Travel in F-1 Status

Travel Outside the United States

As a nonimmigrant student, you are permitted to travel outside of the United States during your active F-1 program. However, please be aware that, as a nonimmigrant F-1 student, you are not guaranteed to be re-admitted into the United States. Many factors or unexpected circumstances may prevent you from re-entering the U.S. as planned. You should take into consideration all factors before deciding to travel. You should also create a contingency plan for the worst-case scenario if you are unable to return to the United States as planned.

Please feel free to contact the Center for Global Health if you have questions about your particular travel plans.

If you have applied for post-completion OPT or are currently in an authorized period of OPT, refer to the F-1 OPT Guide for more information on travel and OPT.

Out-of-Country Travel Request

If you are planning on traveling outside of the U.S., 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 three (3) weeks prior to your anticipated departure date. You must submit this request before you can obtain a travel signature on your Form I-20. 

We recommend that you submit the F-1 Out-of-Country Travel Request 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 in Terra Dotta each time you plan to travel outside of the U.S., 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 six 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 center 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 has been approved, click here to schedule an appointment to obtain a travel signature on your Form I-20.

Travel Documents

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

  • Current MUSC Form I-20 (with valid travel signature)
  • Valid passport
  • Valid F-1 visa
  • Financial documents

Your passport should be valid for at least six (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. Please contact your home country’s consulate or embassy in the U.S. to find out how to extend or renew your passport.

Applying for a New F-1 Visa

If your F-1 visa has expired (or if you do not have an F-1 visa in your current passport), you must apply for a new F-1 visa at a US embassy or consulate before you can request re-entry into the U.S. F-1 visas are currently only issued outside of the United States. In other words, it is not possible to renew your F-1 visa from within the US. Refer to the website of the specific U.S. embassy/consulate in your home country for more information on visa processing and appointment wait times.

Each time you apply for a visa at a US embassy or consulate, you typically must go through the same process and pay the DS-160 visa application fee. 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. Refer to the website of the specific U.S. embassy/consulate in your home country for more information on visa processing and appointment wait times. Please take into consideration the time associated with applying for a visa when making your travel plans.

Processing and approval of nonimmigrant visas is at the sole discretion of the U.S. Department of State. Unfortunately, MUSC cannot intervene on your behalf if your visa application is denied or if you experience significant delays in the processing of your visa application (such as administrative processing). However, please 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. In addition, you must also notify your college if you experience delays that will impact your travel return date.

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 U.S., as long as they have a valid I-94 record and are otherwise maintaining valid status. This is known as automatic visa revalidation. Visit the websites below for more information on automatic visa revalidation:

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.

Returning to the US

Each time you enter the U.S. from abroad, you will be 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 U.S., and how long you may legally remain in the U.S. Once you return to the U.S., you must immediately retrieve your I-94 record from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection I-94 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 the center. 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.

After you have retrieved your new I-94 admission record, you will upload a copy through the approved F-1 Out-of-Country Travel record in your Terra Dotta portal. If you received a new F-1 visa or passport during your trip, you must also submit copies of these documents through Terra Dotta. 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 U.S.’ After uploading the documents, submit the questionnaire. If you have any issues with submitting your travel documents in Terra Dotta, please contact the Center for Global Health to request assistance.

Travel Within the United States

Once you have been admitted into the U.S. and are maintaining valid F-1 status, travel within the U.S. is not restricted, as long as it does not interfere with your full time participation in your program of study. We do recommend that you carry your passport and status documents (Form I-20 and I-94 record) with you when traveling within the U.S., in the event you need to present them to law enforcement officials.

During your active F-1 program, if you will be traveling within the United States during the standard school week when classes are in session, please submit the In-Country Travel record through your Terra Dotta portal. This information is collected in case of a site visit to the MUSC campus from the Department of Homeland Security. The In-Country Travel Record is not required if you are traveling within the United States on the weekends or during official school breaks.