I-94 when you entered the US, you can download your I-94 information here

However, your SEVIS ID number (printed at the top right of your SEVIS I-20 or DS-2019) will not change. SPECIAL NOTE: F-1 and J-1 students with expired U.S. visas who are traveling to Canada, Mexico or adjacent islands of North America (other than Cuba) for up to 30 days, are not applying for a new U.S. visa, AND who will be resuming their studies upon their return should NEVER surrender their I-94 card. Canadian or Mexican nationals returning to their home country should surrender their I-94 card as they enter their country, and obtain a new I-94 card the next time they enter the United States. Canadian nationals should be sure to carry with them their financial documentation that verifies the information on their I-20 when getting ready to return to the United States.

Carry your current BU ID card with you as supporting documentation.

Have you printed your health insurance ID card? Unless you are a graduate student with funding, you have health insurance through the SUNY international student health insurance program. You will need your ID card if you need to visit a health care provider for an illness or accident, either locally or away. An e-mail message containing information on how to obtain your health insurance ID card is sent from after the fourth week of the semester.


If you have completed your studies and have applied for Practical Training, you may travel outside the United States while the OPT application is pending, provided that you can present the USCIS Processing Center Receipt, proving that the OPT application has been filed, as well as the SEVIS I-20 endorsed for optional practical training. The signature on page 3 of the OPT I-20 must be less than six months old. However, once the Employment Authorization Document (EAD card) for OPT is issued to you, and you decide to travel abroad, you can only re-enter the United States to resume employment. Thus, you must carry with you written documentation from the employer verifying your employment or job offer, as well as the EAD card. DHS has clarified that the F-1 student does not need to have begun actual employment before leaving, as long as the student has a job offer to which to return.

Effective April 28, 2011, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) removed all countries designated for participation in NSEERS. Those countries were: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The regulation remains in place; however, DHS does not currently designate any country, nor does it require any foreign national to participate in the system. If you were previously required by NSEERS to submit to special registration procedures at a U.S. port of entry, you will no longer need to do so.

If your trip to the United States will be by airplane, we recommend that you familiarize yourself with the security and safety procedures that are currently in use by the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.  As we mentioned earlier, if you are traveling by plane from overseas, expect heightened security due to the attempt to set off explosives on the Delta/Northwest flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on December 25, 2009.  Expect thorough inspections of your luggage and yourself at both departure and arrival. These inspections may delay your flights.

Detailed information on security, access requirements, checkpoints for passengers and baggage, permitted and prohibited items, and recommendations for travel preparation is available at


International students and other foreign nationals could have difficulty re-entering the United States if they are drivers who have unpaid U.S. traffic tickets on their driving record. U.S. Customs and Border Protection is able to view this information in their databases. You are strongly advised to pay your traffic tickets, especially moving violations.

While unpaid tickets will not subject you to arrest unless a warrant has been issued by a local municipality, you may be subject to a more intensive and lengthy immigration inspection if your record is not clear.

Sometimes, a student carries a large amount of money into or out of the United States.  Please remember that it is a federal law that anyone carrying more than $10,000 in a monetary instrument of any form must declare that money, or risk having it seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials.  Here is the explanation of the law:

"There is no limit on the total amount of monetary instruments that may be brought into or taken out of the United States, nor is it illegal to do so. However, if you transport or cause to be transported (including by mail or other means) more than $10,000 in negotiable monetary instruments on any occasion into or out of the United States or if you receive more than $10,000, you must file a Report of International Transportation of International Currency or Monetary Instruments (FinCen105) with U.S. Customs and Border Protection denoted in the Currency and Foreign Transactions Reporting Act, 31 U.S.C. 1101, et. seq. Failure to comply can result in civil and criminal penalties, including seizure of the currency or monetary instruments. Monetary instruments include U.S. or foreign coin, currency, travelers' checks, money orders, and negotiable instruments or investment securities in bearer form."

In past years, there have been students carrying large sums of money whose funds have been seized for failure to declare.  Do not let this happen to you.

Many individuals, both US citizens and foreign nationals, enter the United States with laptop computers and other electronic devices.  U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has recently updated its website with information on their search policy for such items.  Travelers should be aware that both CBP and ICE have the right to search any form of electronic media, which CBP and ICE define as any item that may contain information, including computers, floppy and compact disks, DVDs, drives, tapes, mobile phones, personal digital assistants or PDAs, BlackBerry smart phones, cameras, and music players (including iPods and MP3 players), without necessarily suspecting that the individual may be carrying unlawful information.  Part of this policy is based on CBP’s concern that such searches are essential to prevent terrorists from transporting information over the border.  CBP has stated that such searches are limited in scope, and that out of 400 million travelers passing through U.S. borders annually, only a tiny percentage are referred to secondary baggage inspection and of those, only a fraction have electronic devices that may be checked. 
Despite the limited number of electronic devices that are checked, travelers need to be aware of what is on their computers and other electronic devices.  You should remove any problematic content.  If the computer or other electronic device is used by others, check the browser history and make sure that the contents will not cause problems if searched.

To learn more, read the August 27, 2009 statement from the Department of Homeland Security regarding Border Searches of Electronic Information

From that link, you can also access the directives published by both ICE and CBP.

Rev 08/2013

Last Updated: 4/26/18