Travel in F-1 Status

Travel Within the United States

During your F-1 program, you must submit the In Country Travel Form through your Terra Dotta portal each time that you plan to travel within the United States. The In Country Travel record must be submitted prior to your departure.

Once you have been admitted into the US and are maintaining valid F-1 status, travel within the US is not restricted (as long as it does not interfere with your program of study), and no special documents are required. However, you and any dependents must carry your passport and status documents (Form I-20 and I-94 record) with you when traveling within the US in the event you need to present them to law enforcement officials.

Travel Outside the United States

As a nonimmigrant student, any time that you travel outside of the United States, you do so at your own risk. You are not guaranteed re-entry into the US, and many factors or situations may prevent you from re-entering the US as planned. You should take into consideration all factors before deciding to travel. You can also contact the Center for Global Health directly if you have questions about your particular travel situation.

If you have applied for post-completion OPT or are currently in an authorized period of OPT, refer to the OPT Guide (PDF) for more information on travel and OPT.

Out of Country Travel Request

If you are planning on traveling outside of the US, you must submit the Out of Country Travel Request through your Terra Dotta portal. The Out of Country Travel Request must be submitted at least 3 weeks prior to your anticipated departure date. 

You will be required to receive approval from someone in your college/degree program (such as an academic advisor or college administrator) as part of this application. You are responsible for identifying this person. You should have a discussion with this person directly prior to submitting this request and notify this person of your anticipated travel plans (including dates and destination).

Do not wait until the last minute to complete this request. We recommend that you submit the out of country travel form as early as possible to avoid any issues with your travel approval or obtaining an I-20 travel signature. Also, you must submit this request each time you plan to travel outside of the US, even if you do not need a new travel signature on your Form I-20.

I-20 Travel Signature

You must have a valid Form I-20 with a valid travel endorsement signature on page 2 before you can travel abroad. The I-20 travel endorsement signature can only be provided by the PDSO or DSO in the MUSC Center for Global Health. The travel signature is valid for one year (except during post-completion OPT, when the travel signature is valid for only 6 months). If you have F-2 dependents that will also be traveling, they must also have valid travel signatures on each of their I-20 forms.

After your Out of Country Travel Request is submitted, it will be reviewed by CGH staff, and you will be notified by email if your request was approved. Requests are typically processed within 7-10 business days. Your Out of Country Travel Request must be approved before you can request an appointment for the I-20 travel signature.

Once you are notified that your Out of Country Travel Request was approved, click here to schedule an appointment to obtain a travel signature on your Form I-20. Travel signatures cannot be provided to students who do not make an appointment.

Travel Documents

You must have the following documents on you (not in your luggage) when you request re-entry into the US:

  • I-20 form with valid travel signature
  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Financial documents

Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months beyond your intended period of stay in the United States. If your passport is expired or close to expiring, you must make arrangements to renew your passport either prior to traveling or in your home country during your trip. You will not be permitted to re-enter the US if you do not have a valid passport. Contact your home country’s consulate or embassy in the US to find out how to extend or renew your passport.

In most cases, there is no expedited process for “renewing” a visa. Each time you apply for a visa at a US embassy or consulate, you typically must go through the same process. However, you do not need to pay the I-901 SEVIS fee each time. You may need to provide proof that you previously paid the I-901 fee with any subsequent visa applications.

It is important for you to understand that CGH or MUSC cannot intervene on your behalf if you are denied a visa or if you experience significant delays in the processing of your visa application. However, you must notify CGH if your visa is denied or your application is significantly delayed so that we are aware of your situation and can update your travel records accordingly.

Automatic Visa Revalidation

F-1 students and F-2 dependents with expired visas can travel to Canada, Mexico or the adjacent Caribbean islands for 30 days or less and still re-enter the US, as long as they have a valid I-94 record and are otherwise maintaining valid status. If you plan to travel under the automatic visa revalidation rule, you must still have all of your documents in order as if you were traveling with a valid visa, including a Form I-20 with a valid travel signature. You must also submit the Out of Country Travel Request as noted above.

Visit the websites below for more information on automatic visa revalidation:

Returning to the US

Each time you enter the US, you are assigned a new I-94 admission record. The I-94 record is important because it serves as evidence of the nonimmigrant status you were granted when you last entered the US, and how long you may legally remain in the US.

As soon as you return to the US, you must retrieve your I-94 record from the US Customs and Border Protection website. You must print a copy (or save a PDF) of the I-94 record and keep it with your immigration records. You must also save the I-94 record as a PDF document so that you can submit it to CGH. The best way to do this (to create a PDF-friendly document) is to click the blue ‘Print’ button on the I-94 web page and then choose Adobe PDF as your printer.

You must submit your new I-94 record through the approved F-1 Out of Country Travel record in your Terra Dotta portal. If you received a new visa or passport during your trip, you must also submit copies of these documents. After you log in to your Terra Dotta portal, in the Records section, click F-1 Out of Country Travel. Navigate to the questionnaire section and click ‘Documents to Upload After Return to US.’ After uploading the documents, submit the questionnaire.